6 red flags with potential new clients

by Rachel Smith
16 July 2023

When you’re canvassing a new lead and assessing whether you want to work with that person as a client, it’s important to keep an eye out for red flags. Like these!

red flags with new clients
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You chat to a potential client and they tell you you’re a great fit for their project. Boo-yeah!

You excitedly send over a quote. Then… crickets. You follow-up, only to get more silence. That nice person you talked to on the phone has disappeared off the face of the earth.

Ghosting is unprofessional and disrespectful – and people do it because they’re busy, they’ve changed their minds or they can’t handle saying no. It’s NOT about you. Move on.


You quote what you feel is a fair price and the client asks you to ‘sharpen the pencil’ on it. Or says, ‘You’re twice as expensive as the other freelancers who’ve quoted for this’. As red flags go, this is a biggie – because you’re getting an insight into how that person might operate in an ongoing business relationship (and dealing with a haggler can get old, fast).

What to do? Don’t discount. You’re not a used-car dealer. Your price is your price and you’ve worked it out based on your skills, experience and business objectives. Instead, ask them to reduce the scope of the project so your quote comes in under their budget.


We all want clients who have their ducks in a row, so to speak – but so often, you’ll be contacted by leads who don’t know what they want, which direction they should go in, or how much ‘all this’ is supposed to cost.

For some freelancers, this is top of the list of red flags. They only want to work with people who know what they want and don’t require a lot of hand-holding (and I totally get that).

However, for others, it’s an opportunity to guide a client in the right direction from the start, and you can charge for strategy. Doing this gives them a roadmap on getting started, and peace of mind that there’s a plan in place. (You’re the obvious choice to implement the plan, too, of course.)


Some clients are very forthright at the start. They want everything, and know exactly what they want to pay for it (usually a price that makes you want to run away screaming).

But even if they’re paying okay money, hear this: if you’re getting a bad gut feel at the discovery phase of a project, there’s a high chance it’s not going to get any better. Calmly explain you’re not a good fit or refer them on (you’ll be glad you did).


You know what we’re talking about: it’s their way or the highway. You sign THEIR contract, get to grips with THEIR systems only – and communication is strictly on THEIR terms (so forget about that dedicated Slack channel you create for client projects).

This comes down to boundaries and if the client has none, they won’t think twice about calling you on weekends or after hours, either. Consider how much you want it!


Ever had a relationship with a lead that went on FOREVER? Phone calls, Zoom meetings, emails, ideas thrown back and forth, promises made… and nothing ever locked in?

Sometimes this happens if a client wants only YOU and you’re busy, so you keep things on the boil a bit until you’re free. But often when it IS time to jump you won’t get what you need and things will drag on in a similar fashion.

Notice this, and nip it in the bud early.

On the flip side…

  • Clients you want to work for won’t ghost you. Even if it’s a no, they’ll say, ‘Thanks for this. We’ve decided not to go ahead this time, but let’s stay in touch for future opportunities’
  • They won’t haggle, and will be open to negotiating scope based on their budget
  • They’ll accept that you’re the expert
  • They’ll be respectful of your boundaries and way of doing things
  • Finally, they won’t keep you hanging forever before they decide to actually hire you!

Are there any red flags you’d add to this list? Share your experiences in the comments!

Rachel Smith
Latest posts by Rachel Smith (see all)

One response on "6 red flags with potential new clients"

  1. Ginny says:

    Such a great list! I’d add pedantic too. When I get those long emails outlining how grandiose expectations are I run for the hills. In my experience, only disappointment follows from these clients & potentially bad reviews. I politely suggest they find someone else or reconsider their expectations.

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