Top 3 Potential Client Red Flags

I'm sure many freelancers and small business owners would agree that It can be difficult to turn away a potential new client. We want to believe people are good and saying no can feel like you're missing out on a great opportunity. However, I've made some observations over the last 5 years, so I wrote this brief guide to help others identify the top 3 potential client RED FLAGS. I hope you find it helpful!

Red Flag #1: Their first email says “I’m have a small budget” or “I’m not looking to spend very much.” 

Let me preface this one by saying there are situations where it is reasonable for someone to ask for a discount. For example, I don’t offer logos a la carte, instead I offer a comprehensive Brand Identity Package. Recently a potential new client reached out asking if they could buy my brand package at a discounted rate because they already have a logo they love, but need everything else. That is totally fair, and in those situations I am willing to negotiate on the price and put together a modified package for them. No big deal! 

However, if someone requests a discount because they “can’t afford your pricing,” or they were “expecting it to cost less,” that’s probably an indicator that they don’t value your talent or see your work as a real investment. I have given what I call the 'discount-for-no-reason,' and I always end up regretting it. This is the pattern I've discovered: a person who asks for the 'discount-for-no-reason' has an entitled personality type. They always demand the most, rarely give positive feedback, and even though you work your ass off to please them, they still never seem satisfied. They are not worth your time! 

On the contrary, when someone says they can’t afford you or expected your services to cost less but they ACTUALLY DO VALUE your expertise, they will figure out a way to save up and come back. Better yet: I suggest offering a payment plan so the client can make smaller payments over a period of time. That way you are still closing the deal, and you’re also doing them a favor by making it easier on them financially to work with you. WIN-WIN. (Just make sure you have them sign a legal contract especially since you aren't taking as large of a deposit up front. is a great tool for this.)

(By the way, I wrote a whole blog post about how to price your services and why you shouldn't settle for less than you are worth. Click here to read it.)

Red Flag #2: They say “It shouldn’t take you very long” or request a turnaround that is completely unreasonable. 

This client will be a nightmare. First of all, in my opinion it's rude for anyone to tell someone else how long it will take them to do their job. Would you tell a surgeon how long an operation should take? Of course not—that’s ridiculous.

When someone starts a conversation like that, clearly they have no idea what goes into your individual creative process. Everyone’s process is different, and you want to work with clients who respect and understand that. I never start designing logo concepts until I have completed a mood board, and the client has approved it. So if someone reaches out at 9am and asks me to have logo concepts for them by 5pm, the answer is sorry, but hell no! 

Red Flag #3: They seem shady, they give you the creeps, or your gut just tells you not to work with this person.

I've had meetings and phone calls with some crazy ass people! If you are a freelancer meeting strangers from the internet at coffee shops (hey—I built my business that way, nothing wrong with it) USE GOOD JUDGEMENT!
Meet up during normal business hours.
Go to busy places with lots of people. NEVER go meet someone at their home. EVER! Don't even go to their office unless you can research them online and confirm that they are running a legitimate business and the office you are going to isn't a meth lab.
Basically apply the rules of online dating to meeting clients and you should be okay. Having said that...

For me a number of things could give me a weird gut instinct about someone. 

  • The person isn't giving you any real information. Unfortunately there are a lot of scammers and con artists out there. I always immediately recognize scam emails because they say the same thing. “Hi I’d like to get pricing for a website design, do you accept credit card payments?” They just say that and nothing else. Be aware of those emails and don’t give those people any personal info!

  • The way the person communicate strikes you as unprofessional, or they send extremely brief emails or voicemails. This sounds like #1 but it's slightly different. Even if they aren’t a scammer, this really rubs me the wrong way. If you want to start a working relationship with someone, wouldn’t you at least introduce yourself? I’ve gotten so many voicemails where someone says “Hi this is Steve, I need some design work done—call me back.” Okay, that’s not the worst thing in the world, but the professional thing to do is AT LEAST provide your last name so I know who to ask for when I call back, and preferably one sentence about what company you're calling from or who referred you. I hate those voicemails and I don’t return those calls anymore. If someone is unprofessional in their introduction, chances are they will be unprofessional when you are working with them too. (For the record, when I was less experienced I did follow up with these type of people and it never turned into any sort of real business relationship. Usually they just want a flyer for their kid's birthday party of something.) Quick story: I remember a few years ago I was exchanging emails with a ‘potential client’ and his responses were filled with slang and they kept saying LOL in emails. I got a very weird feeling from it, and it turned out it was a young teenager trying to start a business with his Dad's credit card. How’s that for an LOL!

  • Lastly, and I hope this one is obvious: If they creep you out, say anything inappropriate, give you non work-related compliments, look at you the wrong way, or just straight up give you a feeling like they are interested in you sexually, DON'T WORK WITH THEM! I don’t think I need to bring up the sexual harassment situation of 2017. Avoid those situations at all costs. It’s not worth any amount of money to feel violated by a client. Fortunately this has never happened to me, but we now know it happens every day. Trust your instinct!

These are just my top 3 but I'm sure you all have many more from your own experiences. Please share your RED FLAGS in the comments. Thanks for reading! 

x, gretchen



Hey! I’m Gretchen.

I'm a bi-coastal graphic designer turned branding specialist who lives in yoga pants and is fueled by pizza and red wine. I will use any excuse to travel and I LOVE teaching other female entrepreneurs everything I've learned about branding and digital marketing in the last four years of full-time self-employment. When I'm not in my design studio, you can find me cooking, sipping on red wine, listening to jazz, and spending quality time with family & friends.

Follow me on Instagram @gretchenkampandco