Client Red Flags to Look Out For

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We always joke about “red flags” clients raise in initial conversations and as we are pitching them business.

We joke that it’s a “three strikes and you’re out” scenario, but in all reality, red flags are important to discover unqualified clients who will be too demanding, will have issues paying, or will procrastinate and drag projects on for months and months.

There are several red flags we look for when interviewing clients and working through the proposal process. Let’s take a look at some of them below…

“I need the project yesterday!”

There are urgent projects and there are urgent clients. Sometimes projects truly are urgent, but many times clients have unrealistic expectations for how long our services take, and they can quickly become demanding when they don’t think we are working fast enough.

We try our best to educate our clients on the branding, design or development process and the time it will take. We stress the level of client involvement and feedback. If they still need something “tomorrow” (and we want the project) we often quote them an emergency rate or upcharge. But most of the time, we simply decline the work, because it would mean pushing back deadlines for existing clients.

“I don’t have any money, but I’ll tell everyone about you!’

This may sound like a joke, but I can’t count the number of potential clients who have said some variant of the phrase above. They want a discount, or pro bono work, but promise to tell all their colleagues who did the project. Or they’ll promise a lot of work in the future, if we just discount this one project.

This is a huge red flag, and we politely state that the price is the price. We may work with a potential client on payment terms, but we rarely discount (and almost never do pro bono work unless it’s something we seek out).

The client doesn’t respond to communication, or misses meetings

Client communication and involvement in projects is key. Often clients have to write copy, provide information, answer questions, and give feedback at every stage of the project. A client that drops off the face of the planet can hold up a project (and final payment) for months, and even years.

I once had a client who dragged out a simple five page website for over a year simply because I was waiting on their page copy and final approval.

Of course I changed my contracts after that project, but a client who doesn’t respond to phone calls or emails early in the discovery phase is a sign of a client who won’t respond when you really need feedback. Be cautious.

They want you to do spec work

I know in the traiditonal ad agency business, a lot of work was done on spec. That’s fine, but we don’t do spec work.

If a client is bidding the project out to five firms, and wants us to do spec creative, we just immeidately decline. It’s not about just the creative—to do quality creative you first must understand the client’s needs. There’s a lot of time in research, planning, and architecture that goes in before we even start the “creative” process. So doing spec work effectively means us doing a large portion of the project for free, in hopes one of the other agencies doesn’t under-bid us.

What are your red flags?

What red flags do you look for in potential clients? I’d love to hear them—let us know in the comments below!

Brandon EleyBrandon Eley
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Brandon Eley is the Interactive Director for Kelsey Advertising & Design and the co-author of Online Marketing Inside Out.

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