Pain in the a*s clients – how to spot the red flags and avoid working with them

*Too long/Don’t want to read? Not into reading the whole thing – I got you. Scroll to the bottom of the page and there is a summary. 

Pain in the a*s clients Photo by viktorija lankauskaite on unsplash

Starting a business brings a sense of excitement, a slight naivety and a generally over-trusting nature.

We are keen to get new clients and although we have a wealth of work and life experience, that can often go out of the window because we are “new to business” and imposter syndrome can trick us into thinking we don’t know what we are doing.

Spotting red flags in a potentially bad client is essential for protecting your business, time, energy and mental health.

Here are 3 common warning signs to watch out for:

1. Lack of respect from the client

This could be for your business type, industry, the words they use or their body language. It could also show up as not respecting your time, talking over you or belittling your advice. These signs are normally shown within the first meeting. Don’t ignore it. Your gut is always right. 

2. Unrealistic Budget 

If their budget is significantly lower than what you normally price, it’s okay to politely decline the opportunity. You do not have to reduce your price or feel that your pricing is wrong.

If their idea and budget available, and your offers just don’t align, that’s OK.

It’s fine to change the scope and deliverables to meet their budget but don’t be battered down to the lowest price for the same work. 

From experience, if you start a dance of lowering your price to meet their demands, then more often than not, it leads to other problems down the line – questioning your work, unrealistic ideas on outcomes, and scope creep. Take take take springs to mind. 

3. Delayed deposit or payments

Starting with financial issues does not bode well. If delays are without valid reasons, this is a warning sign that future payments could be problematic. If there are valid reasons, you still may want to consider changing payment terms or adjusting payment intervals if it’s a long project.

Having contracts and terms & conditions in place is all well and good, but if they don’t pay, then it can be very difficult, time-consuming and costly to recoup money owed via formal channels like CCJs. 

Statistics show that at the end of Q4 2022 the following CCJs were issued:

30,330 CCJs were entered against businesses (total amount – £129.3 million), followed by 175,323 CCJs against consumers for a total amount of £512 million. 

Side note: Ltd companies will be treated as “businesses” and sole traders/freelancers will be treated as consumers. 

Often money owed never materialises. You are out of pocket, have wasted a significant amount of time and are very jaded from the experience.  

Pain in the a*s clients

What can you do practically to protect yourself from bad clients?


Top 5 things you can do to protect your business

Set your values and boundaries – what are the red flags for you, what are non-negotiables and what will you do in those circumstances?

Shout about these in your marketing and messages so that you attract the good ones and repel the people who don’t align. 

Do your due diligence when considering new clients 

  • Do a Google search on the person and the company
  • Check the basics – website, address, social media  
  • Look at their reviews – it gives you a pretty good idea of what people think of them! 
  • But remember, nothing is 100% accurate nor foolproof

Ensure you have a contract and terms and conditions in place 

These are a minimum. Ideally, you should have a full scope of the work with clear outcomes and deliverables and details on how changes will be handled (additional quote, additional costs), plus take a deposit or payment upfront. Never work without a deposit, especially with new clients or large amounts of money.

Set out your stall (aka your business, your rules)

Make sure you have clear information on how and when you work, your preferred method of contact, invoicing details etc. Onboarding a client well is really important for paving the way to a successful relationship. Creating an onboarding document is beneficial to any business. 

Trust yourself

You are in charge of your business, and you don’t have to work with people who are not a good fit (or you don’t like!). 

You have the power to decide who you will work with. It doesn’t make you a bad person or unprofessional. 

Typically, we KNOW when something feels off, and in hindsight, we always say, “I knew I should have listened to myself”.

Trust your instincts and be prepared to walk away from a potential opportunity even if you need the contract. It’s just not worth it. 

If you do decide to go ahead, just make sure you have covered all bases, foreseen the potential problems/ eventualities and covered yourself the best you can. 

*TL/DR – not into reading the whole thing or skipped parts – I’ve got you. 

Here is your summary
  • It’s your business, and you get to make the decisions
  • You don’t have to work with people you don’t like or connect with
  • There are things to look out for like –  lack of respect, high expectations, unrealistic budgets, not knowing what they want, avoiding signing contracts or paying deposits 
  • What you can do: Set your values and boundaries – you call the shots, do your due diligence – google is your best friend, have a contract and terms and conditions in place, set out your stall (rules) from day one
  • Trust your instincts and be prepared to walk away from a potential opportunity even when you need it. It’s just not worth it

How I can help you…

New client onboarding template and guide - digital download purchase available by Becky Stevenson

  • Purchase my New Client Onboarding Template & Guide for just £14.99 to help you write your client onboarding documents. 
  • Help you to review your client onboarding documents – look at your processes and information to flush out pain in the a*s clients. 
  • Guide you to create a step-by-step plan that is easy to follow for working with clients.

Get in touch to discuss how I can help you:

Send me an email – 

Book a no-pressure virtual coffee to see if I can help

Book into the Business Clinic – 90-minute focused session to work on your business with me.

Further reading if you fancy it:

Enterprise Nation Blog – How small business owners are dealing with late payment

Blog: Starting a new business – the first 3 things you need to do

My book on Amazon – Streamline The Admin: Choosing The Right Software To Manage & Organise Your Small Business

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