🚩Red flags I look out for in clients (as a freelance creative)

Trigger: If they say “I’d normally do this myself…”

This simply tells me that they’re not used to working with someone else, and will probably feel very attached to their own style or way of doing things.


Very simply, clarify with them what they’re expecting from you. You can even say: “Do you want me to stick very strictly to your specs, or are you OK with me making some suggestions and changes to the idea during the process?”

Trigger: If they don’t have a clear brief

Now, bear in mind that I don’t mean everyone needs a written document, laying out all of their specific requirements up front. All I want to see is that they have a good idea of what they want to achieve, who it’s going to be for, and where they want it to go.


This will change for everyone depending on the kind of freelancing you do, but I have a list of prompt questions that I send to everyone who seems to be on the fence about what they want. I get them to reply via email, and that exercise normally helps them think through the details that give their idea more direction. The questions I ask include:

  • Describe the kind of person you’re hoping will see this design, and absolutely love it: How do they look, what are they wearing, what do they do for a living, how do they spend their free time?
  • How do you want someone to feel after they’ve seen this?
  • What’s the one thing you want someone to remember after seeing this design?

Trigger: If the money to pay you is “incoming”

This trigger is perhaps a more obvious one for most people, and even though no one’s ever not paid me, I’ve had my fair share of spending two or three months after a project is done, chasing up on balances due.


A little trickier here, and this is totally up to you. I have a late fee added into the contract I sign with clients, which gives me some reassurance that they have an incentive to pay on time.

Trigger: If they say “This is just a passion project / hobby of mine”

I’m putting this one here with a caveat, because I have had people say this and still be stellar clients to work with. However, this generally makes me a little uneasy because passion projects and hobbies don’t generally earn money, which means people are not as willing to invest money into them.


I tend to explain to clients that the kind of freelance work I do (design) is charged based on the client, and not the project. Nike will pay a lot more for a logo than a small bakery, for example. So, I am quite open to discussing how valuable something is to the client, and how much they’re willing to invest into it.

Trigger: If they say “Would you give me a discount if I share it around and tell people about it?”

Unless they’re a celebrity (and even then I’d feel kind of meh about it), I can generally share it myself and generate the same amount of exposure. It doesn’t really help me that much. It also tells me that they probably don’t value creative work that much, and will probably not take my feedback or opinions very seriously. If someone went into a tailor, saw the price of a suit, and asked whether wearing it at parties would get them a discount, they probably don’t understand or appreciate the work that goes into making it.


Depending on the person, I sometimes try to turn this around on them, and ask whether their business would do that for me. If that doesn’t apply, then I just acknowledge and appreciate their willingness to share my work around, but explain that exposure is not a priority right now, and that doesn’t really equate in value to being paid for the time I spend on projects. They generally understand where you’re coming from, and are either happy to negotiate the initial invoice, or move on without being offended.

Trigger: If they say “Can you send me some drafts before I decide to work with you?”

I completely understand client-designer alignment. I think it’s crucial. But I do feel uneasy when someone wants to “vet” me before we work together. I appreciate people having a vision in mind, but very specific expectations that need “testing” tells me that they have one path they won’t budge on, regardless of whether my judgment is good or bad.


I start by asking whether sending through my portfolio and some testimonials would suffice for them to get the impression they’re looking for.

Photo by Zachary Keimig on Unsplash



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jomiro Eming

Jomiro Eming

I’m a freelance graphic designer & illustrator, and run a blog called The Daily Work, where I talk about the lessons I learn about growth. I also hate celery.