Working For Clients: How To Start A Client Job (2023)
How To Start A Client Job: The Ultimate Freelancer Guide
Transitioning from a full-time job to having your own business online and working for clients definitely takes some time to get used to. For the right personality, working for clients instead of “the man” might just be the most awesome career move you could ever make.
In fact, everything about this is entirely different from having a regular J-O-B where you work for a company and report to a boss… and can be infinitely more rewarding (in terms of your bank account AND your personal satisfaction), if you open your mind to the experience.
Some awesome things about working for clients:
You get to decide how big or small you’ll scale your business
You choose who to work for
You’ll gain a ton of professional skills
You can thrive in a flexible work situation
You can add other forms of digital passive income
Your clients who love you can become your best advocates
What are some basic yet major adjustments you’ll need to make when switching from working for a company to working for yourself, and managing client projects?
You must be willing to roll with uncertainty. Your income is variable. When you work for a boss at a company, the initial handshake, and every promotion and pay raise thereafter, determine what your approximately yearly salary, or hourly rate, will be.
The terms of your commitment to the employer remain set until change is requested by either you or the person you report to. You can pretty much count on things not changing much, unless of course you’re let go from your job or you choose to quit.
When you work for yourself, the potential to make much more money is there but the risk is also greater, or at least it may feel that way. Some people actually thrive with this type of daily challenge. Others may find it stressful. One way to make it less stressful is to manage your finances with the understanding that there will be an ebb and flow to your financial acumen.
Some newbie freelancers might find it stressful to work for clients with no perceived safety net of a company backing them. Later though, as their business grows, the fear may subside. Nervousness and uncertainty can eventually give way to a feeling of deep satisfaction in going after what you want in life, living on your terms and choosing how and with whom you do business.
But how risky is it really?
Maybe not as risky as you think.
Let’s take a quick peek at the risks:
Your clients may not pay on time.
Your clients could potentially waste your time.
Late payers and invoice dodgers might cause a temporary money shortage.
Some of your clients might have poor boundaries and expect you to be at their beck and call.
Communication with clients could be hit or miss.
You and your clients may not see eye-to-eye on how things are done.
One or more clients could decide to end your work together at a time when you could really use the income.
Now let’s look at the risks of working for a company.
Your boss might turn out to make your life a living hell.
You might not fit in with your coworkers.
You could encounter high amounts of daily stress.
You might not be compensated fairly for all of the work you put in.
Your company could go under or they might decide to let you go.
You could get trapped in a dead-end job for years or even decades, then come out on the other side lacking in professional skills that are essential for today’s business environment.
Truth be told, the risk factor comparison is now leveling out between working for yourself/consulting for clients versus having a traditional job. How so?
In past generations, if you found a good, reliable position within a company, you could more or less count on being set for life there. You could likely expect opportunities for advancement within the company, and a nice, cushy retirement package including pension. This is not so anymore.
It’s much more likely in this day and age to find yourself hopping from job to job at “pop-up” companies promising short-lived, short-term rewards. Like the sales professional who accepts six figures only to learn that the company is changing hands next year and his role at the company is about to dissolve.
This is why more and more people are trying their hand at the freelance consultant jobs lifestyle - and finding it’s not nearly as scary as they initially thought.
Related: Largest Freelancing Platform
Working for clients holds many opportunities as long as you’re poised to jump when they arrive. And the great thing about this is that you can scale your level of business at work to your situation.
If you have a lot going on in your personal life this year, it could be the year you lean on your bank account and take a pay cut… but maybe next year you’re bringing in triple.
Benefits of Working for Clients: You’re in Total Control
Being in control of your freelance work situation is simply a mindset. If you think you’re in control, you are. But if instead of being in control, you feel tied to, trapped into a relationship with, and beholden to your clients, then that’s what your freelance experience will be like. It is truly how you look at things.
You are in complete control of how many clients you take on, what the payment agreement will be for every contracted client (or if there will be contracts at all - you don’t have to sign papers to start working for and being paid by a client.)
As mentioned, some may not be able to handle this level of freedom and the risk that comes along with it. But for self-starters and entrepreneurial types for whom it feels natural to go after what they want, and for whom every day brings another opportunity to create potential income… freelancing can be the most freeing thing that they’ve ever known.
To stress the point, your success as a business owner who works for clients will largely be determined by your mindset. And the good news is that as your business evolves and your client base grows… as people come and go through the rotating door of your small company… your mindset will change, potentially for the better.
What does this mean?
It means that as you gain experience, your emotional intelligence will grow. In time, the challenges that kept you up at night for the first few years will seem like child’s play. You’ll be able to spot a golden client opportunity, and you’ll also have a sense of who’s dodgy and should be avoided. So, time won’t be wasted making those mistakes you once made.
Your business success mindset may not happen in a day, a week or a year… but the transformation will come if you continue to work on it.
Mindset also comes as you get to know your clients. You’ll develop a relationship with each one. That relationship can be short term with some people… it can be on and off again with others.
Or, it could be a long haul commitment that serves as a good chunk of your yearly income. And in having a relationship with clients, you’ll gain a sense of who is worth giving more to because when you work with this person, abundance just seems to flow your way.
If working for clients seems like something that you’d be comfortable doing, let’s go into more detail and begin putting some plans in motion.
Working for Clients: Mindset Shift
We talked about the difference between working for clients and working for a company that someone else or a large entity owns. Let’s go into the mindset shift. What do you need to change about the way that you think, in order to cozy up to client contracts and freelance gigs?
Mindset is the first challenge. But it takes time. Why?
Because when you work for a company, you can pretty much count on the fact that your paycheck will roll in at the same time each week or month.
That can contribute to a certain complacency over time. What's our incentive to push ourselves when we know that the money will show up whether we push ourselves or not?
Everything comes with risk. Due to the sameness of a full-time job, the routine that we come to expect, and the repeating daily tasks, we kind of forget about that risk. At times our traditional job can grow monotonous... and when this happens it just feels like a never-ending sentence.
This is indeed a mindset, and it’s this type of thinking that can prevent you from ever getting off the ground with your freelance enterprise, if you let it. But don’t let it.
How so? You’re still slogging away at that J-O-B. The doldrums set in. You don't worry about performing. That’s because we typically let what's happening around us dictate our actions rather than the opposite.
Even with a 9 to 5 job, risk still exists. Knowing this is the first step of your gradual mindset shift.
Despite the complacency and false sense of security a job brings, there is in fact still a risk. The risk is that of course you could be let go from your full-time job at any time. A little bit of cushion can come in the form of unemployment to aid you in your transition. But that typically is a nerve-wracking period of loud clock-ticking as we worry daily about what happens if we don’t find a new job before unemployment runs out.
So all of this delivers a kind of low-level stress for the long term because you really can't do anything about it other than wait for that next right opportunity. Being let go of your job and then having that unemployment check can be helpful. But if nothing good is turning up, it's like sitting on an egg that doesn't hatch.
This slowly eats away at us. Some people are not built for it. Remember that the option to freelance, have your own business, serve clients on your own terms and be an independent consultant is there. It’s hard, though, for people to get into the mindset of this type of freedom… but it’s exactly what needs to happen if you want to break free from the trap and begin to work for clients on your own terms.
The mindset shift of going from a job to a business of your own is indeed a breakthrough that needs to happen. Until we cement that vision, until we really believe that we’re built for success, we’re going to stay stuck believing that we just don’t have it in us to go after client jobs and find other ways to make money for ourselves.
Probably because we’ve never done it before. And mostly because of fear. We fear the unknown.
What if the very first client doesn’t pay us?
What if the client isn’t happy with what we deliver, and what if they walk away ready to sling our name through the mud?
What if the client gives us a bad review on Google, Yelp, Facebook, LinkedIn or another public platform?
What if the client turns out to be a time-sucking, energy-sucking leech?
What if the client constantly texts us while we’re busy parenting our kids?
What if we just can’t handle it?
All these scenarios are possible. But so is working for a company where you’re treated like a peasant every day, where people steal your ideas and where your boss delivers a heavy dose of daily stress and frustration with lack of recognition for your hard work as the soul-crushing cherry on top.
The first thing to realize about how to change your mindset is that the two may be different, but not drastically so.
What’s different is your perceived comfort level.
Working with clients is not exactly like working for a boss at a company, but it's not entirely different either.
In a way, each client is your mini boss for the time that you work for them. But the good thing about that is you get the choice to decide who you'll be serving. So, your client, who could be considered a “little boss” of sorts, need not be someone who doesn't fit with your goals, philosophy and work style.
Another possibility if you work for clients is that even though you “serve” them, you might also take the lead in how the projects play out. Life coaches and business coaches, trainers and dieticians serve “clients,” but technically their role is to act as a guide - not a person who carries out orders that come from the client.
So if in your area of expertise, you could technically function as a teacher or guide of sorts, it will benefit you to truly regard yourself as such when dealing with clients. This is part of the mindset that you must adjust to. You might be the true expert, and your client might be the technical student.
In that case, own the role. Doing so will cause the mindset shift you need to really lock in success as an independent contractor, freelancer or however you define yourself in small business.
Trading the Scarcity Mindset for the Abundance Mindset in Your Work with Clients
What other type of mindset shift is needed to be successful when working for clients and having your own business?
A major belief to work on is letting go of fear and the scarcity mindset. Scarcity mindset has to do with nickel and diming.
Of course, no one wants to throw their every waking minute, heart, soul and creative power into their client’s happiness, but see very little financial compensation for that. But as your experience grows, you’ll begin to recognize that there’s a potential to grow your business or gain income in every single client experience you have - and different clients will serve that purpose for you in different ways.
Part of having an abundance (versus fear and scarcity-based) perspective means that as more and more clients come and go, you’ll begin to recognize what needs to happen in order to “give to get” from this relationship and experience.
Some clients will pay you generously but remain detached from your circle of contacts.
Some clients will be more frugal, but they may offer an opportunity to connect with their network of people who can also become clients of yours.
Some clients will offer you a barter trade - you have a mutual need for one another’s services, and it’s an even swap, with no need for money to change hands.
Some clients don’t pay as much as your standard hourly, but yet their flexible work schedule jives with yours, so you take the opportunity because it will enable you to tend to other important areas of your life that need attention while still making money.
Some clients, despite their ability or willingness to pay you hourly, can become joint venture partners who help you amass big money in your business. Because you work well together and connect in how you think - you’re able to pool creative talents and go fifty-fifty on a joint venture without either of you getting caught up in a limiting mindset.
Lack of fear will enable you to make a big leap forward when the timing is right, because you’ll recognize an opportunity when one comes along, without a lot of nail biting and floundering or asking everyone else’s opinion as to whether you’re doing the right thing.
What Will You Learn if You Work for Clients?
Having a business brings huge leaps and bounds in your career. What will you learn if you have your own business working for clients?
You’ll learn how to handle people.
Working with clients gives you a ton of exposure handling different types of personalities. This is something like working for a company in that with both instances, you'll encounter many different types of people that you must learn how to deal with. But when you work for clients you get a choice.
You can actively commit to partnering with one person. Or you can actively choose to let go of a client relationship because it's not working out. This can be very empowering. The more clients you work with, the more you learn about yourself and what type of client is the ideal productivity and profitability partner for you.
Here's what else you'll learn when you have your own business serving clients:
You'll learn skills.
Having your own business can require you to jump without a net in many instances. There will be times when you have absolutely no idea what you're doing and you must research, learn, practice and master an entirely new sphere of your business.
You’ll learn how to be a flexible thinker.
Being in business for yourself constantly serves up problems that you must prioritize and solve. This will teach you how to pivot - quickly change directions to meet the need.
As a result, you’ll think differently than you did before, and this skill will impact your personal life for the better as well.
You’ll evolve past the worker bee mindset.
Once you settle into working with clients and it becomes a daily flow in your work life, it will be really difficult to return to working for a company and all of the politics and policies and go along with this.
You definitely will develop more of an independent streak after you've been on your own in your client based business for a while. If you return to a traditional job after having done this for some time, it may feel very stifling. Many of the rules and social behaviors may seem limiting to your creativity and actually kind of ridiculous and elementary.
You'll learn the value of your time and how to manage it better.
Time is a huge thing when you work for yourself and serve clients. You'll realize how very valuable every minute of your day is because every minute of your day is a potential opportunity to make money in a minute. If you're not working or you're not doing something that could go toward that, you’re really going to sense that your time is being wasted.
Talk to your average cogwheel worker in corporate America, and you’ll hear about how the hours tick by slowly and they can barely get out of bed to face another work week. This is simply not so when you work for clients and love what you do.
In fact, you'll know that the freelance grind is for you when you find yourself leaping out of bed for work... when the hours of your day fly by... when Friday rolls around and you wish it were Monday because you have so many things on your task list that you're excited to dive into… you're wondering how you can sneak in work on your vacation because it's so enjoyable, satisfying and freeing to do what you do.
You’ll learn how to control the flow of money.
Working for clients and having a business can help you begin to understand that you control the flow of your own money. And as you get better at this, you'll start to see that setting up multiple income-producing opportunities is the way to go if you want to control the flow.
You’ll learn to take time off when you need it, but not to miss out on an opportunity when one comes knocking.
If you have a slow day or a sick day at your job where you work for someone else, someone might say something or criticize you... but your world isn't going to come crashing down
A slow day or a sick day when you work for clients doesn't have to be the end of the world either. But it could mean a few less hundred at the end of the week, or it could mean a lost opportunity. When you work for yourself, a “sick day” might mean a “sick day plus a late night,” and if you’re wired for an alternate schedule, that will feel right to you. Some people don’t thrive when working and living by the traditional clock. If you’re one such person, this will be a huge relief for you, to be in charge of your own time and how it’s spent on a 24-hour schedule.
You’ll learn when it’s time to take action.
Being a freelancer means you decide the pace, timing, intensity and frequency of the actions you take on behalf of your career. There's no sitting and waiting. But if you are waiting, it could mean that you're not cut out for this freelance life -- which isn't the end of the world because everyone is different.
But it should be definitely noted that self-starters will thrive in a freelance and independent consulting environment. People who have a more passive personality will not... and will likely suffer the consequences or lack of consequences of their inaction.
As a freelancer it will take some time adjusting to this. But it's not really that difficult of a situation and in fact working for yourself and serving clients can be incredibly rewarding. It's just something you're not used to and things that are different feel uncomfortable at first.
How to Get Clients: Various & Multiple Ways
It’s the number one question on the mind of every burgeoning freelancer: how do you get clients? Let’s do a quick overview of the ways:
Get clients by putting up a freelance website or blog.
Pay special attention to the words you choose to include in your page titles and main headlines, as well as your site descriptions. These should be words your future clients would be likely to type into a search box when needing your services.
Fatten up your website with loads of high-value content. It’s not enough to paste up some regurgitated, soul-less drivel. Your content should pack a ton of valuable information that teaches people something they didn’t know and entices them to want more.
Get clients via online networking. Join groups where you can help others learn what you know by sharing detailed information.
Get clients via word of mouth. Share your website on a multitude of social media platforms. Let all of your friends, colleagues past and present, and professional acquaintances know that you’re available for paid work.
Offer to help others for free just to gain experience. If you see someone who’s working from a shoestring budget and can use some business support, let them know you’re available for a small project in exchange for a testimonial and some referrals. This is a good way to grow your rep as a respected name in the industry.
Join freelance member sites. Keep in mind though, that competition is steep here and you’ll likely be elbowed out by other freelancers trying to take all the best gigs and clients by lowballing their hourly rates.
This is probably how Fiverr came to be. Keep in mind, trolling job sites can become a full-time occupation in itself, and it may not be worth the effort and commitment that it takes to work your way up to good pay in this manner. But that really depends on you.
Make free how-to videos and share in places like YouTube & TikTok. Take a good look at the types of video content other users in your industry are posting. Borrow their keywords and piggyback on their creativity to attract the right people.
Content will be a huge factor in your ability to land new clients. You’ll want to constantly be sharing, brand-building and doing more of what works for your specific industry. Case studies, testimonials, instructional content, very detailed how-to articles that include visuals, and your ability to include that call to action all factor in.
Look and sound as polished and professional as possible. Image really is everything. If you’re doing a good job landing clients after posting videos of yourself in jeans and a baseball hat, you’ll do an even better job decked out in some hot office attire with your hair and makeup done up perfectly.
Work for Clients: Basic Setup
Before you get clients, you want to get your basic business setup in place. What you do here depends on your profession and area of expertise.
Everything should be ready to rock the day that first client walks in the door. To make this happen, you'll want to prepare all of the supplies, systems, teams and delivery methods that will keep your clients satisfied and happy.
This will take time and will also take money. But also know that your business setup is very scalable. If you don't have a lot of startup capital there are ways for you to cut corners and do a lot of DIY in your business. Also, know that basic website marketing won’t break your bank.
You can put all the must-haves in place -- yearly price on domain, web hosting, email autoresponder, logo - for about the price of a few trips to the grocery store. The rest is your decision to create all on your own - or hire a freelancer or outsource your business to help you market to the right people.
What’s an example of taking a shortcut to save time or money in your business setup to serve clients?
Some freelancers who are well established use QuickBooks or some other type of budget-balancing software to keep the books In their business. But if you don't have or want to allocate the funds for this because you're brand new in your client based business, you can certainly send a simple invoice out that you create yourself, print as a PDF and print as a PDF and email to clients manually without the help of any type of software.
Here's a simple checklist of what you put in place before hanging your shingle and announcing that you are currently accepting clients in your service based business.
Yes, you might work in an industry where the computer is your main source of income and the bulk of your work is done on the computer. That would encompass professionals who work in marketing, tech support, writing, design, client management and such. Having a working computer with all of the basics in place is of course imperative.
However, even if computers are not where you spend your days providing a service to clients, the world is totally computerized nowadays. It’s inevitable, even if you do something like cutting lawns for a living, that a computer will be an essential part of your business life. So put some basics in place for the computing part of your job. That could be a word processing program, the internet, email, antivirus protection, a way to take payments online and other necessary tech-based tools.
Separation of personal and business life is important when you work for clients. Yes, you might be tempted to just start giving out your cell phone number that you already have. But blurring this boundary in such a way can really add stress to your life.
FYI, you don’t need to sign another cell carrier contract to activate a second business phone. Avoid the hassle and just head over to Walmart’s technology department to purchase a business phone and pre-paid card.
Any other essentials that will be necessary to perform work for your clients. This seems fairly straightforward. If you work as a seamstress, you need dedicated space for your sewing machine, supplies and customer garments. If you design landscapes, you’ll want to stock up on graph paper, pencils, books about plants and such.
The more essentials you put into place before taking that first client, the more relaxed and at ease you’ll be when the time comes to begin work… and of course, the more capable and professional you’ll come across.
Toxic Clients: Red Flags
5 Red Flags that You’re About to Start Working with a Toxic Client
Sometimes when things go sour with a contracted client whom we have been doing work for, we wonder exactly how we got into this situation.
A paying client that turns out to be toxic sometimes comes into your work life much like a bad relationship in your personal life. Things start off normal enough. Maybe you're even excited to work with this person. They pressed all your hot buttons with what they said to you upon meeting.
Now however, when you see that text come in or when the email alerts light up your phone, you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. What is your toxic client going to need now? What kind of stress are you about to face?
This all could have been avoided, but how?
The answer is learning the red flags that will clue you in to a client who's going to come in as a shark or barracuda and try to overtake you with their possessive energy.
Please keep in mind that just because some people are difficult to work with does not mean that you need to be on your guard, looking at every client who comes to your door with suspicious eyes.
Try to keep everything in perspective. If things go wrong, it's not the end of the world, despite that it could get a bit hairy trying to wiggle your way out of the commitment with said toxic client. Ultimately though, you’ll be better for having had the experience and you will certainly have learned something and come out stronger in the end.
So let's talk about those red flags. What are the signs that a toxic client is headed your way like a heat-seeking missile and this is your only chance to run before you get sucked in by their black hole?
Toxic client red flag 1: "Rescue my project” - a.k.a.
This client comes into your association immediately bad-mouthing somebody that they worked with in the past. This is a pattern that probably will happen over and over in your freelance or independent contractor life until you learn by experience and recognize when it's about to happen again. How does this go? A new prospect shows up at your door inquiring about your services. They come in with a brisk manner, anxious for you to help them fix some fairly urgent problems that someone else messed up.
The would-be client kind of positions you as the savior in this scenario. Another freelancer disappointed them with shoddy work, or didn’t do what they expected. Now they need you to come in and save the day.
Of course, you fall for it. The story sucks you in and you're about to don your superhero cape and pull out all of your best freelancer moves. Surely this client is going to be dazzled by everything you create for them.
Of course the opposite happens. Shortly into the work, the client expresses dissatisfaction. Undaunted, you slog merrily on, determined to win them over with the next round of changes to their product or project.
But instead, they seem to grow even more unhappy with what you have provided. It's like they want you to think on their behalf and know what's inside of their head and pull it out and turn it into a finished product. But then when you do that, they immediately come back complaining that you're not understanding them at all and that this work simply doesn't meet an acceptable standard.
Round 6 or 7 of this, you're growing weary of the game and wonder why if the client has such a specific idea in mind that they don't just do the work themselves?
The truth about this toxic client is that they don't know what they want. They only recognize what they don't want, which is anything anybody could possibly create on their behalf.
It is somehow part of their toxic makeup to find fault in another -- and this also ties in nicely with their sudden frugal mindset which translates to later accusing you of not delivering at a level of professionalism that would warrant the expected payment.
Ultimately what does this brand of toxic client want from you? They might want to get the most work or creative productivity out of you for the least amount of money. That's if they’re a strategic thinker. But who knows what's inside of your toxic client’s head? This person could very well be so disorganized mentally that they can't even get past the hurdle of refusing to validate the work that you're doing for them... and so they're never going to actually get anywhere.
What this boils down to is wasted time. When you work for clients, the unspoken exchange is their money for your time. Sure, maybe they're talented enough or capable enough or intelligent enough to do what you do. But people hire professionals every day to avoid doing tasks that they could perfectly well do themselves but simply don't want to or don't have time to do.
So essentially, this toxic client would rather play head games with you and feed their own ego then get any work done in a timely fashion or compensate you for the time that you put in on their behalf.
What should you do? Get good at red-flagging people who approach you in this criticizing manner. Don't be fooled. Recognize that they're just going to continue the pattern of knocking on one after another door of an unsuspecting freelancer, claiming to each that this one will be the one who finally meets their unreachable expectations.
But it's never going to happen. So if a person comes to you and the first words out of their mouth are “I don't like the way so-and-so did this work…” or, “The last person who worked for me was no good because…”
You need to carefully find a reason a.k.a. an excuse why you'd be unable to deliver the work that this person needs done. It can be any excuse at all. You can even make up a lie if you have to. Something suddenly might come up in your personal life that renders you incapable of handling a new client. Or maybe the work is out of the scope of your expertise or so you say.
Whatever you do, know that the criticizer is soon going to victimize the next freelancer who comes along. So if you have a buddy in the business, you might as well let them give him or her a heads up in private and do both of yourselves a favor.
Toxic client red flag 2: No boundaries in communication.
One type of freelance client that you'll want to avoid like the plague unless they're paying you the king's ransom is the client that slithers in by way of every communication point possible.
Perhaps this is not as bad as the first kind of toxic client looking to throw you under the bus and not pay. But there is a certain level of toxicity in someone who doesn't respect other people's right to communication boundaries. They’re coming in on every platform - Facebook messenger, text, email, and phone calls.
One major problem with this all-over-the-place talker is that they make it very difficult to track the work done on the project and keep up with draft edits if that’s part of the work. This is of course because they’re all over the place. The worst offense that this type of toxic client has is their tendency to text you piecemeal information and speak in confusing and vague language.
Again, toxic might be a harsh way to describe this person. But whether or how much they are toxic will depend on if they stay accountable for their sloppy communication or if they repeatedly confuse you with haphazard wording only to turn around and chastise you for not being able to read their mind or for doing the wrong thing based on misinterpretation.
Toxic client red flag 3: Dodgy payer problems.
It's a true blessing to have a freelance client who understands the importance of paying their workers on time… and a true curse to have the opposite type of client. This is the toxic kind who has no problem taking up the majority of your week, possibly even including off-hours like late nights and weekends. But then when the bill comes, this person is conveniently nowhere to be found.
Is there any type of red flag that can help you avoid signing on with potentially promising clients who soon devolve into late payers? Well, one way is to look them up online and see who else has done business with them in any way and had positive things to say about the interaction.
If nobody can seem to vouch for this person, it might serve you well to play it cautious. Start with one project, something simple that you can handle over a day or two, just to dip your feet in. If the project goes well, issue the invoice. But then if the client suddenly pulls a “here today, gone tomorrow act then now you know not to get in deeper with a flaky payer. Take the loss, back out and move on.
Why is it toxic to be a dodgy payer? Well, it doesn’t always have to be. There could be a variety of reasons why someone isn't paying you in a timely fashion. Maybe they do not have a good handle on their personal finances and maybe it just so happens that the coffers need to be filled at the time when it would be appropriate to pay you for your work.
The toxic part comes in because the client does a disappearing act and shuts down communication at a time when it would be very important, and respectful of your time and your professional work, for you to hear from them. It’s true - sometimes life gets in the way of people paying on time. But validation goes a long way to Band-Aid this scenario and at least foster positive communication until the bill is paid. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't function at this level of emotional intelligence, choosing silence instead.
So once you issue the invoice, the client suddenly goes into hiding. When it's time to follow up and make sure that they received the invoice, with a gentle reminder that payment is due, instead of communicating with you, they play it cagey. What to do now?
A much better way to handle this situation from the perspective of the dodgy payer is to open the lines of communication and come in negotiating.
A simple explanation, and an offer to pay a small fee for being late with payment, or taking action to revisit the contract agreement in a way that respects your time while meeting their budget, could be some possible workarounds. These actions might actually lead to you getting paid by this client.
Toxic client red flag 3-1: You’re being gamed and you know it.
One type of freelance client that can turn out to be toxic is what we might call the gamer. This person starts out asking you about your services, but then has an ulterior motive. They actually want to hook you in and pull a switcheroo so that YOU become their customer.
How do they do this? One way is by gradually chipping away at your confidence until you question that maybe they know something you don’t. They constantly question your expertise and talk a big game like they have the inside scoop on the latest technology or some type of inner success circle that you really must sign up for as a paying member.
Slowly over time with each conversation you find that this is a soft sell they're using to kind of wear you down. They want to see how far they can take you into either some sort of barter arrangement where in exchange for you working for them, you become a customer of their technology product or part of their elite network.
It's a great way for them to get work done either free or on the cheap. But for you, if you prefer to work for cash, being slowly lured into a barter exchange or flipped scenario of this kind is probably not what you had in mind for your freelance career.
This in itself may not point to toxicity. But being approached with a freelance bait-and-switch is not a sign of respect for you or your profession.
So if you sense that someone is warming up and getting ready to pitch you on a product, membership or network that you don't want or know that realistically you won't be using, don't fall prey to shiny object syndrome.
Instead, decide that this person does not have your best interest in mind and will not respect your time as a freelancer. Then back away slowly from the professional commitment.
Toxic client red flag 4: your client leans too hard on you for emotional support.
This is a codependent client situation that creeps up on you. Many new freelancers walk into it completely unaware, to find that five months later their client is rambling on about how they don't get along with their mother, undesirable traits of their ex-husband and everything else under the sun. You do not want to be dragged into this type of relationship.
What are the warning signs that one day your client may turn into an emotional leach, sucking away time from your other paid projects, to talk in your ear about whatever floats their boat at the moment?
Pretty much if the first conversation that you have with your prospective client goes off the rails and you end up talking to each other for an hour or two instead of what should have been 15 minutes, this could potentially be a red flag that it’s time to run.
It really depends though on whether the conversation was two sided or one-sided. It is true that you could possibly have an instant karma connection and instant synergy with a new prospective client. In that case, maybe the two of you take turns sharing ideas... and before you know it you've built the foundation for your future joint venture with one magical, kick-off phone call.
But if the conversation seems to go on and on and instead of being fueled up for work you feel like your head is full of information about this person's private life, then you may want to really take 10 steps backward and wiggle your way out of this one before it turns into a codependent nightmare.
Toxic client red flag number 5: the rip-off subcontracting move.
The rip-off client is what it sounds like: an idea thief. He or she does what you do but has come in at a low point in the life of their enterprise. They're not sure where to take things next and might even be on the verge of burnout. This person is in a state of total disarray with their business, and ready to pack it in.
This is where the rip-off client sidles up and asks to subcontract work to you. It seems ideal, they are dealing directly with the clients and simply feeding you jobs thus taking away the time suck that often goes along with account executive type communication.
Before long, negative language begins to creep into your new client's communication with you and you start to feel like they are subtly pushing you away from what began as a seemingly ideal relationship.
They’re also trash-talking the clients that you two are working together on projects for and bad-mouthing people that they have teamed up with in the past. Little sarcastic digs are beginning to creep into the work that you do together and you're starting to feel smarmy, like you’re about to become the next pawn in their game.
Before long, the subcontracting client starts coming up with reasons why you two might not be an ideal team together, likely your political views or something completely unrelated to the work that you do.
Next move, they drop you like a hot potato. Their plan is to now around and start to employ your business building techniques in their own enterprise. Maybe you see them a couple of months later talking smack trying to play off some new business partner fresh off the freelancing street.
The ripoff client might be more difficult to identify at the outset because when they first enter the work relationship with you they seem so complimentary and curious. Really, it's just so they can gain access to your plans, ideas and dreams and then implement them in their own setup. We may as well call this working for a narcissist because that’s what it is.
Unfortunately, you'll have to likely work with this person a few times before figuring out that they are something of a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's probably a good idea not to share trade secrets with people who want to be your best friend after the second conversation that you two have together. It's okay to move fast if it can potentially create income. But it's also much better to protect your ideas from someone who could turn out who might one day show up wearing your brand.
You're probably wondering now what's the best way to attract good, reliable and trustworthy people who can become your clients or turn into business partners or refer and or refer other great people your way. The answer is that slow and steady win the race. It's always tempting to rush in at the first dollar signs. But if you haven't yet established a productivity flow between yourself and your potential client, it's all too easy for one bump in the road to completely derail your relationship.
What happens when you get stuck working for toxic clients?
People who are selfish, don't have your best interests at heart, don't respect your professionalism, don't credit your expertise, swipe your ideas, and use false promises to lure away your best clients and overcharge them?
That's when your work life turns from beautiful to the stuff of nightmares, much like the stressful 9 to 5 you fled from to seek a blissed out entrepreneurial existence.
Working with toxic clients will give that same sense of being shackled to the desk in a 9 to 5 job with bad coworkers. And the worst part is the clients who are driving you nuts aren't promising you a 401k, won't pick up the tab for your health insurance, and are taking away your energy and time that could be better spent serving clients who love you and who you love too!
Green Flags that Tell You You’ve Found Your Soulmate Client
We talked about red flag clients, so let's shift gears and look for green ones. What's a green flag? Is that even a thing? Green means go and there are some people whom you are just meant to create cash flow with. If you work as an independent contractor or freelance professional then sussing out people like this can be difficult… but they’re quite literally worth their weight in gold.
Sometimes months or even years pass before this kismet-like client connection happens in your business and fattens your bank account. But it's worth the wait. For some reason there are certain individuals out there that you just quickly realize you are so professionally compatible that all the rules are thrown out the window and it's like they were born to be your business partner.
You might be impatient for it to happen, but hold out for the right one. You'll notice with people like this that it seems like you two have an innate ability to sniff out income opportunities when you put your heads together.
So enough of the introductions… let's dig right into the signs that tell you the client you've been holding out hope for has appeared in your business life.
Green flag 1: You and your client have a little backstory.
You don't need to have a lot of backstory. But it seems like the best client relationships are born from an acquaintanceship that grows slowly over time. It's not like the fly-by-night freelancer gigs that come and go on freelance websites. Those people likely won’t even remember your name. If you’ve had a few, maybe two, maybe five conversations about business plans with this person… if you did a couple of projects and have kicked around ideas… it may be time to lock in the commitment and start creating together with cash payment in mind.
Green flag 2: Your client communication flows with ease.
You and your soulmate client just naturally know how to communicate. Your inclination is to be objective with each other and both of you seem to say what you mean, mean what you say, and understand each other. This basically points to intellectual compatibility, which is a very important thing in a business partner.
Green flag 3: Your skills or professional roles dovetail nicely.
You know you’ve found your soulmate client when the two of you slip easily into complementary work roles with each other. You might each have a different skill set that, when combined, is like your business wonder twin powers activated. Or you could both be in the same profession -- for example, two writers, or two coaches -- and you easily slip into mutually supportive roles that help you get more done when you’re together than you would have alone.
Green flag 4: You’re able to meet halfway.
One huge green light in your client relationship is that the two of you freely and without trying seem to constantly put in or “invest” in the relationship, and this goes back and forth. Both parties are generous and of an abundance mindset that effortless has each person giving, then receiving from the other, then giving again. This is an epic green flag of partner based success.
Green flag 5: Your client shows and tells their respect for your professional skill.
They talk you up to their friends, they offer sincere thanks for a job well done, they do things like pay on time and surprise you with bonuses… and they refer business to you which is huge. Likewise, you reciprocate by showing genuine enthusiasm for their professional gifts, and by sharing their good name with your inner circle of trusted contacts.
Green flag 6: Your client and you can easily accept suggestions and criticism from one other.
This points to an absence of ego in the work you’re involved with together, which feels like a huge burden has been lifted that’s often at the crux of typical client problems. Being able to work together yet be detached from each of your respective roles and contributions to a project is a huge marker for a power team of business players.