As a professional creative, nothing feels quite as awesome as doing work you love with a dream client. Someone who you totally click with, who respects you and your skill, who is open to exploring ideas and new directions, who partners with you to achieve something great and who loves the work in the end. However, working with the WRONG client can end up being one of the hardest experiences to deal with, and can be messy and painful for everyone involved. Today I’m going to share some of my best advice for avoiding those nightmare clients by looking for red flags- and I really wish someone had shared these with me when I first started out! 

Red Flags To Look Out For:

  • Budget Arguments From The Get Go:

Haggling on price, telling you they can get it cheaper, or even just acting insulted by your pricing- these aren’t great ways to start out a working relationship.

  • Style Isn’t A Good Fit OR Asks You To Copy Someone Else

Its a good idea to make sure you and your potential client are on the same page before you get started. Make sure they have an understanding of the style of work you do and what they can expect when you work on their branding. This means its up to you to make sure your website, social media, and portfolio are only showing off projects and items that you’re proud of and represent you and your skills at your best.

You also want to get a sense for what this potential client is looking for and make sure their desired finished product isn’t completely out of alignment with what you like to do.

A huge flashing red flag for me has been clients who ask me to copy someone else’s brand or website from the get-go. (I used to call this “Marie Forleo Syndrome”.) Not only is it unethical to rip off another designer, but a brand won’t look authentic (or even good) if you’re simply copying someone else. I’ve developed my branding process over the years to come up with great results- someone who wants to bypass that and simply steal someone else’s design is not going to be a great person to work with in my experience.

  • They Disrespect You or Clearly Don’t Value What You Do

This one comes up a surprising number of times in both my own experiences, and in the experiences of my clients and the How To Create community members. Potential clients who feel they could do it themselves, that it shouldn’t take you too long, are rude to you from the start, or refuse to work with your process so you can do your best work won’t be a fit to work with. 

  • Doesn’t Respect Boundaries

Demanding phone calls outside of your business hours, social media stalking, or other inappropriate boundary-busting behaviors are a preview of how they’ll behave when you are working together. Take note.

  • Poor Communication

Asking too many questions (far more than necessary), ignoring intake questions, going a long time without responding but then expecting instant communication from you. Be careful, and take into account how this will effect your project timelines.

  • Your Own Gut & Excitement Level

This is hard to quantify, but listen to your own gut – if this just doesn’t feel like the right project or client, explore that! Ignoring my gut has almost always led to disaster.  

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Community Members Who Contributed To This Episode:

Michele Caruana, digital strategist from The Caruana Group
Mallika Malhotra, photographer, brand strategist from MikiFoto + Co
Prerna Malik, copywriter and content strategist from The Content Bistro
Hope Johnson, stationery designer at The Little Blue Chair
Anna Linder, brand stylist at AnnaLinder.Com
Meg Casebolt, designer and SEO specialist at MegaBolt Digital
Kayla Hernandez, designer at Rosemark Creative
Sarah Masci, web designer at Bracken House Branding Co.
Helen Fraser, artist at Helen Fraser Art


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