The Art of Client Filtering

When we first start out as freelancers, our instinct is to accept every client and project that comes our way, and this is okay when we’re new to the industry. After all, you need to start making a name for yourself and you probably have bills to pay. But this practice is not maintainable in the long run.

You’ll quickly start to notice that some clients are better than others. Some pay more, although higher pay doesn’t always mean a better client, and some might pay faster than others (always a bonus when that mortgage is due soon). Some clients might have smaller budgets, but better projects. You’ll eventually come to find that you’re too busy to accept every client that comes your way. You’ll either end up working 24/7 (not fun or healthy), or find that you’re unable to take on the clients you want because you’re too busy working with the ones you don’t.

So what exactly makes for a undesirable client?

  • Bad communication – takes forever to return  your replies or is overly vague, disrespectful or mean.
  • Bad scheduling – rushes you to finish and then takes forever to come back with revisions and feedback
  • Pay time – takes forever to send payment
  • No money – their budget isn’t high enough

A lot of times, you won’t be able to tell if the client is a good fit for you until you do a project with them. I’ll almost always work with any client once, as long as their budget meets my prices and they seem friendly and communicative – but doing a second project with them entirely depends on how the first goes. Were they easy to work with? Do they have a great attitude? Are they responsive? And most importantly of all, did they pay on time?

It’s not always about the money though. Having a huge budget doesn’t help me if they’re going to take months to pay, especially because I require immediate payment before files are handed over. Small budgets aren’t always a deal breaker either. I’ve taken on projects for little money because I felt it was for a great cause, or something cool I wanted to see succeed. I’ve also kept working with some clients because I’ve had a great relationship with, even as my minimum project fees increased over the years, but their budget didn’t.

The key to successful freelancing is to filter out potential and repeat clients on several fronts:

  1. Do they offer the kinds of projects you want? Long term, quick, WordPress, mobile, etc.
  2. Are they offering work in the industry you’re interested in? Small business, education, non-profits, etc
  3. Do they fit into the type of client you’re looking for? Corporate, small business, agency, contractor, freelancer, etc
  4. Can they afford your budget?
  5. Do they have a great personality? Are they happy to talk to you? Friendly, but professional? Respectful? Will they listen to your advice, or tell you how to do your job?

For example, I filter my clients by choosing to only work with design agencies or other freelancers, unless it’s a project I’m really interested in, who can afford my average rates and agree to my payment terms. I like variety, so the type of project or industry it’s in doesn’t usually matter to me.

However, I realized that recently, I’d been neglecting to filter my clients. I’d been continuously working with a client on several projects, who always took forever to send the final payment. In fact, I had to constantly pester them about where their payment was (which I consider pretty rude – I finished your project quickly, you should pay me just as quickly) and they would always take several days to even answer my email (if I got an answer at all). This was also a client I had broken my own rules for and released files before payment because they were in a hurry. (a big no no!). Now, I’ve been waiting for payment on the last project for almost two months now. I decided enough is enough. Not only will I no longer work with this client, I’ll no longer work with any clients who I have to badger constantly for payment. Also, I’ll no longer break my rules of no files before payment. There’s a reason why I made those rules in the first place! No amount of “promised” money is worth the anxiety you get when your mortgage is due and your bank account is empty because all your clients are late with payments.

Just as clients research you and check out your testimonials before deciding to work with you, so should you do the same. Do they have any negative feedback or comments on the web from their past clients, employees or freelancers? Do they have a good reputation? This will help you choose whether to work with them or not. The last thing you want to find out in the middle of the project is that they routinely “forgot” to pay their freelancers for six months.