About Tire-Kickers and Other Bad Clients

“What is your real price?”

I had just responded to an inquiry about my writing services. The above comment was in response to my reply, but that wasn’t all.

The person sending the email was mad. He went on to scold me for daring to quote a living rate. He included his version of the “market” rate (less than 1/10th of what I had quoted). Then he stated that he should get a volume discount on top of that.

Some “clients” just aren’t worth dealing with. This was one of those.

Unfortunately, there are some bad clients who basically want to take advantage of freelancers. They hope that you’re too new, or too desperate for work, to say “no.”

Most freelancers struggle to identify bad clients and tire-kickers so they can avoid working with them. But telling a bad client from a good one isn’t always easy. Sometimes a client seems above board, and then everything starts to go wrong. In this post, I’ll identify some tip-offs that usually mean you’re dealing with a bad client. Then I’ll spend some time talking about tire-kickers.

Bad Client Tip-Offs

A bad client may try to get your services for a fraction of your going rate, or they may not pay you at all. Usually, they’re perennially unhappy regardless of what you do for them.

You can’t always tell a bad client from a good one. But there are some clues that you can look for early on in your communications with a prospect.

Here are ten clues that a client may be less than desirable:

  1. They ask you to blind-quote. A blind quote is when they ask you to provide a price without giving you the project details. For example, a client might say, “how much do you charge to build a web page?” Since all projects are different, it’s important to get the project details to provide a valid quote.
  2. They quote a ridiculously low “market” rate. The market rate for any given freelancing profession is open to some interpretation, of course. But just because some freelancers are willing to work for a low rate doesn’t mean that’s the market rate. Use a reputable source information to determine your rate.
  3. They always seem to be in a rush. I don’t know what it is, but the more a client rushes me the lower the amount they tend to want to pay. I think this is because legitimate clients realize that it takes time to produce good work and they’re willing to pay for that.
  4. They balk at paying part of your fee up front. As a freelancer, you should be asking new clients for an initial deposit equal to a percentage of what you quoted for the project. If a client balks at paying this deposit, what makes you think they’ll pay you the full amount later?
  5. They may even ask you to create a custom sample for them. If you have an adequate portfolio, that should be enough to demonstrate your abilities. Be very wary of clients who ask you to create a sample without pay.
  6. Their email to you is badly written. In general, if a client is serious they will take the time to proofread their email before sending it. Also, avoid prospects with emails that address you as “Dear Web Developer” or “Dear Freelance Photographer” instead of addressing you directly.
  7. They promise more work in the future. Future work is a carrot a lot of clients like to hang out in front of a freelancer in hopes of getting a better rate. In many cases, this future work never materializes. Base your quote only on the work that you are being offered.
  8. There is no information online about them. Nearly every legitimate business has some piece of information about them online–a website, a social media portfolio, or even just a listing on Google Places. If you can’t find anything out about a prospect, be careful.
  9. They use harsh language even before they hire you. If they treat you in an angry or disrespectful tone now, before they’ve hired you, imagine what it would be like to work for them. Run, don’t walk.
  10. They won’t sign your agreement. Most of the time bad clients don’t like to be pinned down or constrained by a contract or written agreement. If your “client” refuses to sign an agreement, refuse to work with them.

Of course, every situation is different. So, if you are talking with someone who has one or more of the traits above it doesn’t always mean that they will become a bad client. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut feelings about a client.

Now that we’ve looked at bad clients, it’s time to take a look at a particular type of prospect that generally never becomes a client–the tire kicker.

The Truth about Tire-Kickers

Tire-kickers are perpetual “prospects.” In many cases, they don’t really intend to become a client and they don’t ever hire anyone.

A tire-kicker can eat up a lot of your time if you’re not careful. They may ask you to redo your price quote according to several different scenarios. They usually ask lots and lots of questions. They may even request a phone call.

The best way to identify a tire-kicker is to understand their motivation. I’ve noticed three main motivations for tire-kickers:

  1. The tire-kicker is your competitor trying to find out what you charge. This isn’t as common as it used to be, but it still happens. Some freelancers will pose as a potential client to discover your rates.
  2. The tire-kicker wants free consulting. I once spent an hour telling a prospect exactly how she should write her web copy. Did she hire me? Of course not, since I told her exactly what to do. Be wary of giving too many details.
  3. The tire-kicker wants affirmation or is lonely. The world is full of lonely people and some of them will pose as potential clients to get the attention they crave. If someone is demanding a lot of your time and not paying for it you need to be polite, but firm. Let them know your time is valuable.

Your Turn

How do you tell genuine clients from bad clients or tire kickers?

Share your answers in the comments.