Ten Characteristics of a Good Client

Good ClientDo you know the key characteristics of a good client? Can you distinguish the good clients from the bad before you start working for them?

Or, when the tables are turned, do you have what it takes to become a good client when your business expands and you’re ready to hire other freelancers?

Here are ten characteristics of a good client:

  1. Communicates expectations clearly. The number one characteristic of a good client is that they are able to express what they want and need. This ability is vital for a freelancer to deliver the right product or service. A freelancer can’t deliver what wasn’t asked for.
  2. Allows a reasonable amount of time for the work. The freelancing world is filled with clients who want it “yesterday.” Often, what these clients actually get is a rushed job full of mistakes and needing a lot of rework. A good client, however, understands that quality work takes time and plans accordingly.
  3. Available for questions. While most freelancers can and do work independently, there’s nothing more frustrating for a freelancer than being surprised by an obstacle and being unable to reach the client. Smart clients know that it’s cheaper to get it right the first time than to fix it later. They make themselves available.
  4. Pays a fair amount for work required. A bargain is a bargain, except when it’s not. Often paying less than market rate for work results in getting work of less than average quality. That’s because a freelancer who works on the cheap often must take on more work than they can really do well just to make ends meet.
  5. Pays in a timely fashion. Discuss your payment terms with the freelancer before the project begins and then honor those terms. If you say that you will pay within x days of the project’s completion, be sure to pay that amount within that timeframe. Don’t make the freelancer beg you for their payment. You could ruin your professional reputation and even your credit history.
  6. Has high integrity. Honesty is at the core of every successful business relationship. Conduct all of your business in an honest and transparent fashion. Not only is this a great way to conduct yourself in general, it will also enhance your business reputation.
  7. Allows the freelancer to do their job. If you’ve hired the right person, then they possess the talent and skill to do the job well. Keep an open mind about what your freelancer proposes. Don’t be constantly second-guessing your freelancer’s abilities.
  8. Seeks an ongoing relationship. The best clients understand the value of an ongoing relationship. They don’t want to have to “break-in” a new freelancer with each new project that they have.
  9. Gives credit where credit is due. While it’s not always possible to give a freelancer authorship credit for a product or service, a discerning client notices when a freelancer puts in extra effort or goes the extra mile in a project.
  10. Committed to quality. Most freelancers take pride in their work and want to produce high quality work. They dislike it when a client asks them to take shortcuts.

How do you stack up?

Can you recognize these traits in your potential customers? What characteristic of a good client would you add to this list?

When you’re the client, how do you stack up? What could you change about your business to become a better client?

Give us your thoughts in the comments.


  1. says

    I’m fortunate enough to have several clients like this. Unfortunately, they are mostly smaller clients. What is it about corporate America that weeds out this kind of personality?

  2. says

    While it’s a bit a part of your number 7, I’ll add one:

    Doesn’t feel the need to check in constantly on progress or watch over the freelancer’s shoulder. There is nothing more disruptive than a client who emails every second day with a, “How are we doing?”

    “Fine. We’re doing the same as we were two days ago, when we mentioned we’d be done in five days.”

    “Okay, just checking. I’ll check back in tomorrow.”

    “Okay. But we’ll still be on track, on course, and ready to deliver in five days…”

    “Yes, but my daily emails MUST help you and be part of that! What would you do if I didn’t check up on you?”

    “Um… my job?”


  3. says

    I agree that all of these traits are great to have. So, a while ago I decided to make a list of SIGNS I could tell a client was going to be like this. After all, it’s great to want to work with someone who values quality, is collaborative, and has high integrity. But what are the signs that someone could show from the beginning that they’re my ideal client? So my list included the following:
    • The initial conversation is equal; we each speak and listen to each other; they are interested in how I can help them.
    • They say they read my writing samples, or that they read my blog. (Sign they’ll be engaged and available.)
    • They respect my time by being on time and by keeping calls to the point.
    • Price does not emerge as their primary concern.
    • Do they sound relaxed or in a hurry? Do they sound distracted?
    • Their own skin is in the game. THEY are the direct beneficiary and THEY will see the results from us succeeding. (Unfortunately, have to echo Colin’s comment above.)
    • They’re an individual or a small, growing company that depends on the copy to help them make a big impact.

    Having this list has been so helpful in keeping me honest about who my ideal clients are. Sometimes we can get caught up in the moment and ignore the signs.

  4. ShelleyDelayne says

    I’ve only recently begun to realize that my design life would be much happier if, instead of taking on *every* client who comes my way, I chose them a little more selectively. This is a great list of qualities to look for. Thank you!

  5. says

    Great feedback!

    James – it sounds like you and I must have worked for the same client at some point.

    I understand that clients sometimes do this because they’ve been stung by other clients who didn’t meet a deadline. However, I bend over backwards to meet deadlines. Sending such reminders can be really annoying.

    However, I’ve found that sometimes you can attack the fear behind the e-mails by feeding them a bit of information. Sending an answer that says “The project is 20% complete” (if it really is 20% complete) may help ease their minds.

    Kelly – That’s a great list!

    I think that you’ve come up with an excellent approach to determine whether a client is a good fit for your skills.

    I also like the idea of having it in the form of a checklist so that you don’t forget something when you’re approached by a new client.

    Terrific comment!

    Keep the ideas and feedback coming.

  6. says


    My answer to James should have said “they’ve been stung by other freelancers,” not “they’ve been stung by other clients.”

    So much for my trying to multi-task. . .

  7. says

    Nice article again!
    Recently I worked for client on a project. When we decided to start work then after two days he asked me to work on different ideas so that he will choose among those.

    As a habit I try or work on different ideas and prepare them for the presentation myself, even if client didn’t asked me about it.

    Then after the completion of the project on decided time, I reported him about the same, but there was no response from him. He was supposed to contact yesterday as we had decided…..

  8. says

    A very good list, but I have one addition: a good client understands the value of what you do, rather than seeing it as glorified data entry that they’d be doing themselves if *their* time wasn’t so valuable.

  9. says

    I agree with this “Price does not emerge as their primary concern.”

    Have had negotiations with two clients like this. First one I didn’t sign and the second one disappeared about a month ago, but I’ve got their deposit. Will avoid the overly vocal about budget concerns type of client in the future. It was too much work with daily phone calls/emails sometimes hourly.

  10. Lexi says

    Thanks to this post, I just realized that most of my clients are good clients. Unfortunately the bad ones can sometimes get more of our attention and energy.

    I hope in a future post you can talk about how to nurture and find good clients such as these.

  11. says

    Thanks everybody for sharing your ideas and experiences!

    Keep the comments coming.

    Lexi, what a great idea! I had planned a follow up post on the traits of a bad client, but your idea is equally important.

  12. says

    I’ve been fortunate to have mostly great clients, although I’ve had my fair share of not-so-great “almost” clients as well. I have my own checklist for evaluating potential clients and tend to steer away from contracting with anyone who sends up red flags, not worth the time and effort. Great list.

  13. says

    Giving credit to freelancers has been a problem for me on a few occassions. I understand that people want their work to get noticed, but the other side is that the business is paying for the work and it is the business that is selling the finished product to other clients.

    There is a fine balancing act here. Some freelancers are true artists and giving them recognition for their hard work helps to motivate them. However, the company hiring the freelancer is ultimately selling their own ability to deliver the project. If it wasn’t with this particular freelancer, it would be with another.

    I am still torn on this issue.

  14. says

    Perhaps implicit in the other traits, but I would add:

    11. Treats freelancers with respect

    So often I see corporations treat freelancers as fodder, without considering that they are businesspeople and human beings. I hate it when freelancers are led by a carrot on a short string, e.g. when contracts are rolled on month to month because their client hasn’t done a good job in their planning.

    It takes guts to say No and walk away, especially nowadays. Corporations over-use their leverage and string freelancers along. I don’t hear many David & Goliath stories in these times!

  15. says

    Wouldn’t it be nice if they came with that halo around there emails (and devil horns for the unreasonable ones) so that you would know ahead of time.

    James: There is one thing more annoying then a client who checks in every 2 hours, and that is one who wants to make constant changes to the project once you have already started. You know, the kind that require you to change the very nature of what you are doing and basically start from scratch. Then, when you present then with an invoice for approval before you make the changes, they get upset that all of their changes are not included in the original contract price.

  16. says

    @ Kate – Hee hee, that’s true.

    “Try red. I think I like red.”

    “But you said only blues, no reds at all.”

    “Oh, I know, but I think I’ve changed my mind.”

    “Uhhh… This means everything has to be tossed and we need to start over.”


  17. says

    KateG – Yeah, but the ones who would sign up for the halo for their e-mail probably wouldn’t REALLY be the angel clients. I think the angel clients would be too modest to do such a thing.

  18. says

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  21. says

    A bad client is more like a bad vacation—miserable but not life-threatening. Still, it’s a good idea to avoid them whenever possible. And the best way to do that is knowing what a good one looks like.


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