Don’t Be Fooled By These 6 Client Lies

Is your client lying to you?

Sadly, not all freelance clients are on the up and up. Some clients are downright scammers, while others may just have a tendency to stretch the truth from time to time.

Unfortunately, even “little white lies” can have a serious impact on a freelancer who depends on client work and client payments to pay the bills.

In this post, I’ll list six common client lies and explain why clients sometimes tell them. If you hear any of these words coming out of your client’s mouth, tread cautiously.

Lie #1. I’ll Pay You Once I Am Successful

If you listen to this one long enough, you might start to believe that you’re about to turn down the greatest opportunity since the invention of the wheel. This is also known the “percentage of profit” lie, as in, I’ll pay you x percentage of my profits once I get up and going.

Oddly enough, this lie comes mainly from clients who haven’t experienced success. You see, a really successful client is able to pay your fees and doesn’t have to make any grandiose promises.

The inherent flaw with this one is that there is usually no way for the freelancer to measure the client’s success or failure. Unless the client is going to give you access to his or her books so that you can determine their receipts, run the other way when you hear this one.

Lie #2. There Will Be Plenty More Work in the Future

Often clients mean well when they make this statement. They may have big dreams about future projects that never materialize. Other times, the client is just trying to negotiate a lower price based on the possibility of a high volume of work.

Either way, future work won’t pay your current bills. Unless the client is willing to commit to a those future projects (with specific project details including dates) in writing, stick to your guns and don’t lower your price.

Lie #3. The Check Is in the Mail

For as often as I’ve heard this one, you’d think the post office was always losing mail. It’s funny how my bills never seem to get lost, though.

I’ve actually heard clients tell this same lie over and over again. When I finally receive the (very late) payment, I notice that the envelope is postmarked for just a few days earlier.

If it’s been over two weeks and you still haven’t received the check through the mail, your client is probably lying.

This lie is definitely a red flag. Often this lie indicates that the client is in financial trouble and is trying to stall for time. Think twice about working for them again. Better yet, make them pay up front.

Lie #4. You’ll Get Plenty of Exposure from This

Ask yourself, “do I need exposure, or do I need to get paid?”

There’s a time (such as when you’ve just started selling a product) when you might want to promote yourself heavily, but most of the time your answer should be, “I want to get paid.” Be very careful about what you do for exposure.

If the client doesn’t have a proven history of having a large audience, skip this offer. Remember, no one can guarantee that people will see your work (or that they will remember who did it if they do see it). Besides, the best gigs give you credit for your work and a paycheck.

Lie #5. All Your Colleagues Work for X Amount

This is another attempt by a client to get you to lower your price. He or she quotes an obscenely low price for the services that you are offering and claims that the low price is the market rate.

Don’t believe this lowballer for a minute! Sure, there may be freelancers out there who are willing to work for practically nothing, but that doesn’t mean that they are actually any good at what they do. (And if they are good, they won’t stay that cheap for long.)

Stick to your guns when it comes to pricing. This client isn’t being realistic about the cost of doing business.

Lie #6. This Is a Very Small Project

It’s so easy to get taken in by this one. The client makes the project seem like there’s hardly any work involved so that you’ll quote a low price.

The trouble is, the client has left a lot of things out when describing the project. If you’re not careful, when it comes time to actually do this project you’ll find that there’s a lot more work than you anticipated.

To expose this lie, be sure to ask the client lots of questions about the work. Get his or her answers to your questions in writing. Be very specific about things that take extra time like meetings or revisions. Finally, make sure to get a written agreement from the client before you start the project.

Your Turn

Have you ever been fooled by a client’s lie? What lie was it? Did I leave any lies out?

Share your answers (no client names please) in the comments along with how you responded.

Image by alancleaver_2000


  1. says

    … Sadly I’ve heard every one of those lies…

    Check is in the mail, Plenty more in the future and Your colleagues work for x-amount are likely the ones I’ve heard more often than not.

    However, I don’t see what my colleagues rates have to do with my own. If my rates were lower would they make a point in telling me so? Not likely, they are looking for the best buy possible. :D

  2. says

    I’ve heard #6 multiple times, but the clients doesn’t realize the work is actually complex! Example: Client wanted 14 landing pages based on pre-selected keywords. That’s all well and good, but I don’t think he realized I would a) need more time to do them and make them unique from one another and b) would charge him the rate I did for the work.

    It seems a number of folks want to pay the cheapest rate for work. You get what you paid for! You want low quality? Pay a super-low rate, well below a living wage.

  3. says

    I’ve heard all of those lies, got t-shirts and a still photo from the rollercoaster!

    When someone asks me to write for exposure I remind them that AEP does not take exposure in lieu of United State currency.

    Along the lines of exposure is the link love pitch. Of course their site has about 10 hits: 5 of those are from the site admin and 2 are from their mom. ;D

    Great post Laura.

  4. says

    The most satisfying part of number 5, is when they are outraged of the hourly rate, go with somebody else and then come back complaining of the quality of what they received. Well … you’ve got what you pay for!

    And if I add a number 7, I would say: We’re going to be partner! I’ll share with you all profit!

    Caroline Mayrand

  5. says

    Around Christmas I fell for #6. I believed the project would take an hour. I got paid twice the quote when they understood the one hour project took about 12. Still it was ten hours shy of my lowest rate.

  6. says

    Hi, Laura,

    I’ve already heard those 6 lies, some of them for several times.

    I also had once a client, on a December 23, that asked me to translate a French to Portuguese project with 100 pages, for December 26, when she already knew that I will not work at that time (me and a lot of other translators, as it was Christmas time).
    I would love to know if she really manage someone at that time for the translation!

    Congratulations for the posts.


  7. says

    Luckily i didn’t have trouble with payments from clients, i usually ask for 50% of payment on start and the other half when the project is done.
    Although i had one client who said that he’s gonna pay me as soon as he earns from Advertisement on their website (google ads) and it was a bad idea that i agreed on that because his website wasn’t getting much visits so i was feeling like i should share website and things like that.
    Good list though, will keep eye’s open when a client says these :)

  8. says

    Terreece M. Clarke–You’ve got to love the link love pitch (NOT!)… What always gets me is when they read something of mine and then email me to ask if they can reprint it verbatim on their blog. (No!)

    Bunker App, Good addition. I wonder what they would do if you presented them with a contract to formalize your “partnership” arrangement.

    Paul Clifford–I think nearly everyone gets taken by #6 once in a while. I’m glad that you got your rate adjusted, but sorry that it was still so low…

    Luísa, The holiday season has always been one of the busiest. I got lots of inquiries during that time since regular staff (and probably most freelancers) are unavailable. Over the years, I’ve learned to draw limits and just refuse unreasonable requests that would cut into my own family time.

    Egzon–The problem with a client promising to pay when they become profitable is that there’s no guarantee that they ever will be profitable…

    Keep the comments coming! :)

  9. says

    It is an eye opener that when you hear any of these phrases from your prospect that means they have problem with money. Now you as a designer have to make up your mind and have answer to the question: ” Do you want to work less money or free for this project?” if your answer is No- just politely reject all these “wonderful ” offers because they are covers for ” I can not pay you full or at all?”

  10. says

    I get Lie #2 a lot. I feel my prices are averages if not just below average to other designers/freelancers. However I still get clients that want me to lower their prices…

    Sometimes I’ll get Lie #2 along with Lie #5 after I quote my price.

    The last client I had, wanted work so cheap that you couldn’t even fill up your gas tank with it! I told him my price, I did go down a little but not much and I said he had to pay me upfront. He didn’t like that, so he walked. Next day he came crying back…lol. No other designer obviously didn’t want to take him. That was a huge red flag for me, but I took the job on anyways and I made sure I was paid in full first.

    Luckily I’ve never experienced Lie #3 as I do all my payments with PayPal.

    All in All I hear most of these lies here and there, you just got to be careful. Ask a lot of questions and never never take on any project without at least 50% upfront. For larger projects I also include a progress payment.

  11. says

    Thankfully, I never had to deal with Lie #3 since I get paid via Paypal but I’ve encountered clients who pay the remaining balnce months after the job was done. It’s funny how these people demand quality and punctuality when they can’t hold on to their end of the deal.

  12. says

    A common variant for #1 is “I’m not looking for a contractor, I’m looking for a business partner!”
    I’m still trying to get rid of my last business partner.

  13. says

    Number #1 is my favorite (it’s surprising that people even get away with that). I think every freelancer needs to come up with a list of hard “MUST HAVES” before they accept a job; that includes payment schedule and amount. It’s hard when you are desperate for work, but announcing these expectations in the beginning of a client relationship will keep you from getting taken advantage of, and will show that you’re client that you’re professional and experienced. So many people are undervalued in freelance situations -establish your worth in the very beginning!

  14. says

    I’ve heard the likes of 1, 2, 4, and 6.

    One client even (quite decisively) told me that if I wanted the job and the money, it was “a risk I had to take”. I promptly told them that I wasn’t an investor and that design services aren’t usually based on such premises. Needless to say, we didn’t end up working together.

    Licensing can balance out these types of jobs, but there’s always a risk—particularly with smaller companies and start-ups.

  15. says

    For translators there is lie #7 “it’s not at all technical”. The reason is so that you will not ask for as much money. I was once told this by a translation company and the job turned out to be translating industrial air-conditioners! When I asked the project manager why she had told me this, she said that that is what her client told her! Yes, if you have been working in industrial air-conditioners for 30 years, the text might not look technical to you! Unfortunately, most of the project managers in translation agencies are monolingual and have been taught to look on translators as nothing better than cattle or cheap production units.

  16. says

    I’ve heard all of these, Laura, but people are still trotting them out. And let’s not forget ‘this should be easy for a good writer’ – that’s a sign that the job will be anything but!

  17. says

    I love lie #2 and #4. Having meet prospective clients all the time, especially like what you described Laura, have never experienced success of any kind. They often think a little too highly of whatever they plan on doing and think we should lower our fees because working with them will ultimately bring us more work and a greater opportunities. It’s funny because when we stand firm, some of them might resort to #6 and say…’well, you ought to consider taking this on since it’s a small project…’

    So how does a small project bring us more exposure and the promise of lots of work?
    Such irony.

  18. says

    The truth is that clients have no idea of what their future workload will be and for a whole number of reasons they are unlikely to use you again in the future, even if your work was satisfactory. Clients persist in advertising on ProZ that they will have lots of work in the future in order to tempt freelancers to answer their ad. The result is that they make the freelancer do all kinds of stupid tests, fill in endless forms and the result is – no work at the end of it!

  19. says

    Great article Lauren, here’s my personal experience with all the lies mentioned above.

    Lie #1. I’ll Pay You Once I Am Successful – I have heard this one many times but never fell for it. The only way I would even consider such a proposal is (a) if I truly believe in the idea, (b) if I am a part-owner reaping profits while only contributing skill (not money) before real profits roll in, and (c) if I believe that the client will make a very good partner.

    Lie #2. There Will Be Plenty More Work in the Future – I’ve heard this one many more times than Lie #1. Sadly, I fell for it many times when I first started freelancing. Now I have a fixed pricing structure and financial goals that I stick to when starting a contract.

    Lie #3. The Check Is in the Mail – No client has ever tried this thankfully and hopefully none ever will.

    Lie #4. You’ll Get Plenty of Exposure from This – I have had a few of these and they do work out for me. I’m relatively new to freelancing (4 years) so I always keep an eye out for portfolio building projects. I typically work with 3 or more clients at a time so the one underpaid project doesn’t affect me that much.

    Lie #5. All Your Colleagues Work for X Amount – Heard that a few times before. That’s a warning sign for me. I always stick to my price and contracts almost never turn out well when the client questions your rate at the start. Nowadays if I hear too much complaints from a client about rate and I just turn them down.

    Lie #6. This Is a Very Small Project – Hear this one every other week. The thing about small projects is that they always offer “small” pay for larger than expected work. Unless they are clients I have a longstanding relationship with, I tend to ignore the client or propose additional services to make the whole endeavor worth my while.

  20. says

    It’s easy to fall for any of these statements when you’re starting out as a freelancer. I’ve fallen for them myself a few times. I’d say it’s a lesson learnt the hard way. But once you’ve gotten trough these you learn to avoid them somehow. Unfortunately, these kind of clients don’t seem to stop coming once in a while, Right?

  21. Freelancers lie, too says

    Good article. Now how about some FREELANCER lies?

    – “Yes, I have experience at doing job XYZ”.

    – “This is the only time I’ll charge you for this.”

    – “I’m giving you a great deal!”

    – “No! I would never discuss you or your project with other people.”

    – “I would never libel you. Come on. We’re friends.”

    – “Of course not. I pay my own expenses. I would never demand that you pay my rent, pay off my debts, hire me a private car to go here and there or pay for my groceries and girlfriends while I do this project for you. What do you think I am?”

    – (After hearing tales of other greedy freelancers) “Wow. That’s a nightmare. I can’t believe some people. Of course, *I* would never do that.” (2 months later, he does exactly That. Then sues you in court.)

    – “No. I’m not union.”

    – “It’ll be finished by X date. Just like we said.”

    – “I provide all images myself. I would never steal Getty Images photos to create the project I am doing for you.”

    – “Trust me.”


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