So. Funny story.
Just a few days ago, I got an email from a client telling me that she wanted a refund for her deposit. She did it right on my birthday and it really did spoiled my celebration spirit quite a bit.
Which is funny, because just two weeks ago, I just talked about how “nightmare clients” aren’t the end all of freelancing careers and that we shouldn’t be scared of them despite the terror that they can bring.
But as I read those four words “I want a refund“, I felt crushed.
Was it rational? No, it really was quite irrational for me to be so crushed about it. It isn’t the first time a client had asked for a refund. I also know last minute cancellation is a regular occurrence. Shit happens and people cancels appointments all the time.
Still, it didn’t stop me from having crushing doubt about my own freelancing career:
Was it something that I did? Did they find out something indecent in my social media? Did they find someone cheaper for better quality work?!
Maybe she thought I was a fraud.
Then there was also frustration and anger at the client because she has booked two weeks of my work time only to leave me hanging last minute.
Suddenly I have two weeks of a forced vacation.
No matter what the client’s reason is, it still doesn’t change this fact: clients suddenly demanding a refund is one of the biggest nightmares a freelancer can have.
Thankfully for me, I had my contract to protect me, so I managed to get ahead of the situation.
But contracts really should be a last line of defense. Whenever you pull out your contract to make an argument, you are likely also kissing your relationship with that client a solid goodbye. Then it becomes a giant PR damage control fest.
And thankfully for you, you can avoid all of that. You can learn from my mistakes.
In hindsight of this whole mess, I realized that there were a few warning signs that I should have acted on. Such as when she consistently spelt my name as cilena, when my name is Celina. Yes, she never used caps.
I am kidding. That really wasn’t a warning sign.
It was other things that made my gut twitch, but I still agreed to work for her because she came to me as a recommendation. I thought better despite getting the massive gut feeling that she’ll bail out on me.
And it turned out my gut feelings were 100% accurate.
So learn from my mistakes.
Here are 3 signs that might seem like nothing, but are actually huge warning signs:
- They don’t have any questions for you.
This was actually the first warning sign that made me concerned. My ex-client told me that she didn’t have any questions after I asked three times if she had any questions or concerns about the project.
Because I normally get a lot of questions.
Okay, maybe you are much better at explaining things than I am, but the chances are you probably still left out a few details that your potential client have concerns about. And that’s completely normal. Questions are the start to a healthy working relationship!
So you can imagine why having no questions can be a problem.
It can mean a few things:
- They aren’t actually interested in their own project.
- They aren’t paying attention to what you are telling them.
- They have no idea how their own project will go.
- They aren’t serious about their project.
In my case, she actually had no idea how her project (a website) will actually turn out. She just thought it will happen.
All of this basically boils down to a simple fact.
They don’t have a quality project for you to work on.
And that’s a pretty big problem because you don’t want to work in circumstances where required resources aren’t made available. Trust me, the last sort of people you want to work for is someone that doesn’t know what they are doing and don’t really care to learn. They just think things will… happen.
Alternatively, they might be expecting you to do all the work. Because they are looking for a miracle worker, not a freelancer.
And that’s really just as bad.
- They talk about wanting the project completed… fast.
This one is one of the biggest red flag.
If a potential client wants you to complete a project quickly or implies that this is a job that you should be able to finish in a few days… RUN AWAY. Double the speed if they insist on you to work on their projects immediately.
This might seem like a reasonable request, especially when you are first starting and are desperate for your very first freelancing job. After all, you do have the time!
Whenever I have picked up a client that wants the project completed “fast” without regards of my other on-going projects, they have always shown that they don’t have actual respect for my time.
This is because when you are working as a professional, you have other clients to care about. Even if you are just starting as a freelancer, you probably have other stuff you got to care about before you can commit yourself to a project.
This is a basic human courtesy that many potential clients surprisingly forget. It is also very basic time management.
If a potential client demands that you cater only to them, the truth is they don’t think very highly of you. That means they will be very unlikely to pay you a reasonable rate or respect your time in future collaborations.
- The milestone and expectation of the project are not discussed.
As a freelancer it is your job to discuss about the working arrangements and project milestones. A healthy working relationship means both you and your clients understand the limit of what you are going to do and when you are going to finish them.
Setting up milestones is a great way to communicate those expectations. It also makes perfect project management sense to have milestones.
If a client doesn’t really care about it and decided to wave it off?
This could be a huge disaster for you as a freelancer, especially if you are not working on a signed contract. This is how most nightmares start – when your clients start thinking that you exist only to work without repayment.
So in the scenario where a potential client insists that “you’ll work along the flow”, you really should insist on the necessity of milestones. If they still aren’t interested, make a mad dash and find another client.
But what should I do if I get a bad client anyway?
Unfortunately, bad clients are like ants. No matter how hard you try, you’ll still get to experience some of them. That’s just how it is, shit happens and sometimes – surprise, surprise – it might not actually be under the client’s control.
In these scenario, here is what I heavily suggest your contract to include:
A non-refundable deposit.
This is what kicks in if a client suddenly leaves you without work for two weeks. Or if a client demands a refund because they are suddenly very displeased with the work you’ve done so far.
It’ll save your hide a lot of the time.
This blog post, which is written by a former lawyer, talks about the fine line of a non-refundable deposit, the actual meaning behind it, and why you should be careful when you are exercising this right. He breaks it down perfectly to why you should consider having it and being careful about the phrasing in your contract.
It might seem overwhelming to have a contract, but do know that there’s a lot of templates and resources that can help you with that.
Not sure how to write one?
Point being is you should always have a contract and have a non-refundable deposit clause in your contract. It will give you control over a potentially messy situation.
Of course, whether you exercise the option or not is completely your choice and depends on the circumstances. You don’t always have to be an asshole to someone that asks for refund.
Do you know someone that deals with way too many bad clients? Send this article along and help them out.