If you’re an independent consultant looking for your next big gig, you may not be looking for warning signs of relationships that can be, well, trouble. But those signs are often there, flashing brightly right in front of you. By learning from our own mistakes, we can recognize them. Yes, you may need the work. You may, in fact, be desperate for the revenue. But avoiding certain problematic clients by learning how to quickly identify them can save you a lot of frustration, anxiety, stress -- and possibly save you from a failed engagement. counting pennysThrough my experience, there are three types of potential clients that I try to avoid. Let’s examine each one.

‘Can You Give Me a Better Rate?’

Experienced consultants warn you to be wary of clients who are overly creative with payment methods, in particular those who tempt you into working for royalties on the software you develop instead of offering cash for your work. Never fall for the statement, “The market is huge for a system like this – you’ll make a fortune when this thing is done!”  All that client wants is free software development and a share of your future profits for “making you rich.” Watch out for clients who express surprise – or even irritation – when you charge for things like hour-long support calls or site visits to explain things that have already been documented. If you’ve made it clear up front that these are things the client should expect to pay for, then they should be willing to pay up. Clients who are constantly trying to get free work from you aren’t clients you want to deal with. Sometimes, you can identify them during the sales process, when they repeatedly try to get you to do significant amounts of work for free, or seem annoyed when they hear that you charge for all but the first meeting.

Have it Done Yesterday

Next, be concerned with potential clients who are incredibly rushed and demanding before anything even gets started. These clients may even want you to get started immediately without a signed contract, spec, or any “trivial” paperwork relating to the engagement that might keep them from meeting their deadline. When you encounter these people, be afraid. Be very afraid. When you encounter a “drop everything and do my work” type of client, you know right away that you’re dealing with a selfish, demanding and likely disorganized client who can’t manage their way out of a paper bag. Worse, they’ll likely turn out to be a rate chiseler who’ll express shock when presented with your bill. Never, ever proceed without the engagement properly documented, no matter how rushed the client is. You’re going to get stiffed more times than not from this type of client. Run away fast.

The Big Ego

Finally, be wary of clients who raise a red flag as the “ego hog.” These people try to turn every situation into one with a winner and a loser. The tipoff may come during contract negotiations, when these clients show inflexibility about modifying even the smallest of terms they’re suggesting. They may become insulting and even aggressive. Or they may attack your qualifications and abilities in a personal way. This should present a huge red light and tell you to run from the situation. Do you really want the work that badly that you’ll deal with this type of behavior on a potentially long-term basis? I don’t think so. In this same vein, beware of clients who are know-it-alls and respond to your initial attempts at solving their problem by shooting them down, trying to blow you away with tech snippets they’ve obviously picked up from the Internet. These are the types who are likely to want a detailed proposal only to turn it down and take the information elsewhere to get it done cheaper – with your ideas. These are just three variations of problem clients you can -- and probably will -- run across during your consulting career. What clients have presented you with problems? What flashing red lights have you learned to identify? How have you responded? Let me know in the comments below.