How to spot a bad client—and what to do if you’ve got one

Let’s get straight to the point: Hiring freelancers gives an in-house team more bandwidth to manage transformational projects that move the needle.

Be it a brand refresh to technical migrations, it’s not uncommon for an external party, like a freelancer or micro-agency, to be the primary change agent at an organization. 

But change is often scary for business owners and full-time team members, and for a freelancer coming into a big project, there’s nothing worse than a bad client. The transition of power can make things a little awkward for outside guests to manage a team or project. Worst-case scenario, which is a pretty common one, these fears can often manifest into the primary barrier in a project. 

We wanted to know: Is it possible to predict these barriers? And, if so, what are some of the underlying causes and how do you overcome them? We teamed up with a Certified Change Management Professional to uncover how to spot a bad client, what makes them so bad in the first place, and how to move forward.

person using microsoft surface laptop on lap with two other people

See it a mile away 

Before you kick off a project with a new client, make sure their internal organizational strategy (one) exists and (two) is effective. Without it, people, process, and product can be compromised due to internal frustrations that could have easily been sorted out with a detailed game plan.


  1. No clear vision or outcomes.
  2. Poor communication practices and processes.


  1. Set the stage and communicate your needs and processes.
  2. Dive into the details with your scopes of work.
  3. Clarify and confirm problem statements shared by the client.

Know the Resources

Do they have any? We’re not just talking about cash. Resources like equipment, softwares and tools, and creative databases for photo, video, and audio can all be breaking points for projects. While everyone needs something done yesterday, that’s a red flag for external team members. Add on a lack of resources and you have a recipe for disaster. 


  1. No time.
  2. No expertise.


  1. Set expectations (and def bill more for rush projects).
  2. Dig into why it is a rush: Poor planning? Last team missed the mark? Last minute event opportunity? Understanding this might unlock extra areas to address in order to be successful. 
  3. Tap into communities to share resources and collaborate.
woman placing sticky notes on wall

Be Aware of Culture

So, culture. It’s a little work with a lot of weight. The way people communicate, bond, and work together is an incredibly important indicator of success (or failure). Understanding the environment you’re about to walk into is an important way to digest the potential blockers and barriers that could arise during the lifespan of a project.


  1. Misalignment on direction within the team.
  2. Celebrating firefighting & squeaking across the finish line.
  3. Poor history with change.


  1. Disagree but commit, work on building trust long-term.
  2. Don’t celebrate reactivity or procrastination—celebrate proactivity.
  3. Take an educational approach: State facts to reduce fear for both clients and teammates.

Did we miss a tactic? Do you have a strategy to share? Let us know on Twitter by tweeting @wethosco.