It happens to all of us at one time or another. We get a client inquiry but something about their first or second email seems… off. You can’t quite put your finger on it but something deep down is telling you this person might be a problem. This is called a “Red Flag” and they are something you always want to watch out for.
Here are three different types of signs that you can use to help weed out the troublesome clients from the ideal ones:
Over the Top Communicator – This type of client wants all of your attention day and night. They are typically not respectful of your time, and want things done on their timeline. If you don’t immediately respond to their email on a Saturday, you’ll be getting a Facebook message or phone call. They will continually push the boundaries of the relationship. There are certainly clients who need more hand holding than others but if they’re this demanding at the start of your relationship, it’s best to thank them for their interest and run.
The Pinterest Demander – This one can make a lot of photographers see red. It’s one thing to get a couple “must have” photos, but if they send you a giant Pinterest board or list of poses that they demand to be taken at the session (or it’s a completely different style than yours), this is a big flag. By sending you this, they aren’t trusting your vision or what you will deliver to them, and the time at the session or wedding will end up being a big checklist rather than creating unique images for them. In addition, if you feel like you are being treated like “the help” and they are always second guessing you, then it might be time to break ties. Our jobs are relationship based, and dedicating time to someone who makes you feel “less than” is usually more of a headache than what it’s worth.
Friends & Family Discounter – More often than not, these clients unfortunately come in the form of friends or family (or people who THINK they’re family friends). Don’t let a guilty conscious make you second guess how much you charge them. You need to create firm boundaries. Have your select few people that you do work for at a discount/trade/free, but that’s it! This is your job and livelihood. You can’t be giving up all of your time, otherwise you won’t have any left for actual paying clients.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to do when sizing up a client is to do a gut check. How do you feel about the client? Do you find yourself excited to work with them? Or do you have hesitations moving forward? If your gut is sending you signals saying no, chances are it’s not going to be worth it in the end no matter how much you rationalize it. Even if they have connections or seem like they’ll invest a lot with you, it’s not worth the added stress it’s going to put on you.
As much as you might feel bad passing on a client, know that you are leaving space open for clients who are excited to work with you and are more of your ideal client. Don’t forget that you are the boss, you are in control, and you don’t have to take every client that knocks on your door. Being a small business owner is tough as it is, and by passing on red flag clients you are ensuring you won’t get burnt out on your passion and forget the reason you started in the first place.
Have you had a client before that you later wished you had passed on? What were the signals you saw but chose to ignore?
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