As creative entrepreneurs, we've all seen them. Red flags. The small signals that are suppose to warn us- don't work with this person, don't take this project. They come in all shapes and sizes, some bigger than others and hard to ignore. But then there are those tiny red flags that you see, but choose to ignore.
The reasons for ignoring these tiny red flags are plenty. It could be you need the money, or work is slow, or the infamous promise of more work, steady work, down the road if "things work out." Take it from me, things rarely work out.
I've ignored my fair share of red flags. And the only place it got me, was spending more time, making less money and being disrespected along the way. What I've learned is that you have to respect yourself and your business, otherwise no one else will.
Here is a short list of red flags that you simply cannot ignore, and some dialogue that may help you navigate the conversation.
1. Always late.
If you accommodate clients who are consistently late to meetings, or often cancel at the last minute, you are sending the message that your time is not valuable. The very first time a client is late for a meeting, whether in person or on the phone, do not let it go unnoticed. Kindly let your client know, your time is valuable.
You can simply say:
"I'm sure we both agree that our time is valuable. So let's decide here and now to give this project and each other the respect deserved and be on time for our meetings in the future."
You can take it a step further and include policies on tardiness and cancellations in your initial contract. I charge a flat rate for meetings and I don't allow them to go past the scheduled end time, so if my client is running 15 minutes late- it's on their dime. It doesn't negatively affect my productivity or devalue my time.
2. I promise more work in the future, if you do this first job for peanuts.
If you compromise your rates for the promise of (potential) work down the road, you are devaluing your talent, creativity and the overall worth of your services. I've fallen into this trap more times than I can count. Of course, I want more work, steady work and long-term client relations. But in my experience, the majority of clients who dangled that carrot of potential future revenue, were the worst clients I've had. They came late to meetings, changed the scope of the project, ignored set timelines, stalled the project considerably and almost always tried to skip out on the final payment.
So here's what I say when a new client asks me to compromise my rates:
"Let me be honest with you, I've found success by investing in relationships with the people who value the services I offer. I don't invest in the potential of possible future work or the possible success of a start-up because unfortunately, in my experience, that bet doesn't pay off. What do you think of this... I'll do such an amazing job on this first project, that you'll come back for a second, and we can talk about a discount on that job."
3. I'm not sure what I want, but I'll know it when I see it.
When a client says, "I'll know it when I see it" or "You tell me. You're the expert." - it's a red flag warning you this person has poor collaboration skills and there will be endless rounds of revisions. If they are unable to communicate what they like and what they don't like, they will most likely stall the project with useless criticisms along the way such as, "it just doesn't pop" or "I can't put it into words, but it's just not working." You'll end up back at the drawing board more times than you can count. You will lose time and money.
So here's what you can do.
At first contact, I ask potential clients to fill out a simple project questionnaire. It's a simple list of questions. This will give you a ton of client insight based on how they complete the questionnaire; do they do it in a timely fashion, are their thoughts organized, are their expectations realistic, etc. Then you can decide if it's a project worth taking on.
Overall, the best way to navigate past the red flags (if possible) is to decide the kind of clients and projects you want to work for. Once you've clearly defined who your ideal client is, it becomes much easier to see what projects you should take and which ones may not be a good fit. As always, I wish all my fellow creative entrepreneurs clients that value your work, and a ton of
work that you value.
Keep moving forward.