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Have you experienced annoying, frustrating clients like these?

  1. “Let’s start a free trial to see if your writing style fits our branding.”
  2. “I can’t pay you at that rate but I can give you a lot of work if you give me a discount.”
  3. “The other copywriter I messaged a few days ago quoted me half that price!”
  4. “We have no budget for this project but we can give you an awesome testimonial and refer you to our colleagues.”

And all that SHIT… These toxic clients are killing the industry—and you’re contributing to the freelance industry’s demise if you tolerate them. So yes, please avoid them at all cost. Respect your rates (never discount your rates!) because the right type of clients will respect yours as well. Keep that in mind!

What I’ve Learned Dealing With Toxic Clients

But I’ll have to admit, I used to entertain toxic clients in my first few months of freelancing. Well, I just graduated college and was desperate to start earning any amount of income. Heck, there was a time when I only charge $0.005 per word which is nowhere near the rate I pay my writers ($0.02 per word + I train them too). I had no one to guide me and point me in the right direction. I’m telling you now, you can EASILY find better clients. So avoid them like the plague.

The worst part in working with bad clients isn’t the low pay… It’s the HIGH chance that they won’t even pay you for your work. Trust me on this.

How much income did I lose to entertaining bad clients? Hmmm… I’d say around $1,000 or P50,000 (I work OUTSIDE UpWork, btw!). I guess around 20 clients have already failed to pay me either full or half the amount they owe me. That sucks, big time!

Pro Copywriters said it best, “For every hundred good clients out there, perhaps one or two will look for ways to wriggle out of their obligation to pay you.”

To that, I say Amen!

Lucky for you, I’m sharing with you tips on how to spot and filter out bad clients. I meet 2-4 new clients every week and through the years, I’ve discovered several red flags that would tell you if the client’s a toxic one—I use these red flags to screen every client until now! Read on.

1.They ask for a free trial or a discount.

One of the signs of mistrust and rudeness is when a client questions your rates. I’d appreciate an honest client who would say that he can’t afford my rates rather than a client who would bully me until the end of the project just because my price is a bit high or his dog can do a better job for free. A good client would understand that these are your rates and that they’re fixed. They can look elsewhere if they want cheaper work.

If your client thinks that your price is too high even after proving you’re worth that price, just walk away. Also, clients that ask for a free trial are just there to get free work from you, so watch out. Accepting a toxic client won’t do you any good. Never lower your what you charge to “win” a client and stay away from clients who can’t afford to respect your rates.

2. They have no online presence.

If you think that not all clients have social media accounts and/or a website, you’re wrong. Every serious business owner out there has social media accounts (personal and/or business) and a website (unless it’s a startup). If someone sends you an email and you can’t find them on social media or they have no company website, be cautious. It’s better safe than sorry!

Make sure to check their personal/business online presence before starting any work:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Company Website

If clients don’t want to provide their full name, it’s definitely a no-no.

Bonus tip: I’ve actually found people who use free email accounts to be toxic clients or even “scammers.” This automatically means they don’t have a website, you can trust a client who has a business email more (ex., and that they might have no business or aren’t serious about running their business.

I know, I know. In the Philippines, everyone’s using a Gmail or Yahoo email… even businesses! Well, that’s not true in other countries—especially in the U.S. where having a website and business email builds credibility and shows that you’re serious about doing business.

3. They don’t want to sign a contract.

While it’s not a requirement, a contract can definitely help you filter out bad clients. Having a signed contract as proof is bad news for any potential client out there with malicious intentions. That’s why they would usually back off or try to convince you to work with them based on “trust” upon learning that you require a signed contract.

It’s been a year since I started requiring a signed contract from my clients. This helped me filter out bad clients and greatly reduced the number of toxic clients I get to work with. Requiring a contract will filter out 95% of bad clients. It really works!

Plus, you can also include clauses in your contract so the project runs on YOUR terms, not your client’s. You can set payment terms such as 50% upfront and 50% upon delivery, some freelancers even require 100% upfront for new clients. I also have a clause in my contract that I keep the rights to the copy until the project is fully paid by the client. To let them know they can’t use my copy if they haven’t paid me in full yet.

4. They refuse to pay any upfront payment.

If you’re thinking that this is too much to ask, you’re wrong. Asking for an upfront payment is the industry standard. All freelancers do it nowadays and if you’re not doing it, you’re putting yourself at a major risk. You should NEVER start working on any project without getting part of your payment first. That’s the golden rule!

I always require my clients to pay 50% upfront before I start working on their project. Why? It helps me filter out clients who want to get free work from me. Plus, I know from experience that it’s never a good idea to work without pay. Bills are due now and you can’t afford to put your income at risk, am I right?

Once a client pays 50% upfront and submits a signed contract, you can start working on the project. This means that the both of you have come to a mutual agreement and you can expect them to pay the remaining 50% upon submission. But take note of the different red flags too, around 5% of clients may still end up not paying the other half after you submit your work.

If they ask for revisions, do it. Whether you charge for revisions or do them for free, it’s up to you!

5. They keep bugging you and keep asking for updates.

Okay, so they might be actually good guys who will pay… but they’re annoying as hell. You decided to become a freelancer because you want the freedom to work at your own pace. If there’s a client stricter than your mom and clingier than your partner, it’s time to look for better clients. Why? They’ll drive you insane!

This type of client would monitor your work, movement, how you breathe, how your veins pop out of your head, and how blood rushes to your head until the contract ends. They’re very demanding and would always want you to be available during working hours and sometimes 24/7. They seem to live on constant updates and reports every day.

It’s not worth it… They have trust issues and they might even think that you’re incompetent for the job even though they hired you. You could also categorize them as Mr. Know-It-All. By the end of the day, if your copy failed to meet their goal they would blame you because you didn’t listen to them.


6. They think writing is easy-peasy

Yeah, we’ve all heard it one time: “I’d write my own copy if I had the time but I’m just busy.” Toxic clients who treat you as hired help, not an expert. Who think writing is an easy task that can be done by anyone and that writing takes only a few hours. They think they write well but truth be told, they know nothing about copywriting.

This kind of mentality is hard to deal with. You’ll be suffering from a lot of negative feedback and unrealistic demands if you decide to continue working for this type of client. Copywriting is far from easy and you know it. Some clients just can’t see this and realize that “not everyone can write good, high-quality, copy that sells.”

My solution is explain your side to the client and see how he’ll react. If he understands your side, then you could make arrangements to meet halfway. If not, the best option is to leave and look for a client who sees value in your work.

7. Trust your gut because most of the time, it’s right.

We have natural instincts that can detect danger and I believe it’s an ancient survival gift from mother nature that we can use in freelancing. Following your gut when it comes to communicating with potential clients can help you filter out bad clients. Sometimes it just smells fishy, even if you keep thinking and can’t figure out what’s wrong.

If your gut has gives you an uncomfortable feeling, then trust your instincts and take caution. Some clients aren’t guilty of any of the red flags above but are actually toxic deep inside and they’re just that good in concealing it.

Don’t forget to use these red flags to spot and filter out bad clients!

Freelancing is hard at first. But you’ll get the hang of it.

When I started out, I wish I had some sort of guide to spot and filter out bad clients too. I would’ve been $1,000 richer right now! But it’s also good I learned my lesson (even if it was the hard way), at least I now have some decent advice to share with you guys. And I really hope you put this into good use!

If worse comes to worst and you need to let go of a client, do it. You may lose income temporarily but as everyone keeps saying, “When another door closes, another one opens.”

Hope you found this blog post super valuable! Comment your experiences below and let’s all help each other…


Author: Raffy Marabut

Raffy Marabut is a freelance direct response copywriter. For years, he has been helping clients get more leads, customers, and sales with direct response copy that converts. Raffy is also the founder of Copywriting Dojo, the Philippines’ first community for copywriters and he trains people in the art of direct response copywriting.

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