8 time-eating freelance client species to avoid

October 19, 2009 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Freelancing 

freelance vampireAfter a few years of freelancing experience, you will develop a sixth sense about the people who approach you with freelance work. Within about five minutes of meeting someone or picking up the phone, you’ll be able to tell if they’re worth your time or wasting your time.

However, this skill is hard-won. While I’ve tried from the beginning to be careful, I’ve been bamboozled a few times. Nothing serious in the way of money, but time lost cannot be regained.

To help save you time and aggravation, I’d like to introduce you to the eight dominant species of freelance Time Eaters. These are some of the ne’er-do-wells who lie in wait in the dark and menacing freelance jungle to feed on your valuable time.

  • The Freeloader — Outwardly lovable and friendly, this sorry soul has big dreams but empty pockets. The Freeloader will call you again and again asking for advice, perhaps wanting to meet with you several times. The projects, however, never materialize. If you press for details, deadlines, or financial commitments, the Freeloader will have no answers. Your own pity will drive you to indulge the Freeloader for far longer than is reasonable.
  • The Hustler — Slick, fast-talking, and assured, the Hustler will dangle the promise of vast sums of cash. But to snag this prize, you will have to become a “partner” in the venture, meaning you will only get paid if things turn out well. If you explain that you would prefer to get paid the usual way, the Hustler will begin talking about risk and reward and will use your lack of confidence against you to make you feel small for not grasping this “opportunity.”
  • The Vampire — This is a strange and mysterious beast that thrives on bleeding you dry of samples. It could be that the Vampire is a cheapskate plagiarizing your work or another freelancer checking out the competition or looking for clients to steal. Occasionally, the Vampire runs classified ads promising freelance work that doesn’t exist. One Vampire I know runs a so-called “freelance agency,” dropping big names, forever promising lucrative projects, and endlessly begging samples to help “market the services of their freelance members.”
  • The Novice — This Time Eater is enthusiastic and likable, but knows nothing. The Novice is likely to hire you, but will give you vague instructions and forget important details. It’s up to you to get the job done right if you accept the work. But look out! If things go well, the Novice will take the credit. And if things go badly, the Novice will find a way to blame you. The Novice is driven by self-preservation, so the better you are at your job, the more threatening you are and the more danger you are in. It’s a no-win situation.
  • The Underling — Frustrating is the only way to describe the Underling. This species may be experienced, professional, and serious about working with you, but simply lacks the authority to hire you. Sometimes it’s because of authoritarian leadership in the company or interdepartmental conflicts. The Underling will sometimes want to hire you in a near conspiracy to get something done, but you run the risk of the scheme backfiring if the wrong people get their nose in a twist. Sometimes you luck out when the Underling gets promoted, but more often this creature will lead you down a dead end alley.
  • The Freelancer — Sometimes another freelancer is in charge of a project. This can be good or bad, depending on the individual. On the upside, the Freelancer will know how to work with you and could make a project easy. On the downside, the Freelancer could be an insecure oaf who will secretly sabotage your work to avoid the possibility of being shown up.
  • The Faker – A cousin to the Freeloader, this shady species has work that needs done, but simply doesn’t have the money to hire you — or has the money and simply doesn’t want to spend it. The Faker will never tell you the budget, and probably never tell you why you don’t get hired. The Faker likes to appear important and has an inflated ego. You’ll get call after call asking for estimates, but never a call to hire you. Unlike the Freeloader, the Faker is easy to dislike.
  • The Liar — This is the oddest and most despicable species of Time Eater in the freelance jungle. For some inexplicable reason, the Liar will talk to you about freelance work possibilities but never hire you or any other freelancer. Is it boredom? Is it loneliness? It remains a mystery. Some Liars don’t even have a business. Some are calling during their lunch hour at work to pass the time. This is the freelance version of the prank call.

What is your defense against these creatures? In most cases, you need only walk away. These are predatory beasts, but lazy. They lose interest quickly if you keep moving.

Here’s another take on client types: 12 Breeds of Client and How to Work with Them. This is about clients you will find yourself working with, not necessarily clients you want to avoid.

How about you? Have you run across any beasts like these in your freelancing?

Related posts:

  1. Is it time to go freelance?
  2. Turn an angry client into a loyal client (with one word)
  3. Dear Client: A letter from your freelance copywriter
  4. Translating freelance “Client Speak” into plain English
  5. 3 ways to attract higher paying clients and avoid the $10 content mills

>>> Subscribe to blog by RSS or E-mail

Smart Comments

4 Comments on 8 time-eating freelance client species to avoid

  1. Sara on Oct 20th, 2009 1:49 pm
  2. Hallelujah!

    It’s nice to have someone put into words what I’ve experienced over and over again — especially with #s 1 and 2. I’ve tried different strategies to avoid the circumstances, but it’s hard. There is almost always an abundance of wasted time.
    .-= Sara’s last blog … Writing Samples – Fashion and Email Delivery =-.

  3. Dean Rieck on Oct 20th, 2009 1:55 pm
  4. Sara,
    Be very careful with #2. I’ve had my run-ins with that particular species. They’re basically just cheats.

  5. Louis on Nov 3rd, 2009 12:55 am
  6. Nice list. Actually, “The Liar” could be a competitor trying to get information. I think that’s very common.
    .-= Louis’s last blog … Will EOT Become the Standard for Font Embedding? =-.

  7. Dean Rieck on Nov 3rd, 2009 10:57 am
  8. Louis,
    You may be right. I recently read an article from a copywriter who suggested pretending to be a prospect to get information. There’s plenty of info freely available online, however.