Vetting clients: 10 red-flag phrases

Vetting clients: 10 red-flag phrases

September 28, 2021 By Molly McCowan Resources

No matter how a prospective client finds you (personal referral, search engine, networking event, etc.) it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re a good match. The biggest rule in freelancing—and one newbies often break—is “trust your gut.” You don’t want to end up with a problem client, and take it from me: they’re out there.

While sometimes it can’t be prevented—even the most heavily vetted clients can turn sour—you’ll want to do everything you can to avoid a client from hell.

In my eight years of running a freelance editorial business, I’ve accrued a long list of what I call “red-flag phrases” to watch for when I first meet a client. Here are the top 10 that I see fairly often:


  1. “I don’t have time to answer the questions on your contact form.”
  2. “I’m notoriously late—I really struggle with deadlines. If I need a few extra days, will you be able to turn the edit around faster so I can submit it on time?”
  3. “Call me ASAP.”
  4. “I googled ‘developmental editing,’ and you seem to use a different process than another editor I found. You should think about changing it.”
  5. “My friend got ripped off by a copyeditor a few years ago. I’ll need to speak to a few of your former clients, to make sure you’re not scamming me.”
  6. “Did you get the email I sent at 10pm last night? It’s now 7am, and I still haven’t heard from you.”
  7. “Can we do the editing process over the phone? You tell me what changes to make, and I’ll make them? That would be easier for me.”
  8. “I don’t really want someone ‘messing with’ my writing. I just want someone to find the typos. If you touch anything else, I’ll want my money back.”
  9. “Are you going to be available on evenings and weekends? I do my best work then.”
  10. “No, I don’t want to pay a deposit. I’ll only pay you after I receive the finished product.”

These are all real things that clients have emailed or said to me, with some wordings changed to protect identities. If a client approaches you with one of these lines, run away! Wish them the best of luck, and be happy you dodged a bullet.

This article was originally posted to on 11/20/18.

Header photo by Danae Callister on Unsplash.

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