In a perfect gig economy world, not only would independent contractors have more than enough work to go around--but every client would be incredibly organized, have realistic expectations, and actually pay on time.

But then there's....reality.

While there are definitely some skilled leaders who make working on freelance projects a total pleasure (always our mission here at Masthead Media!), nearly all independent contractors can tell at least one story--if not many--about challenging clients who helped make a promising project into one enormous headache.

Because those challenges can cost you hours of unpaid work and frustration, it's critical for you to pay attention to red flags that almost always get raised prior to signing the agreement. 

Watch for these key client indicators--and decide if you can work through them (or should just move on).

They minimize what the project involves

Even when clients have the best intentions, they don't always thoroughly think through all of the details, and therefore the work, it will take to fully execute a project. For instance, while your contact may be focused on the content development portion of the work, they may not realize that significant time is often spent on related elements--like conducting stakeholder interviews, developing story ideas, pitching polished concepts, reviewing notes from stakeholders, pulling and editing images, producing (uploading) the work, etc.  If these elements aren't priced out and built into the agreement, it could create challenges later in the project.

As the freelancer, feel empowered to ask questions--lots of them--from the very beginning to help the client better define the parameters for the project, and put specifics into your contract. I recommend including a list of additional services that you could provide at a later date, which the client can activate in writing.

Their budget is very limited

When the project manager doesn't understand how much work it might actually take to complete a freelance assignment or project, they may believe it's a simple undertaking and doesn't deserve a healthier budget. Many independent contractors have found an inverse correlation between clients with anemic budgets and the amount of work that's actually expected.

A small budget doesn't have to be a deal breaker--just make sure the scope of the work is very clearly established in your agreement, and how much you'll need to charge if the work grows larger than what's expected.

They're disorganized

Did your potential client completely miss a call or ask you to resend the same information several times before the project has even started? Organization rarely gets better once a project kicks off, so you'll have to determine together if part of your services should include overall project management.

Some clients may be grateful for the support in getting a project off the ground--I recommend including project management to any client who could use those services. You can always start with a small number of guaranteed hours and provide more on an as-need basis.

They don't have a payment process in place

The person you're about to work with isn't sure who you'll be sending your invoice to, what paperwork they'll need from you to get started, or how long it'll take you to get paid.  These are a few signs you can expect payment to be delayed. Follow these seven tips to make sure you get paid on time.