How to avoid time-wasting clients

One of my readers recently sent me an email suggesting I write a post on how to qualify a new client. Only two weeks into her new career, she’s already encountered a complete time-waster and wanted to share her experience in order to prevent others from having the same experience. This is what she told me:

“One thing I’ve found already is that it’s not that difficult to get offers of work necessarily, but distinguishing that which is really worth going after, and that which is going to be a nightmare, is quite important and I hadn’t really thought about how to tackle it.

I’m speaking from a very recent experience and have probably made a rookie mistake, but I’ve just had a waste-of-time encounter and I want to avoid it at all costs from happening again. 

Things I could’ve done which might have prevented this from happening:

  • Heeded your advice about not knocking down my rate (though I suppose I felt a bit desperate? It’s been a tough month financially)
  • Gotten more background info from the referrer (a friend of my sister’s who is very disorganised and whose judgement I question anyway)
  • Heard the alarm bells ringing when the client first called at 7pm on a Sunday evening and expected me to give them a wake-up call at 8am the next morning. I agreed to visit her home for an initial consultation and her dog nearly bit my foot (I wish I was joking…!)
Needless to say, I feel quite sheepish and wish I’d turned the work down at the outset.”

First of all, it’s important not to beat yourself up if this happens to you. When you start out you literally don’t have a clue what you’re doing and you will definitely come across time-waster clients.

It happens to every freelancer.

But, as you read, she did see the warning signs but chose to ignore them because she needed the work.

How to mitigate and identify time-wasting clients

Do your homework

If you use my method of getting new clients then you won’t have this problem as much because you’re the one approaching them not the other way around. But if you’re responding to a new enquiry or a referral, try and check them out before you do any work.

Ask the person referring you how they know them and what their experience has been so far, ask the client if they have a website, how long they’ve been in business, and even Google them to see if anything dodgy comes up. None of this is fail-safe but can often flag up warning signs.

Outline the way you work from the outset

When you have that first chat with a potential new client it’s important you both understand what each other’s expectations are. They’ll probably expect you to lead the conversation (they’re new to this but you’re the expert right?) so confidently explain how the whole thing works and clarify what types of things they need doing.

Email them a copy of your contract and T&C’s but always verbally outline the main points such as your rates and payment terms.

Discussing money will feel awkward at first but you don’t want anyone pleading ignorance later – so ignore my advice at your peril!

It does get much easier, and as with your ‘new client initial discussion spiel,’ you’ll quickly find a patter/method you feel comfortable with.

When hiring you, a potential client should know

  • How you operate and what to expect from you/this whole VA thing
  • How you communicate with your clients
  • How much you cost
  • When and how to pay you
  • How to get hold of you
  • Your working hours

With each new task, you should know

  • Exactly what the task is and what they want you to do – repeat it back to them
  • If there’s a deadline
  • How long they want you to spend on the task / what the budget is
  • If the client wants constant progress updates
  • How they want the task/project delivered
  • Your clients preferred method of communication
  • When to invoice them – after the task or on a set monthly date

To prevent later issues always clarify, clarify, clarify!

Don’t let them dictate the terms and don’t reduce your rates

I’ve already said this in my post on how to set your rates but I need to say it again – anyone who questions or tries to negotiate your rates is going to be trouble! This isn’t a haggling contest in a Marrakech bazaar and you’re not eagerly waiting to be sold to the lowest bidder.

If the potential client wants to pay peanuts, they can get someone from Upwork or oDesk to do a shonky job for a quid an hour. You’re a professional dammit, so sweetly and politely point them in another direction.

Listen to your instincts

If you suspect something isn’t right then it isn’t. Again ignore this instinct at your peril (you will) but you’ll only do it once. If you don’t want to work with them then just say you’re booked solid, that it’s not a task you’re interested in doing, or it’s not your area of expertise.

Just let them go

It’s important to get a good working relationship going and if you feel you’re not communicating well, not gelling properly, they’re messing you around, you’re not keen on them or you just have a bad feeling about them, then don’t work with them.

You don’t have to take every single client that comes your way.

In fact, this is the reason you work for yourself! You’re not scraping along grateful to anyone who throws you a bone here – you’re a professional support service who works with other professionals.

Make the mistake then don’t do it again

Of course, we both know that you will make these mistakes and, like my lovely reader, you will get burned by a nightmare client. I know this because I’ve done it and so has every other freelancer I know. But you’ll only make this mistake a couple of times because you do start to get a sixth sense about new enquiries after a while.

Still not set up your VA business?

If you’re aching to set up your own VA business ASAP then check out my DIY VA course.

With lifetime access and an incredible trainee-only support group, I hold your hand throughout the entire process. You can even pay in instalments.



Helen Cooper

Yep, I have recently been talked into lowering my price from £25 to £10 per hour for an acquaintance, because I knew them I gave in, but now feel angry that they never valued me enough to pay my fee, learning curve for me!

Joanne Munro

Oh dear. However, instead, I would look at it as “I allowed myself to be talked down to £10 an hour.” The learning curve is that YOU are the one who needs to value your rates. The client can do what they want, but you are the one who is in control of your own business. x

Anastasia Olson

Agreed, Joanne. You have to know your own value first. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect a client to do so.

Elena Zurriaga

Love this article. I find it insightful and with plenty of interesting tips. Thanks for sharing it.

Jesse O.

After 24 years of web development this is why I am changing my career. I have done front end work, back end, had great clients and the absolute worst. But if you aren’t doing what you love it’s work and I became a developer to do cool things on a computer and to display my artistic abilities, not to be a therapist.

I’m out. 🙂


Would love to know what career path you chose after web development??

Geniece Brown

I’ve ignored my instinct more than once and more than paid the price for it! I have client policies set that I give to new clients so they know how I operate. I even have them to view my Q&A page before scheduling a consult with me for prospective clients so I can weed out the time-wasters. What’s got me into trouble though is even with doing this, my gut was telling something and I didn’t listen. Instinct and intuition is just as important as having systems and guidelines in your business. Great post Joanne!

Joanne Munro

You’re spot on Geniece. Most Freelancers will tell you that they eventually pick up a sixth sense for dodgy clients. If something tells you that somehting may be amiss, then it usually is! There are a lot of time-wasters out there.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.