Vetting Clients: 10 Red-Flag Phrases

editorial business topics

The biggest rule in freelancing—and one new freelancers often break—is “trust your gut.”

No matter how a prospective client finds you (personal referral, search engine, networking event, etc.), it’s crucial to make sure you’re a good match. 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 15+ 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 my top 10.


  1. “I don’t have time to answer the questions on your contact form.”
  2. “I struggle with deadlines. I'm not sure when I'll be able to get you the final document, but I will need it back by X date, no matter what."
  3. “Call me ASAP.” (Someone wrote this on my contact form. 🙄)
  4. “My friend got ripped off by an editor a few years ago. I’ll need a full list of your former clients, with their contact info, to make sure you’re not scamming me.”
  5. “I had a bad experience with my previous editor. I warned her beforehand that if I wasn't happy with her work, I would do everything I could to destroy her reputation. Well, I wasn't happy, and I stayed true to my word. She deserved it." (An author proudly offered this information to me during our initial consult.)
  6. “Did you get the email I sent at 11 p.m. last night? It’s 7 a.m. now, 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 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. “I’ll only pay you after you send me the edited book.”

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.


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