14 Red Flags to Look Out for When Deciding Whether to Turn Down a Client

What is a warning sign you look for when determining whether you should turn down a client?

Turning down a client

These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

1. They Have Had Numerous Providers

If a client has worked with many different providers before you in a short amount of time, that’s a red flag. They likely have “the grass is always greener” syndrome and jump ship whenever a provider isn’t their idea of perfect, rather than working together to improve the relationship. – Laura Roeder, MeetEdgar.com

2. They Don’t Know What They Want

It’s a bad sign when the client doesn’t have clear business goals and asks you to just do something to make everything work. Wanting to achieve something but not knowing what steps are needed is one thing, but not realizing why they want you to help them is completely different. Such an attitude can result in all sorts of problems, disagreements, or changes in requirements in the middle of the project, etc. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

3. They Are Overly Focused on Low Costs

Most people have a budget in their personal and professional lives and it’s certainly prudent to have one. When it comes to offering services, a client overly focused on the lowest cost possible is a big red flag. Trying to meet expectations can force you to cut corners and release a deliverable that is beneath your company’s standards. The ongoing support burden postrelease can be crushing. – Ron Justin, GroupGets LLC

4. They Are Needy and Demanding

I look for how needy and demanding the prospect is in our first meetings or communication. If I notice they are needy and will require a lot of my time (outside of my regular work schedule), then I will turn them down. There are a finite number of hours in a day, so I need to allocate my time appropriately. – Kristin Kimberly Marquet, Fem Founder

Meeting with a client

5. They Can’t Answer Basic Questions

I consider it a red flag when the client has a hard time answering basic questions. I always prepare my points of discussion well in advance and also anticipate questions the clients may ask me. If I notice stuttering, nervousness or just extremely vague answers, I will refuse to do business with them. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

6. They Give Excuses

One of the first warning signs I look for when determining whether I should turn down a client is whether they are dependable. If you’re working with a client who makes constant excuses — especially when it comes to simple things like being on time — there’s a good chance that I will turn them down. – Blair Williams, MemberPress

7. They Ask for Favors

I find it very suspicious when a new client starts asking me for favors “as a friend.” All that phrase means to them is that they want something from you, but don’t want to pay for it. In every instance I’ve experienced, clients who don’t value your time by asking you to help them with things for free are not serious about a long-term business relationship. – David Henzel, LTVPlus

8. They Have Unrealistic Expectations

There are two important elements to all successful relationships. One is communication and the other is expectations. If you go into a relationship with unrealistic expectations, it is unlikely to be successful. When doing discovery with potential clients, we walk them through an expectations discussion. This allows us to determine whether they may be a good fit for us long term. – Kevin Getch, Webfor

9. They Disrespect Those Around Them

If a client disrespects the people around them, you have to run. This is the treatment you and your team members will also receive, and it requires too much energy to coddle this type of temperament. Find clients that care for their team members, who listen to others and understand perspectives. They will proactively look out for your team, and it makes it a much more pleasant environment to work in. – Candice Lu, ONPREM SOLUTION PARTNERS

Serious business meeting

10. They Rush Things

As the owner of a marketing agency, the worst clients I’ve had have always been the people who try to rush things forward too fast. If they’re not even going to listen to you talk about your services and processes, the odds are high that they won’t understand you later on. That’s when they start arguing over what’s supposed to be included, pushing unrealistic deadlines and dreamy results. – Karl Kangur, Above House

11. They Ask to Skip Contracts

Clients can reach out looking for work to be done in a short amount of time, but never let them convince you to skip a contract or your regular new client protocol. It’s a huge red flag if a client seems to brush off contract talks and goes directly to talking about price or timeline. Even if they pay upfront, you can get caught doing hours of extra work since nothing was “officially” agreed upon. – Andrew Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings

12. They Complain About Previous Experiences

I consider it a red flag when a potential client starts off a conversation explaining how badly their previous vendor treated them. It’s fine to mention that they’re looking for someone new or that things didn’t work out, but if they spend a lot of energy blaming other people, then it tells me that they don’t value the people they hire or work with, and it won’t go smoothly with us either. – Nathalie Lussier, AccessAlly

13. They Nitpick

At some point or another, we’ve all dealt with picky clients and customers who want everything exactly their way, and in some cases this is fine. Some clients, however, take advantage of your kindness and use it to get stuff for free, complain and nitpick about everything that’s wrong. It’s better to drop these kinds of clients than make a sale because they waste time and energy. – Jared Atchison, WPForms

14. They Are Not Responsive

If a potential client is not responsive — for instance, you have to constantly chase them down to get a meeting, or they don’t return your messages or answer your emails in a timely manner — then that’s a warning sign that you may not want to work with them. A professional relationship needs to include communication. If they’re too busy for you, you’ll end up working alone. – John Turner, SeedProd LLC