3 Common Client Amber Flags (And How to Manage Them)

September 18, 2023

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We need to talk about client amber flags.

No, I’m not talking about the obvious dealbreakers we have with clients (ghosting us, missing deadlines, not giving feedback—the list goes on!). I’m talking about that grey area—or in this case, the amber area—where it’s obvious that something with a client isn’t quite right, but you’re unsure whether you should stick it out or run a million miles in the opposite direction.

While the red flags are generally obvious, client amber flags, on the other hand, are usually harder to spot.

I’ll be the first to admit that amber flags can be concerning, but over time, I’ve learned that the key is to not panic! Usually, with a bit of communication, patience, understanding and respect (that last one is a biggie!), you and your client can work through them and maintain a healthy and happy working relationship.

Let’s look at three common client amber flags, what they really mean and how to best to manage them.

They have a lot of questions about your work.

You know that saying, “You get what you pay for”? Well, in business, that couldn’t be any more true. Prospective clients—like anyone else—want to understand what they’re buying, and your mere promise to deliver won’t cut it. You need the receipts to back up your service and reassure prospective clients that not only can you talk the talk, but you can also walk the walk.

That’s where portfolios, case studies and client testimonials come in. Not only are they great ways to show off your skills, but they also help to highlight your client roster, which is a major plus for niche-based service providers. Case studies, in particular, are crucial to quantifying and qualifying the value of your service, as well as the return on investment prospective clients can expect to see.

But at what point does this common amber flag turn red?

While it’s perfectly reasonable for a prospective client to ask questions about your portfolio or a case study, if they’re asking for details above and beyond what you would typically disclose publicly, this might be cause for concern. Hopefully, you can put those questions to rest by redirecting the person to your original portfolio or study, but if not, it might be a sign that you and the client aren’t a good fit.

They compare you to “the other guys.”

When warming a new lead, it’s important to keep in mind that most clients will shop around before making a decision. This is why, as service providers, it’s important to always be aware of competitors, peers and evolving trends in the industry, so that we can position our services to be competitive and aligned with our clients’ needs.

It’s perfectly normal (and even expected) for people to do their homework and ask questions about your service that are rooted in comparison. With the right strategy behind your brand, you should be able to confidently answer these questions and make clear how and why your offering is unique from the rest.

But where this amber flag can quickly become red is in how those questions are asked. Consider this, for example:

“I noticed the turnaround time for your service is four weeks. Is there any wiggle room? I’m on a bit of a deadline and I’m hoping to wrap this project in three weeks, if possible.”

Now, consider this:

“I don’t understand why this service takes four weeks. I’ve spoken to several other businesses, and they can all do it much faster. I need it done in three weeks, tops.”

Notice the difference? In both instances, it’s obvious the prospective client has shopped around, but while the tone of the first is respectful and genuinely curious, the second is demanding and even critical.

How people speak to you during the inquiry process is generally a good indication of how they’ll speak to you as a client, so if the communication style isn’t aligned with your values and expectations, consider it a sign to reevaluate the possibility of working together.

They want to change the scope mid-project.

Whether we like it or not, mid-project scope changes happen. While they’re not ideal, it’s important to understand the reason behind the change—is it because of circumstances beyond the client’s control or have they simply changed their mind?

When the change requests are because of unforeseen circumstances, you want to be adaptable and show the client that you can be flexible. If the change is minor, you may choose to talk through it verbally, but if the change is significant and will impact the overall project, you may prefer to update the contract and rejig the timeline of deliverables. You may even need to charge more.

Ideally, your client will understand that their changes have an impact on the overall project and cost, and they’ll be willing to give you the same flexibility you’ve shown them. But if the client isn’t flexible or wants the changes to be done at no cost, that’s a red flag. In this case, it’s worth jumping on a call or even meeting face-to-face to try and find a solution that works for everyone.

Unfortunately, there are times when a mutual resolution won’t be possible, and you and the client may choose to end the working relationship. If this is the case, it’s important to always act professionally and with integrity—after all, so much of your brand hinges on your reputation.

What are your client amber flags?

Did I leave anything out? Leave a comment letting me know what common client amber flags you’ve experienced!

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I'M ADRIENNE, CORPORATE GIRLY BY DAY AND BRAND DESIGNER BY NIGHT.

I help passionate and multi-faceted 9-5 women scale their side hustles into profitable side businesses with strategic and elevated branding that screams "main gig" energy. 

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