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Freelance 101: Early Warning Signs of a Troublesome Client

Working freelance is never easy, one needs to exercise a bullshit meter at all times, and today mine went off big time.

Having posted my available for work during US hours, I picked up a lead on Twitter. Single dev based in Tokyo, looking for a full-time Ruby dev to offload work to.

Initial emails seemed promising, even though I explained that I couldn't do full-time, but I could do 25 hrs/week. I always make it a priority to work with clients, and this is the first time a client wasn't willing to work with me. More on that shortly!

As far as I'm concerned, a lead (and deal) is never done, until the contract is inked and my advance hits my account. This is quite simply, your very first bullshit test, and an important one to safeguard not only yourself but your time as well. I always ask for an advance as a 'smoke test' to check if the potential client is someone who's serious about the work, or someone looking to simply take advantage of another developer.

I like to be pro-active, so before the first 'official' call to discuss the task at hand — and one could actually say this is where I made a serious mistake for sure — I prepped a draft contract on Google docs and sent it across. Unfortunately, it had some boiler-plate that I normally include referring to my hourly rates for work outside the scope of the contract which scared the client.

I immediately amended the contract, following up to explain that it was merely boilerplate and that I was willing to work with him to get the contract into a form suitable to him, however, that was it.

First impressions are everything, but this was somehow different. What's strange is this gentleman sounded like a seasoned developer, yet it also seemed that he expected me to work (i) without a contract and (ii) bill him whenever.

Since he wasn't willing to continue the dialog, or give me a chance, I will never know but my bullshit meter simply says that he didn't want to pay the advance, and better yet, he did not expect that I would back my work with a contract.

People are always funny when it comes to money, especially when they are the ones paying! I'd swear it's easier to draw blood from a rock.