Yet Another Freelancing Pitfall: The Sludge Client

If you freelance, you know the really bad clients: the ones who don’t pay, the ones who want free work, the ones who don’t want to pay by a lesser order of magnitude of what your work is worth, the ones who want you to prioritize their work in front of other clients (without paying extra for it), the ones who constantly change their minds and demand extra work on a flat-fee project, the ones who constantly change their minds and are outraged when you charge them for your time on an hourly project, etc., etc.

And then there are the sludge clients.

The ones who:

  • Aren’t clear about their requirements but are happy to tell you that you didn’t meet them.
  • Give vague feedback that you can’t actually follow, but that you can be guilt-tripped over later.
  • Don’t respond in a timely fashion.
  • Who insist on deadlines that take up all your time–necessitating an unspoken exclusive agreement–disappear for weeks, then become upset when you don’t have time to meet their deadlines anymore.
  • Seem polite but don’t address your concerns.
  • Scope-creep or misrepresent their project, often accompanied by the phrase, “This shouldn’t take long for a professional…”
  • Ghost out of jobs.  “I’ll have something for you in two weeks…” And then you never hear from them again.
  • Feed you a stream of excuses for why they can’t pay yet.

I’ve been having enough trouble weeding out a constant stream of bad clients that I hadn’t realized how much the sludge clients were costing me:  far more than the bad ones.  I’m dealing with one now who’s very polite but was unclear about his requirements, how he was going to pay, and his feedback; didn’t listen to my concerns; and has delayed getting my project back to me for weeks–all while insisting that he’ll keep me employed full-time.

I’ve lost $3000 on this project on just the amount of time that he’s not paying for me because he’s sitting on edits.  This doesn’t count the extra work I’ve put in to try to address unclear feedback and/or requirements, or the shell game that suddenly means I’m only getting paid half of what I should be until I jump through yet more hoops–which involve more work that I somehow am not getting paid for.

Sludge clients–ones who can’t or won’t communicate–are even less worth one’s time than the bad ones.

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