Freelancers, be picky about your agency clients!

Are you a freelancer, and do you work with agencies regularly? To get a feeling for some issues, I have a few questions for you. Discussion is strongly encouraged. Here’s the question: How do you choose which agencies you work with? How do you pick your clients?

Poison Apples by Flickr user 7-how-7 At first glance it can be hard to tell good from bad apples, to see which potential client rocks and which would suck.

To put this all in perspective: I work both directly with companies/non-profits/other organizations, and with agencies of all sorts (ad/PR/web/communication agencies etc). Mostly my experiences there have been good, I’ve been lucky with the choices I made, and I’d do most of that all over again any time. Sometimes I was approached by agencies that seemed very inexperienced, or just not fit for the social media world. In very few cases, the contacts seemed slightly sketchy. (Obviously I won’t tell any names. And I can promise you, all the clients listed in my client list are cool, otherwise I wouldn’t have worked with them.)

Just to give a few examples that I’ve encountered over the years: deadlines that changed constantly, both ways. Agencies approaching me, then never reacting to my replies. Bad payment morale. Agencies not getting social media and trying to buy their clients good comments and blogposts. Of course, where I encountered such issues I blew off any cooperation. And never regretted it.

Sometimes I’m told that freelancers can’t be picky about who they work for; that freelancers are service providers who need to do whatever is asked from them. I beg to differ. In my opinion, freelancers need to be particularly picky about their clients. Let me explain.

Every time you, as a freelancer, agree to work with a client, your name is on the line. That goes particularly for social media, where clients sometimes ask you to act in their clients’ stead under your real name. (Which in most cases is a bad idea in my opinion, but that’s also up for discussion.) So the choice of your clients is a pretty important one. After all, you don’t want to show up to the next meeting with colleagues and friends and be ashamed of what you did; or even worse, show up to a meeting with potential clients where they confront you with some embarrassing thing you did for another client and expect you to do the same thing or worse for them. (“Of course we expect you to use your private Facebook account and your blog to push our product, it’s the least you can do!”) Know what I mean?

What I’m interested in – and I guess some of you, too – is what’s a No Go? What’s ok and what isn’t; what makes you say no to a client? Is it certain demands, too little autonomy in how you do your part of the job, people not returning your calls, changing deadlines, unreliability? How do you pick your clients? How do you tell the bad apples from the rockstar clients you love to work with?

I’ll ask you to stick to one ground rule for your reply: Strictly no names. (I mean it: any agency name here as a negative example and I’ll delete the comment. ’cause that’s be bad style and you can do better.)

So let’s hear it!

Photo by 7-how-7 (Creative Commons)


Oh, there’s one thing I forgot that always makes me sceptical: If the client has no real online profile (website, blog, Twitter, anything). Just makes it so much harder to get an idea about them.

I tend to stay away from clients that ask me to lower my prices without even comparing to local industry standards. Also clients that have bad communication skills as yu said. The worst is clients that need the job asap but pay only when your invoice has collected dust. But that kind is a hard learn as you only know them from bad experience.

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