15 Red Flags Every Freelance Writer Must Watch

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The prospect of working as a freelance writer is exciting, especially for young people venturing into the writing world. 

However, your excitement to take on new projects leaves you vulnerable to freelance scams.

Some clients from Upwork and Fiverr just know the magic words to exploit inexperienced (or desperate) newbies.

Through my not-so-pleasant experience with these deplorable clients, I have mastered how to spot the red flags.

Join me as I show you the potential signs of a difficult client when applying for freelance writer jobs. 

1 — Long-winded descriptions

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From Giphy

“This project is a revolutionary idea that does blah blah blah….”

Once you see those project descriptions that go on and on, try to avoid them. 

Chances are that the client will turn out to be a micromanager — or they are yet to narrow down the project scope.

Top-notch clients will only share essential project details in the description. And when they hire you eventually, they will share the rest.

2 — Freebie freaks

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From Giphy

“Could you do this one for free?”

Yeah, I fell for this trick a few times before catching on. 

Clients in this category approach you with vibrant enthusiasm as if you’ve known them your entire life. 

Then they ask you to share your portfolio, which they review and shower you with heavenly praise. 

This tried-and-tested approach reels you in, and before you know it, you are already working on a “free” project for them.

So, whenever a client requests a free task, say NO. 

Even if they promise you the heavens, stand your ground. Instead, counter with an offer to do a paid trial task.

A client once approached me for free samples; I obliged because I was desperate and broke at the time. 

Afterward, they bailed with the work and never replied to my messages.

3 — Carrot danglers

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From Giphy

“If you accept this offer, we can compensate you with a constant stream of tasks.”

“We can’t pay you this much, but we can give you exposure.”

Don’t bite the carrot, comrade!

Once a potential employer starts offering you extra work or exposure, take to your heels; they are just trying to lowball you.

4 — Degree worshippers 

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From Giphy

“You are a good writer, but we can only hire degree holders in English or Journalism.”

Of all the client red flags, this one glares you right in the face. 

If someone values your education more than the quality of work in your portfolio, they don’t deserve your impeccable writing skills.

You don’t need an IELTS certificate or some other pretentious accreditation to work as a freelance writer. 

Your writing skills will be your calling card when the right client comes.

5 — Flashy spenders

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From Giphy

“We offer the best rates.”

Now, this red flag is tricky. 

You might come across a job listing that offers a rate so high that your eyes light up. 

Wow, this project could cover my rent for the next three months.

Calm down; projects with uncharacteristically high rates are no-fly zones in freelance writing. 

Ask yourself:

  1. Why is the rate too high?
  2. Why are they looking for inexperienced writers?

Most of these high-ball offers come from scammers. And these high rates attract newbies like kids to candy.

In most cases, such clients stack the project with add-ons that have nothing to do with writing.

I once took a gig where I performed the functions of a writer, an SEO researcher, an SMM manager, and a content manager. 

In the end, I found out that the high rate didn’t even cover half of my responsibilities. 

6 — Platform Houdinis

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From Giphy

“Can we connect outside Upwork?”

“I saw your contact on LinkedIn and decided to text you on Facebook.”

Facebook? How professional!

Any client that texts you outside the official job board is “scam-likely” and unprofessional. 

Besides, they are probably trying to avoid paying Upwork or Fiverr service fees.

Sodding cheapskates!

Legit recruiters will reach out to you on the job board — and hold all communications there —  unless you request to switch to a more convenient platform.

7 — Obsessive micro-managers

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From Giphy

“Why did you choose this writing style?”

When a client decides to hire you, it means that they believe in your ability to provide quality writing. 

However, some people are just control freaks; they want to micro-manage everything. 

Beware of such clients because they will make you rewrite and revise every article ad infinitum.

If you are uncomfortable with the client’s aggressive micro-management, confront them politely and make your case. 

If nothing changes, say your goodbyes.

8 — Non-realistic dreamers

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From Giphy

“We need this ebook by the weekend.”

“We want this article to go viral ASAP.”

You can’t force things to go viral, even if you start a TikTok dance for it. 


First of all, no one knows the recipe for viral posts; forget those writing ‘recipes’ you see online. 

Even with the best SEO practices, you can barely scratch page one on Google — and that could take months.

Secondly, rigid deadlines signify a problematic client who thinks you are a corporate employee.

As a freelancer, you control your time and workload. If the client doesn’t respect your schedule, pass on the project.

9 — Indecisive timewasters

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From Giphy

“We don’t have a specific content direction for the project yet.”


This client red flag comes in two forms: the client doesn’t understand content writing or is yet to figure out what they want.

Of course, you can help new companies brainstorm on the best ways to polish their content workflow strategy

Self-aware clients will even give you extra compensation for the assistance.

But when the scope of the project is vague, don’t waste your time with such clients. 

If you work with indecisive clients, you will open yourself to frustrating communication and unproductive cooperation.

10 — Out-of-the blue callers

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From Giphy

“I called you last night. Why aren’t you picking my calls?”

When working as a freelance writer, you will run into clients that assume they can control your time just because they pay you.

If a client doesn’t respect professional boundaries, you should cut ties with them ASAP.

11 — Charismatic creeps

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From Giphy

“Hey, I like your smile. It shows in your work as well.”

Excuse you? 

Unfortunately, female freelance writers often experience this kind of sexist behavior from male clients. 

Speaking of professional boundaries, your client should NEVER comment on your appearance. 

If they do, the person is a creep, and you should not be working with them. 

Even if the person’s comment is an “innocent compliment” — which it never is — don’t hesitate to rebuke them instantly.

12 — Debby downers

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From Giphy

You can always spot this client category as the “exceptional editorial standards” in the project description.

Let me be clear; every client should expect optimum quality from the writer. But some just take it to extremes — and it is always that killjoy editor!

They will never highlight the good things in your writing but will rush to point out mistakes and criticize your “lack of talent”.

Jeez, give me a break!

If you don’t cut these toxic clients off, they will crush your confidence and make you second-guess every sentence just to please them.

13 — Unending draft reviewers

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From Giphy

“Could you add this extra section?”

Always specify the number of free revisions you offer per project. Once the client exceeds the specified limit, charge them more.

That said, problematic clients will argue that the revisions still fall under your responsibilities because you didn’t “do it well the first time.”

Once they pull out this card, stop wasting your time with them.

14 — Contract deniers

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From Giphy

“We will sign the contract later.”

“I know we signed a contract, but we can no longer afford this rate.”

The first rule of thumb when taking freelance copywriting jobs is to protect yourself with a contract. 

If the new client doesn’t want to sign a contract with you, end the conversation right there.


Without a contract, you don’t have a case when conflicts arise. Even with the contract, some sneaky clients will go AWOL when it is time to pay.

Once you notice this behavior, take your services elsewhere.

15 — Software tyrants

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From Giphy

“You must use MS Word instead of Google Docs.”

“We only accept plagiarism reports from X service.”

Every company has internal writing standards and style guides, but clients should never force you to use tools outside your purview. Else, they should hire an in-house writer.

If the client explains why they prefer one software over others, take their concerns into consideration. 

But if they insist that things must go their way, leave them and head the other way.

What happens if you ignore these red flags?

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From Giphy

These red flags are easy to spot, but most upcoming writers choose to ignore them because of the following reasons:

  • They need the money.
  • They believe things will get better.
  • They need work experience.
  • They don’t know their worth yet.
  • They are afraid of confrontation.

Hear this now: soldiering on in a toxic work environment will harm your career before it even starts. 

Freelance writing is not the military; you can leave whenever you want. 

And if you decide to ignore red flags and work with problem clients, here are the problems to expect.

  1. You will hate writing.
  2. Your self-esteem will plummet.
  3. Scammers will have a field day with you.
  4. You end up with low-quality clients whose projects you can’t add to your portfolio.
  5. You will stay broke because people will use you without paying.
  6. You will work yourself to a quick burnout.

Final words

Nightmare clients are lurking on job boards, seeking green freelance writers to exploit. Don’t fall prey to their scams; learn the signs of a difficult client before it is too late. 

And no matter how dire your situation is financially and professionally, working with a nightmare client will only worsen it. 

Even if they pay you handsomely, they will suck the joy from doing the job you love, like dementors.

Job boards have a lot of legit gigs for freelance writers. Watch out for genuine offers from clients with straightforward goals and work with them.

Who wrote this?

Technical Content Writer | Website

As the owner and editor of SomebodySays, Ugo Ezenduka shows readers the fundamentals of content writing and blogging to help them adapt to the ever-changing landscape.

He has collaborated with several IT and publishing companies to create articles and blog posts that customers crave. When he is not in front of a screen, Ugo can be spotted somewhere with a camera or on a football pitch.

He also blogs here and here.

Spread the word
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Author: Ugo Ezenduka

As the owner and editor of SomebodySays, Ugo Ezenduka shows readers the fundamentals of content writing and blogging to help them adapt to the ever-changing landscape. He has collaborated with several IT and publishing companies to create articles and blog posts that customers crave. When he is not in front of a screen, Ugo can be spotted somewhere with a camera or on a football pitch. He also blogs here and here.