So you’ve got a client on the hook, and you’re getting ready to reel them in…
But how is a freelance virtual assistant to know whether a potential client is actually quality?
There’s plenty online about how bosses can vet a potential hire, but a shocking LACK of information for freelancers and self-employed professionals to know how to qualify clients to make sure they’re reputable.
In this post, I’ll help you navigate the process of “hiring” your client so you make sure you’re moving forward with someone who is fantastic to work with!
Why Qualifying Clients Matters for Freelancers
As a freelancer, choosing quality clients to work for is incredibly important. But when it comes to knowing a good potential client from a poor fit, there’s not a lot of guidance out there already.
Sometimes it gets forgotten that freelancers are business owners too.
Just like the client should be vetting a candidate to join their team, we, as self-employed entrepreneurs, should be doing our homework to confirm that a company will be a great place to work.
When you’re working for yourself, you most likely don’t have an HR department to send complaints to, there is no manager to escalate your problems with, and the expectations of your client can become unreasonable if proper boundaries are not set.
Plus, as a freelancer, your position can be much more tenuous than if you were a contracted employee. It’s much easier for a client to spontaneously fire you or just disappear from the face of the earth, leaving you with work done and no payment or back on the hunt for another client.
For nearly all self-employed people, safety nets like unemployment benefits are typically not available, so losing a client can be a tremendous loss.
Related Post: How to Take Maternity Leave When You’re Self Employed
Sometimes clients will dramatically change the roles and responsibilities of the job out from underneath a freelancer.
If this happens to you, you may find that you’re being overworked for how much you’re being paid, or that the personal cost of working there is much greater than you imagined when you got hired!
All that to say, the cost to a freelancer of a bad company fit can be even higher than it is for regular W-2 employees.
How Freelancers Can Qualify Clients
So how does a freelancer vet and qualify clients? Read on to find out!
1. Using The Job Description
The first place to look for clues to help you qualify a client is in their job description.
You may find this on a job board like Fiverr or Upwork, on a social media post, or on their website.
Wherever they have posted this job, read it carefully.
Are they clearly defining a job?
A vague job description is the first red flag when qualifying clients.
Are they specific about tasks required, skills needed, and what the company does?
Is it easy and obvious to see how to contact them to apply?
2. During The Application Process
Once you’ve contacted the company to apply, do they get back to you in a professional way, courteously, and with reasonable info? Did they reply to you in a timely manner and at a reasonable time of day?
If you’re working with online entrepreneurs who may not have big teams, it can be ok if it’s necessary that you follow up to get a response (that may be a sign of how much they really need your help!).
But if their emails strike you as weird and terse, don’t shed light on the next steps, or seem like they don’t match the tone and voice of the original posting, that’s a bad sign.
If they leave you waiting for weeks between each contact, give you endless tests and assignments, and generally make it clear that you’re not a priority, take the hint!
3. Throughout The Interview and Hiring Process
You got a response from the client. Fantastic! This is also a great place to learn more about what it will be like working for them.
Expectations During Hiring
What are their expectations for the hiring process?
If they are too eager to add you on without any additional vetting, that’s a red flag.
Are they clear about how the interview and hiring process will go?
During the Interview
Are they asking reasonable and appropriate questions during the interview?
Do they treat you and your time with respect before and during the interview?
Are they forthcoming with answers to your questions about the role and the company?
Does the interviewer act like they are doing you a favor by meeting with you?
These can all be bad signs that this client is not going to respect you or your boundaries when you come on board.
Don’t forget, you’re also interviewing the client!
Toward the end of the interview, when they (inevitably) ask if you have any questions for them, be prepared with at least one good question!
I love to ask my interviewer how long they’ve been with the company and what they like about it.
I ask what the company culture is like. If they can’t answer, don’t want to answer, or give you an answer that raises a red flag for you, that’s great information!
4. When you Join the Team
Let’s say you decide to move forward with this company and accept an offer to join the team.
Exciting! But still an opportunity for you to back out if the company reveals any warning signs.
Contracts and Onboarding
What are their contract terms? Do they have any?
Do they want to just turn over login info and other details before they have a contract signed?
Can they list out the job description and start date clearly?
What are their terms if you or they decide to quit working together?
How will you get paid?
What are the payment terms? How will you bill them? When can you expect invoices to be paid?
A particularly sketchy sign for me is if a reputable-looking company wants to pay you over Venmo or some other payment source without an invoice associated or to a private person’s account.
When you’re qualifying a client, this could be a sign that they are not legit.
Related Post: 10 Best PayPal Alternatives for Freelancers
5. Once You’re Hired
Assuming they’ve passed the test up to now, your last chance to learn about the company is when you actually join the team and start working.
Ask yourself: how has your experience been so far?
Did they hire you and then ghost you? Are they forthcoming with details about your tasks and logins for tools?
Do they expect you to bring all your own resources or pay to use your own accounts for client work tasks?
This is also a good time to ask other members of the team what it is like working there and how they like it.
Don’t be shy to introduce yourself, ask how long they’ve been on the team, what their role is, and why they work here.
If it’s a bad work environment, people are almost always willing to dish on the details.
Then it’s your chance to flee while you still can!
What to Do When a Qualified Client Doesn’t Work Out
As hard as it may sound, even when you qualify your clients, you may need to fire one from time to time.
I prefer to think of firing the client as “leaving the team” rather than “quitting”. Unless you are dismissed for some other reason, you need to remember that you are a business owner too, and if the relationship isn’t working, you have every right to walk away.
If concerns and complaints go unaddressed, or you feel your compensation doesn’t match the amount of work you’re putting in, it may be time to start hunting for a new client and to put in your notice.
Self-employed people are not required to put in a traditional 2 weeks notice before leaving a team, but it may still be a polite gesture.
Send a clear and concise email to your client explaining:
- Why you are leaving
- The last day you will be working
- When to expect an invoice for remaining work done
Simply stating these items in an email can be tremendously helpful in finishing the situation cleanly.
Try to be matter of fact and spare any sassy commentary for this particular email (though feel free to dish with your VA friends! Misery does love company.).
And, sad as it may be, it’s time to move on and start looking for new — and better! — clients elsewhere!
Do you qualify clients? If so, what do you look for when qualifying clients?