Wether you like it or not, Upwork is widely used for freelancers to get new design clients. But not everything that shine is gold! Learn how to spot the bad clients in Upwork from the good ones, and earn money by working in good projects with great people.

Wether you like it or not, platforms like Upwork are a reality in today’s freelance industry. Hell, I even started working as a designer there! And with many more following those steps, it’s important to talk about what signs you should pay attention when dealing with such a diverse client pool: learn how to distinguish bad clients in Upwork.

Whether you are a new freelancer or have been in Upwork’s work force for a while, you know that bad clients and bad job posts are -sadly- pretty common.

All you need to do it take a peek at one of the many forums on the site to read how many times a day contractors complain about bad clients, bad payment, bad projects…

The thing is most of the time, all this dreadful scenarios where it seems that the freelancer loses one way or another, can be avoidable. All you have to do is to pay attention to the different red flags the potential client lays out for you before taking a new project.

A little disclaimer: the next is not a complete list, nor it guarantees that you won’t end up with a Client from Hell. As a professional, the best you can do is train yourself on how to handle the relationship with your client at every stage of the project, and learn how to act when things turn south.

Without further ado: The Red Flags

Bad Project Descriptions

Oh, the day clients learn how to write compelling and useful project descriptions… one can dream, right?

Upwork is one of the biggest crowdsourcing platforms today. That means a wide variety of projects, clients, and fees. But finding good and interesting projects can seem like a never ending task. However, this is a blessing in disguise: one of the easiest ways to see if the client is serious about the project, is to read the description.

“One sentence job posts” are very common, and a Red Flag in my book. It can mean that the client is hunting for prices, or doesn’t consider the project to be that important. It can also means that the client doesn’t know what he or she wants.

To do great work for a client, I need to know specific information about the project’s requirements. If that information is missing, the freelancer needs to spend (a lot of) time talking to the client to get the basics. Job posts like these are usually a nightmare when it comes to revisions (you know, because the client “will know when they see it”), and can extend quite a bit in time.

While there are genuine job posts with short descriptions, where the potential client is using the platform for the first time and really doesn’t know how to craft a project explanation that gets the attention of the right freelancers; personally I would avoid them. Is not worth to spend those sweet sweet connects gambling for a 2-sentence job post.


Asks for free work

Raise your hand if you never encountered one of these, and I’ll give you an Internet cookie!

You can find job posts that ask for free work in an obscene way, to more subtle ones (like those that ask for a trial task to see if you can actually do the work). Why do I think this is a Red Flag? Because it’s a clear sign that the potential client doesn’t respect you enough to give you compensation even for a small work.

I do understand where the clients come from: Upwork is also full of unprofessional people, and if they ever got burned with a bad experience, this seems like a logical way to “protect” themselves from repeating history. However, in my experience, this type of clients have a tendency to pay less than average -hence why they end up with subpar contractors.

Is it worth to bid on these posts? Maybe. You can try to persuade the client to hire you without a test, or negotiate a small fee for it. If your proposal is good enough and the client is indeed interested on working with you, there’s a good chance you’ll get a positive answer.

They don’t negotiate Fees

Pricing is a whole beast rightfully deserving its own post, but it’s worth mentioning it in what I consider to be yet another Red Flag: when the client either asks for a laughable sum as compensation, or they refuse to negotiate fees.

Why is this a Red Flag? Because it means that the potential customer is more interested in the price than in the value of your work. They don’t *seem* to prioritise the project’s result, but you can bet that once you start working, they’ll try to get most out of you.

Sadly, a lot of freelancers end up working in less than ideal situations because they don’t know how to negotiate rates. And I get it, is a skill that takes time and practice to master but I would say is one of the essential ones to become successful in this line of work.

You see cheaper contractors as a threat? Don’t. Strive for creating quality work for your clients, and come up with Unique Selling Propositions that make you stand out from your competitors. Giving real value is what makes the price secondary.

Not willing to fund an Escrow / Work with the Tracker

This is a pretty self-explanatory Red Flag: never EVER accept a contract when the client refuses either to fund an Escrow (for fixed price jobs), or using the Tracker for hourly jobs. These are the main tools Upwork gives the freelancer to protect themselves. Demand them.

Always make sure the client has the means to pay you: it’s your responsibility. It’s part of your job.

The thing is that if you decide to start working without any real reassurance of payment and the client then decides to vanish, there’s not much you can do beyond disputing the job, and that is probably something that won’t yield the results you are looking for.

Insisting on working outside the platform

This is a Red Flag especially when if you’ve never worked for this client before. It’s something that’s becoming more common after the rise of Upwork’s fees.

While this doesn’t mean the client will bail on you and never pay; leaving the platform means that you lose the protection it gives. If there’s any problem during the project (lack of payment, mistreatments, radio silence, etc), you can’t ask for support.

I would advice you take on these type of customers only if you can secure full -or at least a substantial amount- payment upfront. Be sure to use use a contract, and any other tool to protect yourself: you will be taking full risk here.

Client Profile

Studying a client profile before bidding can save you quite a bit of time. You can find the most obvious Red Flags there, even when his or her job post seem to be just fine.

The first thing you should check is to see if the client has their Payment Method verified: a client can’t make payments through the platform without it.

The relationship between posted and awarded jobs is something to pay attention as well: if the client has a ton of posted jobs, but none or very few awarded ones, it means that he or she may be using the platform for price hunting, or is someone particularly difficult to satisfy.

Of course, always check the reviews from other freelancers: even if you take these with a grain of salt, always read what former contractors say about the potential customer… and vice versa. Reading the reviews the client leaves for other freelancers can also give you a clear idea about how is to work with him or her.

What if the client is new on the platform? Well, is up to you to take the risk. I’ve taken new clients and had good and bad results. It’s one of those situations where you won’t know until you try.


Because of the nature of the platform, and the wide variety of job posts, clients, and freelancers; it’s virtually impossible to come up with a conclusive list of Red Flags. It’s probable that you will have to take the risk some time, and make a bid to a less-than-ideal job post. It might pay off at the end!

My recommendation is to have an interview with the client, whether in person or over Skype. Talk to them, see if you understand each other, and pay attention to the chemistry between you two. Ultimately, you have to trust your gut.

Have you ended up with a client from hell? Did you bid on what seemed a lousy job post, but ended up being a long-term client?

Share it in the comments!


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