4 Types of Toxic Client Behavior (And How to Avoid Them!)

Illustration by Ramiro Roman

Freelance writing is a big, bold, exciting world full of possibilities. You can find success beyond your wildest dreams — if you know where to look and have the right work ethic.

In this sense, working online is similar to working in the “real world.” However, like the real world, people can be toxic jerks — specifically, new “clients.”

If you are a doe-eyed newbie freelancer, hopefully, you haven’t encountered a client with a toxic attitude. If you HAVE, I’m sorry, and I hope this piece helps you avoid people like that in the future. You deserve payment for your hard work — never let a so-called “client” convince you otherwise.

We are going to go through four different types of behavior that toxic clients possess, and why they are hurting you. Afterward, we will dive in deep and figure out how to avoid them altogether.

These examples are based on my personal experiences and horror stories from freelancing friends.

1. They Won’t Pay

The first sign of a toxic client is also the most frustrating sign: they won’t pay you. This “behavior” manifests itself in a variety of different ways.

You may hear them say something subtle like “Oh, I have to pay you from my friend’s account, it’s going to be a week or so.”

There are other examples too. At one point, a client told me “Don’t worry about getting paid, just do more work for me.” This conversation occurred AFTER I worked with her for almost two weeks and was promised payment a week prior. (I was a doe-eyed newbie freelancer once upon a time too!)

There are also people who will try to scam you by promising payment “in the future.” Sometimes it’s two weeks, sometimes it’s a month; the time frame can vary. They will unload a ton of work on you, and tell you that they’ll pay you at a set time. Finally, payday comes, and they’re nowhere to be found. You’re sick to your stomach, disgusted, and annoyed. You’ve been had.

Luckily, you don’t have to go through this mess. If you are applying to a company that are legit and pay every two weeks, you’ll know. The company name will be in the email, they’ll be researchable with a phone number or physical address, and you’ll be able to reach out to other employees. In essence, it will be obvious.

But, if “SEOMaster77” adds you on Skype with no profile info or picture and wants you to write ten articles a day, don’t engage with these potentially toxic “clients.”

If you come into contact with a client who pays you regularly and then starts making the excuses that they’ll pay when they get into their friend’s account next week — cut the ties. Otherwise, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

2. “Just Friends”

The next toxic client behavior can be challenging to overcome. There are clients who you’ll come into contact with, and everything will go smoothly. You’ll do some work, and then they will pay you. The process repeats a couple of times. Suddenly… things change.

Your client approaches you and says, “Hi, so I need you to do something for me…” They give you an assignment, seems easy enough. You ask them, “What’s the pay for this article?

Then, it happens:

Oh, I thought you were going to write this for me for free because we are friends.

This tactic is used by toxic clients to get free work out of you. The goal is to guilt you into writing something for them.

The client wants you to think “I CAN’T say no! They asked me to do it as a friend.” Get that notion out of your head right now.

In most cases, clients will do this when they are not even that friendly with you. This behavior is far from friend-like, and you need to put your foot down. Explain to them that your time and experience is valuable, and you need to be paid for your services.  If they decline or push the issue, it might be time to cut ties.

Think of it this way: REAL FRIENDS know your value.

You will know whether you are talking to a friend, or just a client trying to get free work out of you.

3. Is Anybody Home?

We all know people who make excuses for everything. People with this habit are usually unreliable, irritating, and, generally, make life difficult. You know what amplifies the difficulty? When you work with people who have an excuse for everything.

You’ll be able to point out a toxic client with this habit fairly quickly. They will offer you a ton of work, tell you that they’ll be online later to give you directions, and then they end up not showing up for a week.

These incidents may seem insignificant, but the truth is they have a huge impact on your career as a whole. We all know that time equals money. If you are spending your time hunting down a client who is making excuses, you are burning money.

You could use that time to work for a client who actually bothers to get online and give you that crucial info. Or, you could spend your time working on a blog, finding new clients, and doing things to promote your career.

Missing out on a little bit of time every day adds up and can cost you big over the long term. The best way to handle these clients is to have a serious talk with them. Explain that your time is valuable and that you can’t bother hunting them down every day. Tell them that there has to be a set time to meet up, and, if they can’t do that, it may be time to move on.

4. Unrealistic Expectations

We all strive to do a good job when we’re working. Sometimes articles get sent back for edits because something just isn’t right. It happens to the best of us and is nothing to be ashamed of.

However, some clients take will advantage of this normal process.

Let’s say you finished your first article and submitted it. Typical clients will say “Great, thanks!” or “Can you fix [insert problems]?” If you get the latter, fix the problems and send the article back.

Sometimes, in rare cases, you may have to edit the piece again. It honestly shouldn’t go beyond that scenario. If you have a client asking for three, four, and five edits — something isn’t right. They have unrealistic expectations of you, the writer.

As previously mentioned, time equals money. If you are spending most of your day editing one piece of content for chump change, you’re wasting your valuable time.

If this happens once it might not seem like that big of a deal, but, if this trend continues, you are going to sink countless hours into this project with little-to-no return.

You can work towards fixing this behavior if you have a simple conversation with your client. Ask them if they can include all edits in the first email, if applicable. This will “restrict” them and let them know that you’re not okay with six edits on a 1,000-word article. Explain that you are wasting your time going back and forth, and you have other clients that need work done too.


There are toxic clients out there; and you will learn to spot them the longer you work in the world of freelance writing. If you want success, it’s best to avoid these people. Very few work relationships are salvageable when the client has crossed the line.

The most important thing to take away from this piece is that you should always be aware. Pay attention to the client before and during work. Listen to the language that they use, and observe their actions. You’ll begin to notice that there is a clear pattern.

Once you’ve identified this pattern, it’s like being able to see through the Matrix. You’ll save yourself time, trouble, and headaches. The icing on the cake, of course, is that you will end up setting yourself up for success and make more money if you only work with reputable people who deserve your talent.

Never forget: You have talent, you work hard, and you’re worth it.

Have you ever had an experience with a toxic client? If so, how did you respond? Let me know in the comments!

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