Today, I’d like to continue with my dramatic warnings about the red flags that clients like to wave in your face. We’ve already covered what’s wrong with clients who want you to provide them with “full time availability” even though they do not have 40 hours of work for you to do, and we’ve discussed why payment issues are an unhappy harbinger of things to come.

Today, I’d like to talk a red flag that you see after you’ve been working with a client for some time.

Harsh Penalties – Because They Really Don’t Want to Pay You

It starts off innocently enough – as these things often do ­– you notice a line about penalties and fines on your contract. It’s typically a nice, round number like 25 or 50 dollars. You may even think ask about when these fines or penalties are issued.

“Don’t worry about it,” they’ll say. “We never give out penalties like that.”

Here’s your first lesson: if they never issue penalties, they wouldn’t put penalties in the contract.

Story Time

I, too, was one of those people who honestly believed that the client never gave out penalties. Certainly, I thought that they would never issue me a fine. After all, I’m a good worker. I meet my deadlines with plenty of time to spare and any mistakes that I do make can be fixed quickly and easily. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t even have to think about penalties and fines.

That is, until the day that I got my very first fine.

It started out pleasantly enough. I had an assignment for what I thought was a quick blog post, so I wrote it. One hour and fifteen minutes later (the amount of time is important here), I turned in the assignment and was quickly informed that they didn’t need a whole post – they just wanted an outline.


No big deal, I thought. I fixed the issue in 10 minutes. After all, I’d already written the post; writing an outline wasn’t hard. Of course, I didn’t bill for those 10 minutes because it was my mistake to fix. Honestly, I wholeheartedly believed that the situation was over and done right then and there. At least, I thought it was over until the next day when I got an email informing me that they were fining me 25 dollars for my mistake.

Let’s do a little math.

I made 20 dollars for writing the post. They took 25 dollars away from me for my mistake. So I paid 5 dollars to write that assignment. Way harsh, bro. Generally speaking, if your client is forcing you to pay to work for them, the penalty is too harsh.

Okay Penalties

Fortunately or unfortunately, there are perfectly acceptable penalties that a client can put in place if you don’t do your job correctly. Here are some normal penalties:

  • Refusing to pay you for an assignment that you botched.
  • Requiring you to redo the botched assignment for free (if they pay you for the first attempt).
  • Fining you for the extra time an editor had to spend fixing your mistakes.

Ultimately, like all red flags, it is totally your call to determine how harsh a penalty has to be before it is too harsh for you. I have no problem accepting fines for poor work if they are reasonable but as soon as I am asked to pay to work, I find a new client.