When you think of red flags, one of the most obvious should be when a client doesn’t pay you. Clearly, if a client doesn’t pay for what you wrote, coded or designed, you don’t keep working for them, right? Right. However, there are other, sneakier ways that bad clients try to take up your time without paying for it.

The Unpaid Training Session, A Field Training Guide

For whatever reason, there is a whole subset of the client population that honestly believes that they “just have so much to teach you.” You, dear freelancer, are the student and your difficult client is a teacher who wants to show you the path to ultimate career enlightenment.

These didactic overtones start out innocuously enough. “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you” they say. “I know a lot about how this industry works and want to share the knowledge” they explain.

You may even find yourself feeling warm and fuzzy thoughts towards a client who appears to have such care for the trajectory of your career. You may even find yourself using some of your free time to pick the client’s brain. That’s all well and good, but truly professorial clients will take it one step further with all-but-mandatory unpaid training and education sessions.

Ask Me How I Know!

I had a client once who was obsessed with these “optional” unpaid training sessions. They usually happened on a weekend and ironically enough, they usually had nothing to do with the work I did. As a result, I made the critical error of assuming that I never had to attend them.

The emails made them seem so frivolous:

Hey Team!

I hope you’re having a lovely day! I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to be offering a series of lectures on how to build your freelance business! After all, I love you all so very much and I want to make sure that you all have successful careers after you leave me! These seminars are unpaid, of course, but I think they’re super important for all of you! That’s why I’m not charging you to see them! Haha! 🙂 🙂 :)!

Here are the topics:
How to find clients.
How to advertise for clients.
How to make a budget.
How to pay your taxes.
How to make your schedule for your work day.
My story.

Can’t wait to see you all on google hangouts this Saturday at 8!

(For the record, the excessive punctuation is only slightly hyperbolic.)

Mind you, I have things to do on a Saturday that aren’t attending unpaid training sessions; so I never went. In fact, I naively assumed that this wouldn’t be a big deal because they were unpaid, non-work related, business development seminars.

Where It All Went Sour

For the first training session or two, I had legitimate reasons for not going. Babysitting here, a law school event there – certainly, didactic-client-lady couldn’t expect me to skip parts of my life to sit around with her on google hangouts for free. Even so, I eventually ran out of viable excuses.

Then the questions started.

“I missed you this weekend!” She said. “You would have learned so much from my training session about how to schedule your day for success!” And so on and so forth until she finally told point blank that I was “damaging my career” by refusing to attend her lectures. Demurring was the best strategy I could think of at the time, but I already knew that my relationship with this client was not going to end well.

She was already shaping up to be a terrible client, but the obsession with teaching me stuff on my free time was almost the last straw.