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5 Dreaded buzz kill phrases every freelancer should avoid

If you've been freelancing for more than a week, I'm sure you've heard these phrases before. Maybe you've been good at spotting them out when someone emails you or maybe you're new to the freelance life and want to find out what phrases are going to be most common - and ones you should look out for. Whatever your situation, this article is sure to hit home for freelancers around the world.

Lets get to it.

This is an easy job and I can do this myself, but...

Really? You could really do this yourself, but you just so happen to want to give the pleasure of doing your work for you to someone else, for a much cheaper rate and, why? Because you don't have the time? Because you don't like doing these types of tasks? I know there are those of us out there who do outsource some work, but I can guarantee you that these words have never been said by someone with an actual skill set.

What they're really saying: I've never done anything like this before, but I need to make myself look smart because I think that by doing so, you'll be scared to give me your real prices and, well, I want to make this entire process as hard on you as I can - as long as it's great for me.

If you can hook me up this time, I'll send you all of my future work

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this one is what freelancers as a whole see most often - the good old 'hook me up' phrase. You've got to be cautious of this type of client because they're never out for your best interests - they're only looking out for their own.

What they're really saying: Well, I don't have much money and I don't really know anybody, but I'm going to lie and tell you I have both because I want to get something for nothing. Are you dumb enough to fall for it? The lint in my pocket sure hopes you are.

This is the perfect project for your portfolio

Here's a good one. This is the one where the client seems to think he knows what's best for you and your portfolio. They just know that the work you'll do for them will be so fantastic that you'll want to feature it in your portfolio. This is wrong for a couple of reasons.

One, this is a red flag that they're the type of client who thinks they know what's best. Trust me, it only gets worst from here. This is also a red flag because they're going to be expecting the type of work you'll want to feature - killer work, but they'll rarely have the budget to go with it.

What they're really saying:Hey buddy, I know that you've got a good portfolio but I want you to bleed over your keyboard in order to make my work the best you've ever done. Oh, and did I mention that my budget is about half of what you're used to? It's ok though because the website will look really good in your portfolio.

It should only take an experienced person an hour

This is one of the things I see most often. I'm guessing there's an unwritten rule somewhere that states you must put this in your job listing or initial contact email in order to ensure that you're getting the best price possible.

What they're really saying: I don't really know anything about what I need done, but what I do know is that I want it done for really cheap, so I'm going to convince you that it's only a small project - even though you know better.

I don't have a large budget but I can help promote your site

This one is kind of a two-for-one when it comes to buzz kill phrases. They're usually said all at one time like this, but don't let them fool you if they're said alone (I don't have a large budget) and (I can help promote your site) are both individual phrases that should be avoided at all costs.

What they're really saying: I want to get my work done for really cheap and in order to get that done, I'll tell you that I know people and/or can get you tons of exposure.

What do you think?

Are there ones we're missing? Let me know in the comments if you've ran across any of these buzz kill phrases before or if you've got some that aren't listed - I know there's got to be more.

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  1. I’m always weary of those that would quote a fixed price without a contract, and then get nebulous when it comes to initial support….

  2. Suzanne says:

    Personally my favorite attitude killer is, “We could do a trade!” This is of course always stated excitedly as if its the best deal I must have ever been offered. I’m always stunned by some of these people, for example, the chiropractor who thought swapping one of his adjustment sessions was equivalent to building his entire site. I had a shrink offer me counseling sessions once too. Ugh.

  3. Mike you have got ’em all. I’ve heard all these phrases numerous times, and even seen them in ads. Seems there are thousands of writers daft enough to fall for it over and over again. lol.

  4. Eli says:

    I’m not even a freelancer, but I got all these kind of “clients” already, mostly those gamers trying to create a site for free.
    First I got caught by them, now i refuse unless they give me a server host or something 😀

  5. DJaVuPixel says:

    but it is so true…

  6. I’ve heard all of those and unfortunately one of them bit me on the ass pretty hard. Since then I stay away from people who use this language.

    Why is it the people with no money expect more than the people who do? Even more so these are always the people that end up trying to tell you what you should be doing which again begs the question of why aren’t they doing it if they know how the hell something should be done.

  7. James says:

    Great list, to which you could add ‘It won’t take long’ and ‘This will be a quick win’. Both phrases reflecting a lack of understanding either of what’s involved or the potential to really imporove on the current situation.

  8. Sk says:

    Definitely seen all of these before in the past year I’ve been freelancing. So many times in the early days people would say that they would hook me up for future work but it’s all a load of bs. Have to be really careful when starting out or you’ll end up working rediculous hours for barely enough to satisfy your 2 minute noodles, goon and red bull addiction. Great post.

  9. John says:

    How about “We want something cool, urban and edgy” without them having any idea of what that actually means.

    • YK says:

      OMG! You hit the nail on the head. Also, when they say something (the font, the pic, the colors) to “pop”. People also over-use the term “clean” – The site should look clean. The site should have a clean professional look. And thn when i do that, they “recommend” i add more pics to make it look more exciting (cos white space is evil)!

  10. yeah dude.. you have captured all of ’em..!

    One more i have,

    “I have many friends who are looking for a designer like you, i will refer them to you so give this design your best shot… :) :) :)”

  11. Great article….you nailed em. Best line….”I want you to bleed over your keyboard” LOL. Sad, yet more and more often true. Rock On!

  12. brooke says:

    One of my favorites is “Before we sign the contract, we’d like to see some ideas that you might have for our logo/splash page/poster so we can make sure we’re on the same page…”
    Ummmm, nope. Sorry!
    This is also akin to those craigslist postings (you know who you are!) “Send us a logo design, and we’ll pick the one we like best! Winner gets $150!!”

    Great post- makes me laugh at all those folks who want something for nothing. Luckily, there’s enough great clients out there too who make it all worthwhile!

  13. I agree with most of these but I had to read the first one a couple of times. At first I couldn’t work out if you were saying that people who outsource stuff they can do but don’t want to, either don’t exist or do exist but are jerks. I take it you mean the people who make a big deal about how “easy” a task is but it is beneath them?

    • Mike Smith says:

      Hey Chris, Yeah, what I meant was that there are definitely people who outsource work and are professional about it (ie: those being the people who would never try to pass the work off as “I could do this, but…”) while there are the “others” who only say those things to try and get a better deal because they want you to believe they could be doing it themselves (when 9 times out of 10, they don’t even know how to do it).

  14. Michal Kozak says:

    Gee, that’s just horrible. You deal with it everday, and yet it sounds much worse when youo read about it.

    The first one is definitely my favourite :).

  15. Ben Lacey says:

    Good article, but sadly it’s all pretty much the truth.

    I have had many past clients offer exposure for reduced cost work, did it once, and never again. The return I got was pittiful.

  16. Right now I’m working with a “If you can hook me up this time, I’ll send you all of my future work” client.

    But he also used one of my favourites: (after reading my quote) “Sure we can make an arrangement around 20% less than this, can’t we?”

    [Maybe next time I have to quote 20% more from the beginning?]

    And another of my favourite is: “Do I really have to sign this (contract)? It’s only a piece of paper after all, don’t you trust me?”

  17. Cookie says:

    I’m a freelance writer&translator, but I’m sure it applies to designers etc. too. My (least) favourite client hook is: “This is a big job so give me your best price”

    “best price” for me? $100 per WORD, kthnxplz? 😀 Somehow, MY best price is never the CLIENT’s best price…

    “this is a big job” Oh yeah? then 1) it will take more time and 2) keep me tied up and unable to take on other projects. Yet you want to pay me less? Because it’s a large job? How does that work exactly?

    – You can’t outsource writing (or design I reckon) with a “wholesale” approach. Sure, if I’m making plastic toys, I can give you a discount on orders above >50,000 units or whatever, I buy raw materials in bulk and the effort is in making the first mold, then it’s plain sailing.

    But translating your 150,000 word text? Unless it’s a catalogue with 50% identical segments, 150k words will cost ME as much in time and effort per WORD as 75k or 150 words. Why should I rebate my time because YOU keep me busy earning less than I could if I were free to take on better paying projects?

    Ugh. “Best price” my ass. Pay my rates or gtfo! 😀 Awesome blog post btw

  18. LukeSF says:

    He he :) Heard three of those during last month:)

  19. To the prospect who says “…I can help promote your site”, I say: “It works the other way.” When I’ve done a great job on site design, I submit that site to web galleries–thus driving visitors to the client’s site–all trackable w/Google Analytics.

  20. Unfortunately these seem all too common in our industry. And recently I’ve read several blog posts echoing the same theme, either working for free, on trade, with the promise of future work, etc.

    What I’m really interesting in hearing is what is it about our profession that makes people more comfortable asking for these types of arrangements than say their auto mechanic/dry cleaner/dentist/whoever?

    • Mike Smith says:

      I think it’s because there are so many people out there who are actually doing the work for dirt cheap, that people believe everyone should be doing the work at that price.

      Most mechanics/dentists/ect all have a general pricing range and you won’t find ones that do the work for 1/10th of the cost that everyone else is doing it for.

      • Unfortunately I think that’s exactly it. There’s such intense competition for web-related work that some client’s don’t see the difference between somebody with FrontPage charging $100 for something and a professional charging $500.

        I recently wrote a response ( to an article about the ‘benefits’ of working for free/trade/discount. And Amber ( has a good article about trying to educate clients as to those differences. Unfortunately I’m not sure educating is enough to overcome the amount of people who, like you said, are working for next to nothing.

  21. Dragon says:

    What about the ubiquitous, “Hey, can you make my site look like that one with all the bells and whistles? How long will that take?”.

    One possible way to mitigate this type of mentality is to draw up a brochure explaining processes and proceedures so the customer knows what to expect. WDYT?

    • aShocka says:

      i have thought of that too. actually i’m planning to make a quick video about that and also the basics of hosting, domains and stuff (i’m in web design).
      when i get some time to get to it … :)

  22. Amber says:

    yup. such a buzzkill. sometimes you get those people who use multiple ones! I fell for one of those once, and trust me, wont be doing it again. Just goes to show you, if *you* don’t value your work, no one else will. :) Thanks!

  23. I launched my business portfolio just 2 weeks ago and I’m akquiring customers for about 1.5 weeks and already heard at least 2 phrases of your list. At least, I know now what other excuses are possible… 😉

    Unfortunately, as I just started, I need the references I can get for now…

  24. jessica says:

    really really appreciated this! reassuring that what i have experienced is not unique…especially with the “hookup me up” on rates.

  25. You are so right. You will find all of the “Buzz Kill” phrases on job boards. Here is one I just copied and pasted from my local Craigslist;

    IF you DON’T INCLUDE your FLAT FEE PRICES. YOU WILL NOT BE CONSIDER!!!!!!!!! We need a LOW cost developer. — PLEASE READ THE REQUIREMENTS, Responses without any standard pricelist and samples links will NOT BE CONSIDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
    We understand this is hard, as there are many variables, but let’s stick to the basis, we know these will not include videos, or flash, or extras, just the standard, all other will be add ons, but this would give us an idea of your prices so we can narrow the results.

    Then the guy puts this at the end of his ad:

    We will pay UPON complition of the job, and this is on a PER PROJECT basis.
    Preferable work w/ Paypal or Western Union

    People like this are what’s screwing over graphic designer and multimedia artist everywhere!

  26. Nice post, although I’ve never experience any of the exact phrases, I have encountered the cheap client that would prefer to have their site coding by their business partner’s, wife’s, nephew that can build websites … bottom line is if you are not prepared to pay for quality work the get lost, or at least do your research to have an idea of the price range which your proposed project might fall under.

  27. Regarding “It should only take an experienced person an hour”, they can really say also that they don’t value our work as much. That they think it’s something really simple. I’ve met that kind of statements so many times and I run when I read that. :)

  28. Dragon says:

    From a customer’s perspective, ultimately, design is accessible and subjective – therefor open to debate. Java, Ruby or other servers side development is not. Customers can’t just go in and look at Java code and say whether they like it or not. They have no leverage in which to bargain. Of course, they don’t understand that we are as much experts in our field as server side devs are in theirs.

    So that begs the question, how do we change that perception?

  29. theComplex says:

    Exactly what I thought I’d see when I clicked-through and completely true. When I was starting out I couldn’t afford to be as picky with these clients and phrases but Ive learned the hard way to avoid them at ALL costs.

  30. Rachel says:

    I had the “This is the perfect project for your portfolio” one a few years back. I know a lot of people trying to break in to TV and Film in London and this one guy who was and still is a nobody wanted to give me the opportunity to build his site for free. Yeah right, no thanks mate.

  31. Ted Rex says:

    Great collection especially the ones about this won’t take much time… I just got a new one the other day: “Would mind billing our client directly? That way it won’t take so long for you to get paid.” So now they’re MY client? Uh, no.

    I made this one of my three links for today’s Design Thought blog:

    All the best, Ted

  32. Todd Santoro says:

    Can we trade? I get this a lot with restaurant clients and the simple answer is no. I usually make a joke like: I wish the electric company would accept a few slices of pizza in exchange for power. Make sure you say it jokingly.

    One of my first bosses said something that will always stick with me. — The smaller the paycheck the bigger the headache.

    You don’t have to rake people over the coals but you better get paid every penny you are worth. Unfortunately when you first start out you don’t know what you are worth.

  33. Ha ha!! I get these ALL of the time! I also get:

    “I was online and found a place where I can get a website for $200.00 (or a logo for $50.00)”
    (My answer is always, “That sounds like a great deal! You should go for it.”)


    “What would you do if you were marketing my company?”
    (These people are assuming, I guess, that giving out free advice is part of my day-to-day?)


    “Maybe you can just show me how to do it myself.”
    (YES! I always wanted to dispense all of the knowledge I acquired in four years of school, 12 years of professional experience, and countless hours reading and studying to someone in a free 1-hour session!)

    But, I probably get the “It’s just a small job…it shouldn’t take you any time at all” line most often. I’ve come to just respond with, “I’m sorry, I’m too booked up to take on small jobs.”

    GREAT article as usual, Mike, thanks!

    • Yari says:

      @Manda Szewczyk: “I was online and found a place where I can get a website for $200.00 (or a logo for $50.00)” (My answer is always, “That sounds like a great deal! You should go for it.”)

      Yes! I respond the same way. If the client truly thought they would get what they wanted for $200, they would have gone with the other guy and would have never made it as far as you. In the end, they want super cheap work that looks professionally done. Realistically, they have to make a decision: cheap work that looks cheap or professionally done work that comes with years of experience. Of course there are exceptions, people who are starting out tend to have lower rates, but when you want a website for $200… you’re going to get a website that looks like you spent $200 on it.

      I have found, however, that when you explain to the client the work that goes into what they’re requesting, or when you call them on it (“That sounds like a great deal! You should go for it.”), if they’re reasonable, they’ll stick with you.

      It’s always good to have back-up (articles, web posts etc) to justify (I’m not sure that’s the word I want to use, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment) what they might consider to be higher rates and when they realize they want quality not cheap labor, they come back. Let’s face it, because there are so many $50 logo sites out there, sometimes the client just doesn’t know better. The only way to change this misconception is to educate them and spread the word!

  34. I love Manda’s line: “I’m sorry, I’m too booked up to take on small jobs.”

  35. u4rya says:

    @Anthony Licari you said best my friend!

  36. Roy Jones says:

    @Manda Szewczyk – good ones!

  37. Cookie says:

    Just got another one today. “Seeking providers for long term cooperation”. That “long term coop” thing usually means they want to pay you next to nothing in exchange for some sort of “security” in a long term commitment. Zzzz. No thanks.

  38. Marc says:

    I have a buzz killer of all buzz killers:

    I swear, I’ve heard every one of those phrases you presented in this article there. The clients on such sites know or quickly find out they are in the company of starving designers from poor or developing economies who will charge an exchange equivalent of $65.00 American dollars for an entire brochure or book cover, so yes, the cheap skatery is prolific.

  39. stephen says:

    What about the classic “I don’t have any capital to pay so I’m looking for someone to do the work and become an equity partner…”?

    I get that one semi-frequently, and it always strikes me as a sure sign their business/project will fail before it starts.

  40. YK says:

    Anyone seen that “Web Design goes to hell” comic strip?

    That’s what i went through recently – with a friend!!!
    A friend who wants to have 60 million blogs on every topic possible, asked for some advice. I gave her some free advice (what is rong with me?) and told her i could create a simple page that would link off to all these blogs. It would take me less than an hour. Suddenly it began to turn into an actual website, instead of a page. She was sending me 10 page docs with content and a site map and images so the page wod look exciting. After liking the simple page i created, she sent me the url to a site that she wanted it to look “just like”. OMG! Was i annoyed! She gave me the color scheme – hospital green background and the standard red and blue links with black body text – Oh my word, i couldnt believe that she wanted to drop my design for this crap that looked like someone had done it in MS Word. I did it and told her not to affiliate my name with this as i really dont do work like this. She looked at it and then said that i should go bk to my old design. By then i was like, no i cant keep going back n forth changing stuff – this was supposed to be a quick job. I really think that this was a lesson for me. I try to “help” friends but they are the worst but expect the most – and then blame me.

  41. Ronaldo says:

    Just getting started on freelance web design and i think i heard all of those several times… It’s sad.

    And the very worst are friends who ask for “small favors” and as a starting freelance: “Sure I can get something SIMPLE done in my SPARE time” and then you get flooded with emails and phone calls rushing you. And when you get the work done you’re asked to rework some “issues”…

    One episode is currently happening to me: last week my friend said he needed badly a web page just to have some info… now i get phone calls everyday to check if I’m still working on his website, now with CMS capabilities, photo galleries, document upload, etc, etc, etc.

    SAVE ME!!! (at least i don’t have trouble sending suspicious clients away… but friends just stay away!)

    • Mike Smith says:

      Ah yeah, friends and family will run your business into the ground with the amount of time they eat. My best advice would be to be up front and honest with your friend. Tell them that you were happy to help them out with the simple stuff, but all of that extra shit is just too much and they’re either going to have to pay your rates or stop bugging you.

      If you lose a friend over it, you’re better off because a friend who stops talking to you over this isn’t really a friend to begin with :)

  42. Simona says:

    haha, “It should only take an experienced person an hour”
    these projects i close instantly. it only prooves the client is a liar… it only takes an hour to get the files, study the site, read your brief and talk on the details & specific needs & options…. at least.
    nice post, awesome, and seing so many commenst of people feeling the same really gives a cool feeeing of not being alone it it. And actually makes you bring up a smile on the next project like this u see, than just mumbling a “f**k off” and move on. Thanks!

  43. Mike B. says:

    Fantastic post!

    As a children’s book illustrator, my wife often gets, “We can pay you with a percentage of the profits once sales take off.” I see that as, “Well we have this idea but don’t think it’s good enough to put any real money behind it yet, you you like to take the gamble with us?”.

    No, thanks.

  44. cat noone says:

    This article really does list EVERY type of client. It really is such a shame but I feel like the people are truly oblivious to how much time and effort goes into these projects.

    I’m a freelance graphic designer along with my fianceé and unfortunately we’ve fallen victim to several of these clients. We thought “we could use these for our portfolio.”

    Maybe we should put state on our services page that we will not start a project without a contract, do not need their services and “no. Your project cannot be done in two days so don’t ask.” :)”

    Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh but I think it would weed out the customers who take us for pushovers! =P

    Kudos to my fellow freelancers who have also fallen victim. I hope everyone has learned their lesson as well!

  45. Alexus says:

    I know this is REALLY late but I still enjoy reading these articles! How about “Can you do some ‘sample’ work for me, and if I like it, I might hire you”

    • Mike Smith says:

      I don’t know if I should be happy or sad that a piece of advice like this is timeless :)

      I always enjoy getting those “do work for me and if I like it, there’s more where that came from” crowd – could you sense the sarcasm? haha

  46. MG Mason says:

    “Exciting opportunity” – they have to make it sound more attractive to detract from the low budget and boring work.

  47. Nivvie says:

    Hah! This article gave me a chuckle.

    In all seriousness though, I’ve experienced this time and time again.

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