2 Red Flags Not to Say to a Web Developer

I’ll admit I’m very picky-choosy about freelance web development tasks/jobs/projects that I end up estimating and working on. Just one bad job can lead to me being unproductive for days or weeks. This unproductiveness isn’t because I get too busy from taking on a small job that turns out to take a ton of time but instead from a mental block caused by a let down in humanity. Over the years I’ve learned to spot ‘red-flags’ in client briefs that very often lead to me saying ‘no’ and turning down opportunities for potential development work. Lately, I have seen two particular statements that always rub me the wrong way and result in me declining to work on the task. These two statements come from the client with good intentions but unfortunately for a developer are major red flags.

Red Flags

“This task should be easy/not take very much time. -Client”

The client’s intention with this comment is to let the developer know that it should be a quick fix. They are trying to tell the developer that it won’t require much time/effort on the part of the developer in hopes that they can help solve the problem quickly and for not that much money.

The way the developer interprets this is that the client is undervaluing the skills/experience that the developer has, that the client does not have, in order to solve the problem/task at hand. It’s borderline insulting for the developer. As a developer myself I hear this one all the time and here is how I want to respond every time: “If the task is so easy why don’t you do it yourself? Or hire a 5-year-old to do it for you? You don’t have the time? But you said it should be a quick one I thought?” Look just because you think the task is quick/easy for a developer that has nothing to do with the value of the developer solving the problem at hand for you. You’re basically implying that if the developer charges you more than X for this job they are over-charging to solve your problem. A professional developer is a person and a professional and it’s never their intention to over-charge you for a job. But clients rarely realize that what is fair for them is not always fair for the developer. The reason the task might be quick and/or easy for the developer is because of that developers education and experience solving problems exactly like the one you are seeking help for. So just because it may be quick or easy it’s best to leave that up to the developer to determine for you rather than suggesting to them they shouldn’t charge you very much because it’s “easy” for them.

Dangle Carrot

“If this task goes well I will have much more work in the future for you. -Client”

There is no shortage of development work out there. Developers are in very high demand these days, especially the good ones. So dangling the carrot is not a good strategy for landing a quality developer to help you with your immediate needs.

This statement is one that many young developers will not see as a red flag because they will believe it. This is unfortunate because it’s statements like this that totally throw off the balance of respect between client and developer. It’s saying “prove to me you can do this job well and I’ll consider giving you more work.” but what about from the developers perspective? “Prove to me that you are a good client and I’ll consider doing more work for you.” Is that fair? How about instead both client and developers act like good people and give each other the benefit of the doubt that it will be a great relationship. Just because you are seeking to find and work with a new developer doesn’t mean that they are going to screw you like the last guy you underpaid for a ‘quick’ and ‘easy’ task that didn’t go so well.

Not everyone will agree with what I’ve written above. Even some of my best long-term clients have pulled the lines above on me and I had to pretend like I didn’t hear it. And there are exceptions of course to the two statements above. My tone above also probably comes off like a real a-hole but that is not my intention and I’m actually instead of trying to help clients not say things that make developers look at them with an ignorant stare. Please consider the perspective of the developer who you are asking to solve your problem and let them help you determine the value of solving that problem for you.

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2 replies
  1. Joe Robison
    Joe Robison says:

    Great summary, and good to be reminded of those things. Bottom line is that if the client is hiring a professional, it’s a two way street. The client should trust that the professional won’t overcharge, like you said, and the professional is trusting that the client will be fair and appreciate the work.

    One key thing you said that’s a good phrase is that the professional should communicate to the client that they don’t overcharge for the work. As a professional for some stuff and a client for other projects I’ve been on both sides of the coin. When I hire for a project with someone new, if it’s hourly I’m always wondering if my money is being wasted because I never get good reassurance or transparency on exactly what’s being done. But that should be a lesson for me as professional. I need to communicate better the client that I have their best interest in mind, and I’m charging an amount for a service that will end up earning or saving them more money than it costs.

    • Raleigh Leslie
      Raleigh Leslie says:

      Beautiful comment. Appreciate you adding so much value to my rant post Joe!

      It’s totally a double edged sword because they client has the best intentions with both statements but they just hit the developer so hard when you get in their shoes. Kinda like the developer saying: “If this project goes well and you are a ‘good client’ I’ll be willing to solve many more of your problems.” which would be so messed up…


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