Describing your ideal freelance client

Working with your ideal freelance clients are… well, ideal.

They’ll be the clients that you enjoy working with. Their projects will be fun. They’ll pay on time or early. And you’ll wake up every morning wanting to go to work.

But unless you describe your ideal client, you’ll have trouble finding them.

One or two might show up but you won’t have a repeatable process for finding them.


The big thing I stress is that freelancing is like a business compatibility test with your clients. A friend of mine Brennan Dunn mentioned that he will turn down paying work if he can’t show how he can create value for a client. I have the same policy.

That’s the exact attitude you need to have. If your client isn’t better off after hiring you, then it isn’t a good fit. There isn’t compatibility.

(I’ll admit there are some exceptional cases where the client or something outside of your control screws up the project and wipes out all of the value. But that’s the exceptional case and not the norm. You attempted to provide value.)

I’ve written about what an ideal client is so if you still need a refresher, look here. From here on it’s practical, down-in-the-weeds work about describing your ideal client.

Your ideal “ideal client”

Ideally you’ll define your ideal client in an ideal world.

Got that?

Wordplay aside, what I mean is that you want to define your ideal client as the perfect client you could work with. This is supposed to be such a high standard that most clients won’t live up to. And that’s a good thing.

You’re going to use this definition as a scale to rate clients. If you can, you’d rate them before they hire you too.

Let’s begin.

Look to your previous clients

If you’re already been freelancing and had clients or if you’ve worked in a semi-freelance role like at an agency, you might have enough experience to define your ideal client already.

1. Brain dump

Take a sheet of paper (best) or document and write down everything you remember about past clients.

  • overview of their projects
  • technology or techniques used
  • people you worked with on their team
  • people you worked with on your own team
  • problems the projects encountered and how they were solved

Go for quantity here. Volume. You want to dump as much information as you can.

2. Good, Bad, Ugly

Once you feel like you’ve dumped as much as you can, get three different colored markers, highlighters, or pens. Or pick three simple symbols to separate ideas (e.g. a star, an X, a circle).

For each thing you wrote down mark ones that were:

  • Good. Something you liked and want more of.
  • Bad. Something you didn’t enjoy and want to avoid.
  • Ugly. Something you hate.

Leave neutral items as they are, you don’t care about those right now.

On a fresh sheet of paper, write down all of the good items exactly how you wrote them.

3. A checklist

Finally, take these Good items and reword them into a way you can use as a checklist:

  • My ideal client admits they are wrong.
  • My ideal client values my time.
  • My ideal client sends me cookies at every launch.

Feel free to combine and merge items as long as the intention and meaning are intact.

These are the qualities you’re looking for in a client.

New to freelancing?

If you’re new to freelancing you can still do this but you’ll have to be more flexible with the brain dump.

Start with past employers, bosses, and co-workers. This will give you the people and personality traits you’re looking for.

Then look at projects and tasks you worked on. This will give you an idea of the work, environment, and the non-people traits.

Then do steps two and three above.

Bad qualities

So we now know what good qualities you want to look for in a client. As you can expect the Bad qualities are the negatives.

If the Bad quality can be changed or reworded or flipped into a Good version, do that. It’s much easier to rank a client if they have a positive, good quality than if they have a bad one. (Plus it also feels better to say your client “communicates quickly when needed” than “doesn’t communicate”)

But don’t force a Bad quality into a Good one if it doesn’t fit. Sometimes a strong Bad feels better and is easier to notice.

Again, write down your Bad client qualities and the flipped versions.

  • My ideal client returns my phone calls in a reasonable timeframe (Flipped version of: A bad client won’t return my phone calls)
  • A bad client will give me excuses for delays and then blame me for a schedule slip.
  • A bad client will send me pictures of him eating cookies every time we launch.

And the Ugly

Which brings us to the Ugly qualities.

If Bad qualities are things you’d rather not deal with, Ugly are the ones that you want to run away from.

  • Doesn’t pay invoices
  • Verbally attacks you or your work
  • Kicks puppies

The Ugly qualities are the ultimate ones that you want to avoid. These are the clients that who can be perfect in every other way, but that one Ugly quality is enough to turn you away from them.

Stated another way, one Ugly quality is a deal-breaker.

(If you’ve ever been stiffed by a client not paying an invoice, you know exactly what I’m talking about)

With such power, you need to be careful with your Ugly qualities. Too many and you’ll disqualify a lot of potential clients. But this is your business so you don’t want to skimp on these either. It’s a balancing act.

Unlike the Bad qualities, I believe in leaving the Uglies negative. They’re meant to be things that kick a potential client out of your sales and marketing process and to fire an existing client. You need a visceral reaction to them.

Top 3

Now your list of qualities might be short or it might be as long as a Dan Kennedy sales letter. It doesn’t matter, this is your own criteria.

But one final tip to make it more manageable is to pick the top three Good qualities. The three that if you found a client with only these three, you’d be happy. These will be the core traits to your ideal client.

(Three is just an arbitrary number that is small enough to keep in your head. If you have to have four or five, that’s fine. Just don’t go overboard. If you have 37 top qualities you might as well just delete the rest of the list)

Now you’ve described your ideal client. But there is still more you can do. Review.

But that’s the subject of another post.

Eric Davis