Lies Freelancers Tell Clients – And Why We Tell Them

by . August 28th, 2014

Most of the YTE and YTD staff been on both sides of the freelancing biz – sometimes all at once – for the past decade.

We’re dissecting some of the more common lies around.

Not all entrepreneurs and freelancers are the same. Neither are any two clients. Not realizing this often results in a great deal of miscommunication, unrealistic expectations, tears, and of course – outright dishonesty.

We previously tackled scumbag clients in our (not quite) classic post : 11 Excuses Used by Bad Clients – and How To Rebut Them.

We had a fair amount of flack from some folks who called it whiny, circlejerky self-entitlement. On the other hand, it was positively received by the vast majority of our readers in the freelance business.

I’m no saint, and most of you aren’t either.

Some of us are probably d-bags and don’t know any better.

As a freelancer, I’ve said my share of things that weren’t 100% true, mainly because:

a.) I knew the repercussions were next to non-existent

b.) The truth wouldn’t have made a difference to the client’s way of thinking

c.) I just needed a way out that didn’t involve burning bridges.

But that’s not really helpful to anyone who wants to hire a freelancer. If I were an employer, I’d just assume the worst, blacklist them and move on. What else goes through our heads when we fib?

Here are some of the less-true things the staff at YouTheEntrepreneur and YouTheDesigner have said in the course of our careers — and why freelancers say them.

6.) “Your email went to my spam folder.”


When you get this excuse, either the freelancer ignored you because they don’t find you important enough to reply to — or they’re bargaining for time.

I admit I’ve done this a couple of times myself. If you have an otherwise normal looking e-mail address (no weird characters or porn or pharmacological references, etc) and no previous security issues, there’s likely a snowball’s chance in hell that your e-mail got misdirected.

There are dozens of other legit excuses for not answering mail right away. One might be if it’s over a weekend or a holiday. In this case, unless we’re explicitly on call, many freelancers want to simply enjoy time for ourselves.

One other common reason is that the client totally misunderstood what the contractor was all about. If you get a follow-up response telling you they’re all booked, they probably don’t want to work with you might only be replying to you in an effort to be polite.

If you show yourself capable of empathy in early interactions, it may very well prevent these kinds of minor – but potentially troubling – fibs from being necessary.

5.) “I’ll need X amount of time to do this.”


large_3381380090Not  always untrue. In creative fields – especially those that involve visual design or original writing, it can be difficult to gauge just how long something might take. If the freelancer only does something with your particular requirements infrequently – or has never done it at all- it can be impossible to tell for sure.

The best creative workers tend to be prolific, true. But asking for quality, speed, and a low rate is usually an unrealistic expectation.

Even then, just because Picasso was able to churn out a masterpiece a day, doesn’t mean Monet or Van Gogh could. Or that he never had his off days.  Just because a writer could churn out a 500 page article on SEO (or any of the awful, oversaturated content tripe out there) in an hour, doesn’t mean that it will be quality.

Even if they manage it by some force majeure, or even if the freelancer knows their stuff inside and out and could create quality work in such a short amount of time, doesn’t mean they could do the same thing when faced with a task to do something else entirely out of their expertise.

Veteran freelancers will often give you a time table in advance for certain projects. These are the people you want to deal with. As a general rule though, you will have to pay much more to get anything worthwhile.

In my personal experience, I’ve found that you should demand – but not expect – projects be finished by a certain time. Always ( secretly) allot more time than what you both agree to, especially when dealing with someone new. You can then see for yourself whether or not they are able to deliver on a reliable basis.

4.) “We can’t give you a quote until we have your budget.”


large__11322953266Many freelancers – myself included – have tried this so we could get a bigger piece of the pie. And by a bigger piece, something that’s slightly bigger than the crumbs a lot of clients deign to throw our way. YOU try living on $2 per 1,000 word article, you putz.

However, this can also be a way for us to get the rates lower, especially when we’re dealing with a non-profit, or some party we can’t refuse (like that aunt you don’t particularly like).

Another reason that we often ask for budgets is to protect ourselves. All freelancers and entrepreneurs expect – and deserve – to be compensated for any kind of work we do.

When we meet clients who we feel might not necessarily be on the up and up, knowing their budget, while inaccurate, can help some of the savvier of us understand where the project is headed. Or whether it’s a risk worth taking on.

3.) “Not a problem!”


origin_1752089487There’s a problem at least half the time. Most of us want money down for one thing, but you don’t always see that happening. This is especially true for newbies who need experience.

But most of us will fib a little if we even feel that we could tackle the issue – even if chances are we’d develop progeria way before we wrapped our heads around what you’re trying to tell us.

In some cases, a cultural element gets into play. In some cultures, it’s often bad form to say no to anything. Many Asian and Latin American cultures are often a source of frustration for Westerners for this reason. In these cases, it might not be even seen as “lying” per se.

2.) “I read your references/research.”


large_4501262081We say this for the same reason a lot of HR people don’t bother to read most resumes they get. Either we don’t have the time, or what you sent over was poorly collated, meant for the wrong audience entirely, badly phrased, mind-numbingly dull, or irrelevant to the task at hand.

Or we could just be lazy. I won’t deny that there are a lot of people out there who give freelancers a bad name.

1.) “Your suggestion is not doable.”


large_3202889026Granted, a lot of the time the freelancer isn’t lying. They probably don’t have a clue how to go about whatever you want for some reason. In these cases, you should get a second (or third) opinion.

But when we lie about this… man! This not-so-little fib often comes up in technical discussions. A lot of the time, things that we say aren’t doable are things we know full well are.

Thing is, it might not be doable in the given time frame, because of red tape, or the effort-to-$$$$ ratio we agreed on.

While this happens to a lot of projects, this is a recurring bugaboo of web and app design. Freelance programmers, content creators, and artists are often divorced from the client’s main goals.

Many of us simply don’t understand what the project is intended for, or who the end users would be. Even some clients don’t know what the heck they’re getting into when they ask for something.

It’s critical that freelancers and other contractors understand what exactly is expected of them, especially when it comes to anything that customers will come in direct contact with. This means explaining how customer/user behavior is affected by their actions and making them understand it.

In every single case, t’s absolutely critical we understand how our customers and end users behave.

The moment that the technical difficulty takes precedence over user experience is often the moment the project is doomed to fail.

Of course, as many freelancers know, not a lot of clients bother with this. Make sure you’re the exception.


Your mileage will vary based on who you’re dealing with and the type of project you’re working on. And sorry to say, it also matters what kinds of delusions you harbor about your work.

As in all cases, set realistic expectations, be professional, and only take on freelancers who at least try to be the same.

Image sources:phossil via photopin cc ,reynermedia via photopin ccseeveeaar via photopin ccWyoming_Jackrabbit via photopin ccA ferro via photopin ccJD Hancock via photopin ccMike Licht, / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.