3 Reasons You Should Pay Attention to The Red Flags

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Yesterday I had the distinct displeasure of digging through my inbox from 4/1/2011 to 8/1/2011 looking for an email. It was like taking a trip down Nightmare lane.

As a freelancer, your gut instinct should be one of your biggest factors in making a decision about what projects to take or continue working on.

I’ve ignored my gut instinct and a some red flags twice; I’ve completely regretted it both times. The pain, frustration and stress necessary to finish the project was not even worth the money.

One of those projects was long term, which made it worse. One of the weeks, right around Christmas, included multiple 18 hour days and a single 30 hour session. I mistakenly took a nap with my phone near me, only to woken up by the client calling me. When I woke up I felt like I was having heart attack. This was arguably one of the worst days of my life.

This, by the way, was the project I was working on without a contract. I haven’t made that mistake again.

So here are 3 reasons you should pay attention to red flags.

1. They give you an insight into who you’re really working with or for.

Most people’s public persona is not who they really are. It’s really, truly is rare to find someone who’s themselves all the time, especially if they run a business or have to manage people. In my experience, every time a red flag has gone up, it’s when that person’s public persona cracks and who they really are bubbles up to the surface (even it it’s just for a moment or 2).

Whenever a project goes sideways, and they inevitably do when there’s red flags, you should be asking yourself do you want to be dealing with this person?  In my experience, no, because you’re going to be dealing with a jerk.

2. It’s a sign of things to come.

Whenever I sit down with a potential client and they tell me how much they love marketing, I get a chill running down my back. When I look at examples of marketing they’ve done, if I see that they’re members of the idea of the week club, I write the most ridiculously skewed proposal that will inevitable get rejected (so we both save face), or it’s so lucrative and the scope is so defined that it’s worth my time.

Here’s a funny example of a project can go straight to hell really quickly. It’s actually really funny.

3. What happens to you when you ignore them.

When I had that rough week, everyone around me felt it. I had no energy and I was really short tempered. Luckily I have some amazing friends that knew it was just a rough patch. The real problem, though, was that it took a while for me to want to open up a text editor and write code for a while. I pushed through and made my deliverables, but it just wasn’t the same. Quite a bit of my work for about a month felt forced.

I was lucky, I managed to recover. I know plenty of people who call it quits after some bad experiences in creative services. It’s a shame too, because many of them have  quite a bit of talent, but they just can’t get past the fact that they have to force themselves to do something they are good at.