“If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.” – David Livingstone, Born Mar. 19, 1813.
A lot of freelancers have experience with low-level, shitty kinds of clients. Those clients don't know what they want. They don't understand the work. They don't value your time.
And it's often asked by my peers and colleagues and competitors – how can we find out which clients are good or bad to work with? How can we just look and tell immediately if we should turn down the job, or even full-out sprint away from the project?
Here is a simple answer that has worked well for me.
First, are they capable of leveraging what you can do for them? If no, turn them down. It doesn't matter how sweet they are, or how good their idea is. If they aren't in a position to profit, don't do the work. Execution is key, and it's their half of the equation.
Second, do they understand marketing and the purpose of it? Don't take on dummies that think paying you means their shitty business suddenly starts succeeding. Work for people that understand the assets you can create and want to pay fairly for well-done work.
Last – they must already be at least getting half-assed results on their own. Like Livingstone said above, don't take on people that don't know what the fuck to do if it's not all laid out. Don't work for people who need it handed to them with a bow on it.
Instead, work for people that are so determined and obsessed that despite not knowing what they are doing, they are doing it anyway. Forcing it. Making it happen.
Because you can HELP those people succeed. You are removing obstacles from a path that they will attack whether you help or not. But they would love the help, and are happy to get it.
Listen, you're a mercenary. A sword for hire. Don't go work for a poor farmer who is considering stealing chickens from the farm down the road. Sell your services to the warlord who is already laying waste to the countryside. That's someone who can USE your skill, RECOGNIZE the value, and REWARD it accordingly.
If sword-and-sorcery metaphors aren't your thing, how about sports?
Find people who can score a triple all by themselves, and help them get more home runs. It's less work, they can actually SCORE with your help, and they give you credit for those points, even though they did almost all the work.
That's way better than trying to coach wannabes that can't even swing the bat, much less get a single. It's not your job to teach the basics of the game.
Don't take that work on.
It's beneath you. And it wastes your value to those crazy fuckers who can actually create AMAZING results with your minimal help.
That is your ideal customer. Go find them instead of taking every random schlub who finds you and begs for help.