The Upside

How to Choose the Right Clients

There comes a time in every consultant’s journey when you need to do a serious gut check on whether or not to take on a particular client.

Whether it’s something tactical (like they can’t pay your full rate) or something more like a weird feeling, it’s hard to know when it’s the right time to walk away from a potential opportunity. After all, business is business right?


  • The wrong clients make you feel resentful over time.
  • The wrong clients take up time you could have been spending to get the right clients.
  • The wrong clients don’t help you build your network.
  • The wrong clients don’t lead to repeat business or referrals.
  • The wrong clients can hurt your revenue goals.
  • And the wrong clients bring down your confidence.

In cases when you’re trying to decide whether or not to take on a particular client, use The 5Cs Checklist to help you determine whether or not it’s worth it.

Ask yourself: Does this opportunity check at least TWO of the 5C boxes?

✔️ Compensation – Can the client pay my full rate? If not, are there other non-monetary ways this client can compensate me to make up for the gap?

✔️ Clout – Will working with this client give me the ability to leverage their brand for bigger opportunities down the road? Is the company impressive to others?

✔️ Clarity – Will this client opportunity enable me to test, try or learn something new and/or give me more clarity on the type of work I want to do?

✔️ Connections – Will working with this client help me build valuable relationships?

✔️ Capacity – Will I still have bandwidth to take on a more ideal client should the opportunity arise?

I suggest printing this out and pinning it to your bulletin board as a quick reference gut-check anytime you need one.

And because I want you to avoid making serious, costly mistakes, here are the red flags I advise to watch out for (and avoid as often as possible!):

🚩 The client makes you feel uncomfortable

🚩 They try to belittle you or diminish your self-worth

🚩 They tell you you’re not worth the money

🚩 They are highly disorganized and don’t know what they need

🚩 They are shopping around for the least expensive option

🚩 They cut you off, interrupt, talk over you or disrespect you

🚩 They won’t make time for a thorough discovery call

🚩 They want you to jump through hoops for them

🚩 They make big promises for future work or introductions

🚩 They keep pressing you for agendas, outlines or ideas before signing with you.

🚩 They want you to compromise your values or boundaries for them

My goal is for you to work with clients you love, doing the work you love, and avoid all the headaches and regret that come along with clients that aren’t the right fit for you.

And remember: all business is not created equal.

Erin Halper

About the Author

Erin Halper is the founder and CEO of The Upside and the leading authority on independent consulting. Since launching The Upside in 2017, Erin has helped thousands of professionals transition from corporate life into consulting to achieve flexibility, autonomy, and a renewed sense of purpose in their careers.

Erin has been a frequent speaker at Columbia, NYU, Harvard, and Brown and has been featured as a leading future of work expert on dozens of podcasts as well as in Forbes, Business Insider, Nasdaq, Crunchbase and many more.

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