Dealing with problem clients


Most of your freelance clients, hopefully, will be wonderful. However, every now and again you’re going to end up dealing with a nightmare client. Here’s how you might want to structure your approach to dealing with clients like this:

Protect Yourself From the Outset of a Relationship

The contract is your most important tool for establishing the tone of your relationship. Many first-time freelancers don’t have a contract. This is a big mistake. Your contract allows you to establish:

  • Fees and when they are due against delivery items.
  • Kill fees – if the client decides to walk away from the project.
  • Deliverables themselves – what you will do, and when you will do it.
  • Ongoing support –if something goes wrong; what will you do to fix it?
  • The number of revisions/edits you will supply – many clients assume that this number is set to “infinite” unless you disabuse them of the notion.
  • What action you will take if the client doesn’t meet their side of the contract and what fees that may incur (debt collection isn’t cheap).
  • When you are available and what response times a client can expect from you. (9 – 5 Monday to Friday by phone, 24 working hours for an e-mail, etc.).

Clients, in general, aren’t unreasonable people. They will find it easier to work with you if you are clear about your expectations of working with them. They aren’t psychic – so you really do have to spell this out. There is often an expectation that a freelancer who works from home will provide immediate 24 hour support, for example, and this isn’t a healthy expectation.

When A Client Steps Over the Boundaries

I am, in general, a people pleaser. I want my clients to be happy. All too often, in the past, that meant that I let clients lead the relationship beyond the boundaries I had set and didn’t mention it – until it had already become a habit and expectation in the client’s mind.

Don’t do this. If your client starts pushing you outside of the contract; it’s time to remind them of it. Don’t be hostile but be firm. “Dear Mrs. Client, I am sorry that I was unable to help today when you called at 1 a.m. but I would like to remind you that I am only able to provide support on the phone between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. as per our contract. If you would like support at other hours; I would be happy to provide a quotation for that.”

And don’t worry – your clients won’t ask you to work at 1 a.m. (particularly if it costs them money) but it will help them to respect your time.

Be firm and be polite but enforce your contracts.

The End of the Line

Some clients simply won’t stop though. They become invasive and nightmarish. Their demands become ludicrous. In these instances; finish the project (or give your contractual notice on the project) and then fire them. Most people freelance to get away from tyrannical authority figures; no client is worth endless sleepless nights. Terminate the relationship, try to keep on good terms if possible and give it no further thought.

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