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Dealing with a Problem Client as a Freelancer

Updated on December 24th, 2021

If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you have most likely come across a problem client or two. If not, expect one to rear its ugly head at some point in the future. When dealing with a difficult, demanding client, here are some tools and ideas you can use to make the experience smoother for everyone.

Set Clear Guidelines and Boundaries

The best defense against client issues is clear expectations for both parties. Be clear about what you offer, what you need to do your job, and what you expect from your clients. Doing so will prevent clients from expecting more than you offer or something different than your expertise.

Over time, those guidelines may change. For my website development business, I found a standard freelance web development template and customized the contract to match my exact service offering. I review and update my client agreement periodically and send it to each client with their invoice.

Get Everything in Writing

Having your contract and your client communications in writing is the next step in ensuring a smooth client experience. Even when I have phone meetings with clients, I take notes and send a summary of what each party agreed to for their approval. I always make this friendly and sign off with, “please let me know if I missed anything or misunderstood anything” so we are both on the same page each step along the way.

A paper trail protects you in the event of a dispute and defines the boundaries of your relationship should the client demand more of you. For hourly billed projects, more time is not usually a big deal. However, in fixed price projects, every extra hour of work costs you time without any more pay.

Communicate Effectively and Professionally

Getting everything in writing is important, but if you communicate with poor spelling, grammar, and write the same way a 16-year-old girl texts with her friends, you are presenting yourself unprofessionally and create a situation ripe for miscommunication.

Write each email and instant message as if you were writing to a Fortune 500 CEO. Be direct but friendly to avoid wasting both your time and your client’s time and always use good judgment. If you wouldn’t want your Grandmother to read it or have it published in the New York Times, it shouldn’t go into a client email.

Be Honest and Open

If you find yourself in a situation with that over demanding, unclear, or problematic client, it is okay to be honest with them about your stresses. Just be certain to frame the discussion constructively to improve your working relationship. Do not use an email, message, or phone call to complain about your client to your client (or anyone else for that matter).

Start by explaining how you value the client and your relationship, and explain that you are looking to improve your communications and how you work together. Never offer a complaint without a solution, and look to tools and project manager software to streamline everything and reach a better working relationship.

Worst Case: Fire Them

If you make an honest effort to address problems and still find yourself stressed or losing sleep, it may be time to consider ending the relationship. Review your finances first to make sure you can afford to lose the client before you deliver the message.

One of the biggest disadvantages of freelancing is having multiple bosses. The upside, however, is that you can choose your bosses and fire them when they don’t gel with your workflow.

Take Control and Press Forward

If you find yourself working with a problem client that you can’t fix and can’t fire, all is not lost. Look at this as a learning situation so you can avoid it again in the future.

Keep moving forward and don’t let the minutiae and frustrations keep you from making progress. Finish the project, deliver a quality result, and move on to greener pastures with new clients that don’t leave you stressed.

Freelancing isn’t for everyone, but it is a great career option for millions of people around the world. Don’t let one bad client spoil it for you. Solve it and get back to working on what you enjoy most. If you do, you’ll be happier, more successful, and on track for freelancing success.

Eric Rosenberg

Eric Rosenberg

Eric Rosenberg is a personal finance expert. He received an MBA in Finance from the University of Denver in 2010. Since graduating he has been blogging about financial tips and tricks to help people understand money better. He is a debt master, insurance expert and currently writes for most of the top financial publications on the planet.

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