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How to handle difficult clients as a freelancer

17th May 2015

Moving from full-time employment to freelancing can be the best decision you ever make.

You have the freedom to work on a variety of work with a variety of clients.

But every so often – and it happens to all freelancers at some time or another – you’ll meet a difficult client who’ll make you wonder if freelancing was the right thing to do.

This article shows you some of the things a bad client can do to make your life difficult, and what you can do to fix it, or when to cut your losses and walk away.

Clients who think you’ll work 24/7

These kinds of clients are often workaholics themselves.

They feel that if they aren’t productive at every waking moment, they’re failures.

But they often don’t realise that not everybody else is the same way, and that most people actually like to relax after a hard day’s work.

So they’ll call or email you at any time of the day or night to talk about work. It’s especially annoying when you’re spending time with friends or family.

What to do:

  • Include your work hours in the terms and conditions of the contract.
  • If you ever get a call at the weekend, politely tell them that you don’t work at weekends, even if you occasionally do.

Clients who can’t make up their minds

These are clients who give you some work to do but never let you finish, because before you’ve got it done, they’ll want you to start on something completely different.

You’ll hate working for the client, and working out how to charge the right amount of money will be a nightmare.

What to do:

  • Make sure you always have everything in writing, so if they change their mind again, you can show them proof of what they originally asked for. If they phone you, send them an email with a summary of what you agreed on.
  • Before work begins, write a very specific contract outlining exactly the work you agree on.
  • Ask for a 50% deposit.

Clients who don’t really know what they want

These clients can either be a nightmare to work with, or a huge opportunity for you to strut your stuff.

Usually, they aren’t unsure because they’re trying to be difficult, but because they just need some direction.

They’ll be a nightmare to work with if you’re used to the client just telling you exactly how to do the work, but it’s also a chance for you to show off your expertise, and use your creativity to give the client suggestions.

What to do:

  • Talk to the client about what they want and don’t want, giving them suggestions if they need it.
  • Make a plan with deadlines and targets, and keep them informed when you reach pre-determined milestones.

Clients who always pay late

Once you’ve worked for quite a few clients, you’ll have your favourite ones – clients who always give you interesting work, for example – but at the top of the list, or very close, are those who always pay on time.

The clients near the bottom of your list of favourites will be those who never pay on time.

They’ll cause stress when your rent is soon due, and you’ll have to spend lots of time and effort by constantly chasing them up.

What to do:

  • Charge an upfront fee of 25-50%
  • Offer a small discount for early payments
  • If a client keeps paying late, stop doing any more work for them until they’ve paid for all of the work already done.

Clients who always pay late and then lie about it

These clients are the worst, and you should avoid them at all costs.

It’s one thing not paying on time – there are plenty of legitimate reasons why this might happen – but it’s something else when the client pays late and then lies about why they paid late, giving you a sob story.

Maybe they say they had to look after their sick child, or their best friend died, but there are only so many times they can use the same excuses before you get tired of it.

What to do:

  • If you can’t take any more of their lies, leave and offer your services to more deserving clients.
  • If the money is just too good to say no to, write a more specific contract for the next bit of work you do, laying out stricter guidelines.

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