How to Deal with Challenging Clients
Freelancing can be life-changing (in the best way) for people who value flexibility and independence. Working remotely on a variety projects is a dream come true for many — there’s rarely a cookie-cutter day. But freelancing isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Like any job, there are unique challenges to overcome, including difficult clients. Below, we’ll explore practical strategies for dealing with tough clients and maintaining balanced working relationships.
1. Set clear deliverables
Clear communication is key, especially with boundary-pushers. Aligning on realistic expectations early on — from the scope of work to your deadlines — can help you avoid conflict and misunderstandings. From the beginning of the project, ensure that you’re on the same page, and then get it in writing. Including the agreed-upon terms in your proposal and contract will safeguard you in the event of any disputes.
2. Identify and communicate problems as soon as possible
In an ideal client relationship, everything would go according to plan and both parties would be thrilled with the results. But it rarely goes that smoothly. Life happens. Mistakes are made. Barriers and delays creep up on us. We might miss a deadline or deliver work we’re not proud of. It’s important to communicate these issues with your clients as soon as possible to avoid more complications, especially if they’re challenging to work with. Whether the problem is your fault or not doesn’t matter — the focus should be on getting the project back on track. By flagging issues early, you can work together to find a solution.
“Never sit on information that is pertinent to the job. If an issue arises, whether it is your fault or not, you absolutely must flag it with the client at the earliest stage possible. Keeping the client in the dark never ends well, and will make their disappointment worse later on down the line,” warns Brigitte Sterling, an HR Manager at Essay Service and Assignment Help.
3. Maintain regular communication
Good communication is crucial in any relationship, including the client-freelancer dynamic. On top of notifying the client when problems arise, freelancers should also provide regular updates on the project’s progress. Over-communicating is better than under-communicating, and it helps build trust when you’re transparent and consistent. Regular updates keep you and your client tuned into the project’s current state, requirements, and timelines. And, it gives you the chance to ask for the support you need in order to meet your deadlines. Written records of communication can be beneficial if disagreements crop up in the future too — you’ve got a paper trail to reference.
4. Reassure the client
Sometimes external factors like pressure, anxiety, and inexperience are the true culprits in a freelancer-client relationship. If your contact is under a lot of pressure, that can easily get passed along to you like a hot potato. It can be helpful for your own peace of mind to consider the potential reasons why a client is being difficult instead of jumping to conclusions. It not only de-personalizes it, but it helps you approach them with more empathy, which typically leads to better outcomes. You may need to provide more support and hand-holding to these clients to alleviate their fears and build trust.
“I know a lot of freelancers who object to being asked a lot of questions and dislike having to provide constant status updates. My advice to them is always the same: ‘Do what the client wants or give what the client needs to get the job done the way they want it.’ This isn’t about you, it’s about them, and understanding that will make you a better freelancer in the process,” recommends Troy Chase, a Freelance Writer at UKTopWriters and PhD Thesis Writing.
5. Don’t be afraid to walk away
It’s rare for freelancers to start a project with the intention of quitting halfway. However, in some cases, it may be the best move for both parties. If the client’s behavior becomes intolerable, freelancers should communicate that continued behavior will result in the termination of the project. (It’s also a good idea to have a pre-determined notice period written into the contract.)
You may first want to have an open conversation with the client to see if you can find a middle ground that works for both parties. If you’re not able to compromise and the situation becomes toxic, it’s time to move on.
Walking away from a project can be a difficult choice, especially if you rely on the income, but it can also be a valuable lesson. You learn how to identify red flags earlier on in the client selection process. Plus, you get a real-life opportunity to hone your communication and project management skills.
Most clients are respectful and appreciative of their freelancers, and while these harmonious relationships are wonderful and supportive, they rarely teach us as much as the challenging ones. Tough projects can help you develop resilience and confidence. They can also strengthen your boundaries and inspire you to advocate for yourself in your professional and personal relationships.
In the end, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of clients are respectful and kind. But freelancing comes with its own set of challenges, including dealing with the difficult ones. By learning from your experiences and approaching them with a positive mindset, you can grow tremendously over time.