Working With Difficult Clients


Freelancing can be a wonderfully rewarding career choice, full of positives and upsides (hello freedom and flexible working hours!).

However, there are also many downsides to being your own boss… and one of those downsides is the risk of running into difficult clients.

As a freelancer, you can't hand off tricky clients to your boss, because you are the boss.

Here are a few types of difficult clients you might stumble across in your freelance career... 👇

THE INDECISIVE CLIENT

Have you ever had a client who was almost NEVER happy and always asking for changes?

Let’s say you’re a logo designer and your client has provided you with a brief to help you get started. You provide a few options which fit well with the brief, but the client doesn’t like any of them.

That’s okay because you’ve allowed for a few revisions within the contract - except after making the changes they request, they’re still not satisfied and begin to change their mind about what they actually want, drifting away from the brief you originally agreed upon. 

THE UNRELIABLE CLIENT

In your initial calls or messages, these clients are quick to reply and keen to get you on board as their freelancer.

You take the plunge and begin working with them, only to find that as soon as you start needing their feedback, guidance or support to get the project completed, they're nowhere to be found! 

THE RUDE CLIENT

It’s not always immediately obvious if a client has the potential to turn nasty. They may start out perfectly amicable and completely normal.

But occasionally when clients get angry or frustrated,  they can end up taking it out on their staff in very unprofessional ways. This could be in the form of rude remarks, hostile behavior or insulting your work without offering any constructive criticism. 

THE TIGHT CLIENT

Let’s say you’ve agreed to a contract with your new client, whereby you’ll issue an invoice each month.

You’re turning in work on the deadlines you’ve agreed and they’ve not made any indication that there’s a problem. You finally put forward your invoice, looking forward to getting some of your bills paid! Then all of a sudden, they go silent... 

You follow up with them but get no response. Days and weeks go by and you start to worry. Or in some cases, the employer may respond back with a shocked tone, expressing surprise and "confusion" about your invoice.


Difficult clients will be a reality for most freelancers at some point in their careers. Even if you do everything right, it’s inevitable that you’ll to deal with a delicate situation from time to time.

Here are 8 steps to take the next time you sense a problem on the horizon. 👇

1. DETERMINE WHAT THE PROBLEM IS

Clients often don’t speak the same language as freelancers when it comes to voicing concerns or giving feedback. Graphic designers will be especially familiar with this struggle, or anyone who has ever been given vague or contradictory feedback.

The next time a client gives you a hard time, see if you can read between the lines to determine what the problem really is. Ask for specifics and repeat back to each other to make sure you’re on the same page about what needs to change.

💡 Clear communication is your most valuable weapon against difficult clients

2. CHECK THE CONTRACT

If your client gets upset because you haven’t completed a task or submitted work on a specific deadline, check the contract and remind them what was agreed upon.

If you've taken the right steps to protect yourself, your contract will outline everything that was agreed including the scope of the project, when payment is expected, what deadlines were agreed upon, and what you’re responsible for.

3. HAVE A PHONE CONVERSATION

A quick phone conversation can do wonders to clear up any misunderstandings and establish trust & rapport between you and the client. The next time you run into an issue, skip the back-and-forth emails and connect on a call instead.

4. CHASE INVOICE PAYMENTS

You may come across a couple clients in your freelancing career that decide they don’t want to pay you on time, or at all. 

They may tell you they don’t think the amount is fair, make excuses, or simply ignore your requests for payment.

If they don’t agree with the amount you’re asking for, remind them of the hourly or project rate as set out in your contract, then offer a breakdown of what’s owed, even if that means listing the work you have done and when. They may have just forgotten and need a reminder.

If they are ignoring your invoices completely, try a different tactic. If you’ve been emailing your invoice and reminders, try calling them to give a friendly nudge, or communicate with them via instant messaging if that’s where they stay connected more often. No need to make it public that they haven’t paid you though, keep your interaction private to increase your chances of resolving things amicably.

5. ALWAYS BE POLITE

Inside you might feel like your blood is boiling, and while it’s satisfying to imagine yelling at your client and telling them exactly what you think, it’s more important to remain polite and professional.

As hard as it may be, try to be empathetic to your client's perspective.

Keep a rational outlook on the situation and try to brainstorm & present solutions instead of focusing on the problem. 

6. DON’T TAKE BLAME WHERE IT’S NOT DUE

If a client starts throwing around accusations or passing the blame to you, and you know it to not be true, the last thing you’ll want to do is admit to it in the hope it’ll calm them down.

You don't want your hasty admission to be used against you later as a reason not to get paid. By all means, it’s okay to be sympathetic and listen to what they have to say, but if you aren’t at fault, make sure your position is clear. 

💡 Avoid using the word “sorry” unless you actually have something to apologize for. 

7. GET LEGAL HELP

If you’ve tried repeatedly to resolve the matter yourself with no luck, it might be time to seek legal help.

Have a look at websites like LawGuru or LegalZoom.

Before going through with any legal action, inform your client that you plan to take this step. This may give them the nudge they need to finally make amends. 

8. FIRE THE CLIENT

Firing works both ways too. 

If a client just isn't working out and the relationship is no longer a good fit, it may be time to let them go.

While we’re not suggesting you have to be best friends with everyone you work with, it is important to have a strong working relationship & clear communication. If you've tried everything in your power and it's still not working, consider recommending another freelancer to take your place. 

Be sure to give the client the notice you agreed upon in your contract & do everything possible to end the partnership on good terms. 

💡 Do everything possible to end the relationship on good terms. always stay gracious.

You've got this! 💪


Ever encountered these types of clients?

Tell us what you did to work it out in the comments!


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