How to Deal with a Difficult Client as a Freelancer

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a freelancer is the fact that there isn’t any one person that you have to answer to. In a traditional job, if you have a difficult boss that is making your work-life stressful, you don’t have a lot of options short of finding a new job. With freelancing, though, you have the opportunity to work with numerous people, adding and removing clients as you please.

With that said, there will still be times when you get a client who makes life difficult. While you do have the ability to pick and choose the clients you work with, dealing with a difficult client is still a real hassle and is almost inevitable if you stay in the business long enough.

If you end up working with a client who has you pulling your hair out in frustration, follow these tips to make the most of a difficult situation.

Finish the Project You Agreed to do

When you come across a difficult client, chances are you won’t want to accept any repeat business from them. However, for the work you’ve already agreed to complete, try to meet their expectations to the best of your ability.

In freelancing, your reputation and reviews are worth their weight in gold. If you leave a client unsatisfied, no matter how difficult they are being, you run the risk of having them leave you a poor review that could end up haunting your freelancing career for a long time.

From a compensation standpoint, going above and beyond to please a difficult client may not be worth the pay you receive in return. However, it is certainly worth the effort to preserve your reputation. Once you finish the work you agreed to do, you can dust yourself off and never work with that client again. Until then, it’s best to push forward and try to please them.

Communication is Key

Most problems with a project arise from issues in communication. The trouble is that many clients are not entirely sure how to properly communicate their expectations. It’s understandable that they may not understand the nuances of the project as well as you do, or else they wouldn’t have to hire someone else to complete it. In many cases, though, this can lead to them knowing what they want but not knowing how to explain it to their freelancer.

It falls on you, then, to help them out by asking the right questions. If a client tells you that they are not happy with the work you have done, ask them for specifics about what they are looking for and what needs to be changed. Try to get as much information as you can before you take another stab at it. Often, a little bit of better communication is all that it takes to turn a difficult client into a satisfied one.

Don’t Get Defensive

If you’ve been working hard on a project and are proud of the work you turn in only to have a client tell you it isn’t good enough, it’s easy to take it personally. It’s important, though, to remain as impartial as possible and not get defensive in the face of criticism.

Arguing with a client is never going to produce good results. You are not going to change their mind, and you are almost guaranteeing that they leave you a negative review. Even if you end up unable to please the client and have to cut your losses, stay polite and professional at all times.

Acknowledge Without Agreeing

As stated above, disagreeing with a client or arguing with them is rarely the best path to resolution. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their critiques.

The best way to walk the fine line between arguing with a client and apologizing for things you don’t agree with is to acknowledge without agreeing. For example, if a client sends you a list of critiques, you could reply with something along the lines of, “Thank you for the feedback. I will get started on these changes right away.”

Notice how replying in this manner allows you to acknowledge and address a client’s critiques without admitting that you made any error and without trying to defend yourself. The client gets the satisfaction of knowing their critiques were heard without you having to apologize for your work.

Under-Promise and Over-Deliver

Many times, a client’s frustration may stem from a freelancer failing to deliver what they promised. While it may be tempting to over-promise in order to land a job, doing this may lead to conflict if you are unable to deliver.

Instead, it’s better to give yourself a little bit of wiggle room in your promises and then over-deliver, leaving a client pleasantly surprised by the outcome rather than disappointed. For example, instead of saying that you will complete a project in the next twelve hours, tell the client that you will have it to them within three days. Then, when you deliver the project in one day you are over-delivering on your promises rather than falling short of them.

So long as you don’t back yourself into a corner when it comes to what you promise a client, you leave them little to be frustrated with.

Look for Red Flags Before You Ever Agree to Complete a Project

Sometimes, the best way to deal with difficult clients is to avoid them entirely. While it can be difficult to know whether or not a client is going to be difficult before you work with them, there are red flags that you can look for.

Take a close look at the client’s project description and your initial communication with them. Are they complaining about freelancers they have worked with in the past? Do they come across as demanding or harsh? Do they do a poor job of describing the project or communicating their expectations? All of these things are red flags that suggest they might be a difficult person to work with. Unless you’re feeling brave, it may be best to avoid clients that demonstrate these red flags.

Dust Yourself off and Move on

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you won’t be able to please a client. It may be due to a conflict of personalities, an instance where a client has expectations that are beyond reason, or any number of other possible reasons.

In these cases, sometimes there is no other better option but to dust yourself off and move on. You may wish to offer the client a refund, or you may not. The client may choose to leave you a poor review, or they may not. No matter what happens, remember that your freelancing career is not going to be defined by a single client or project.

There are plenty of great clients out there for whom working with them is a real joy. When you happen across a client that is simply impossible to please, brush it off, accept whatever the outcome may be, and move on to clients that love your work and are happy to keep working with you time and time again.