How to get tough with problem clients

If you were to ask any freelancer what causes the most stress, it would be problem clients. The kind with high expectations.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Those who call too much. Those who don't pay on time. Others who mean well but always throw more tasks at a project, rather than focus on the ultimate goal.

Sometimes, client relationships can break down. You can grow to resent them and lose passion for the work. They might not even be that bad – but juggling many clients all at the same time can prove stressful like having lots of different bosses with individual needs and demands.

So how do you fix a client relationship if it's no longer working? Especially when you're worried about speaking up? We've thrown together the following scenarios to help you tackle problem clients.

Clients who always chase

There's nothing more demotivating than a client who continually phones for updates. They're not hounding you. It just feels like they are. Those calls or emails cause your stress levels to go through the roof and instead of being happy to do the work, you've lost all passion for it. Have several clients like this, and you start to feel the pressure.

The Solution

All clients want to feel like they're unique and the only client you have. They also need constant reassurance that you're working on their stuff. It's normal. So to tackle clients who chase, put systems in place to communicate progress.

Send a weekly email, listing all the things you've achieved the previous week and what you plan to work on during the next. Hold regular meetings and conference calls. Keep them in the loop and they'll stay happy, and more importantly – you can get on with the work, stress-free.

Clients who always come up with wild ideas

Ideas are a good thing. Talking about them always leads to better ideas. Sometimes, clients come up with ideas that won't work at all. The kind of wild ideas that don't have any place or logic and only detract attention away from the task at hand.

The Solution

It's where you truly act as a consultant and share your expertise. If a client throws an idea at you that you don't think will work, speak up! But be prepared to explain why and offer alternative approaches. Clients often need to be led in the right direction.

Clients who keep trying to get more for their money

You've agreed on a set price; they signed off on your proposal, so why do they keep trying to add more workload to the project? If you're not careful, you'll exceed the time you budgeted, and you'll end up doing loads of extra work for free.

The Solution

Be tough, speak up and explain that – yes, of course, you can do more, it'll just cost more. Remind the client that they hire you based on time. Put the ball in their court by asking if they'd like you to put together a separate quote. It's then up to them if they want to pay for the additional work. It's a clever, diplomatic way of keeping budgets on track.

Clients who keep shifting the goalposts

You're halfway through a project when your client throws a curveball. They'll say: "I've changed my mind, could we do this instead?". While it's not an issue changing the project, what they can't expect is that you won't get paid for the time you've already put in.

The Solution

Invoice the client for the time you've already put into the project, and explain that future work will have to quote separately. If they're not happy with this, show them your timesheets to demonstrate what you've done. If that still doesn't work, you'll know that next time you should charge 50% of the project cost upfront and make clear that work won't begin until you're paid, and that it won't be refunded if the project is changed or cancelled.

Clients who don't pay on time

One month of late payment is ok. Two months, it's getting tedious. When it's been a monthly pattern for a year? Well, frankly you've had enough of working for a client that doesn't pay on time.

The Solution

It's always tricky bringing up the subject of late invoices. You don't want to damage the relationship further, so it has to be approached gently. My advice? Be honest! Bring it up next time you speak to your client but keep it light and friendly.

Ask if there's an issue with cash flow and whether there's anything you can do to help. Nine times out of 10, the client will be apologetic and willing to reach a solution. But if you're still having trouble? Hire someone else to chase invoices each month. And if that doesn't work? Walk away.

Clients who always expect more

You're doing absolutely everything you can to impress your client, but they still want more. You're helping to make their business a success, but it's not good enough. They think by pushing and pushing you, they'll get the absolute very last drop of creativity out of you. It's killing you!

The Solution

Combat high expectations by beating clients at their game. Go beyond the call of duty by coming up with fresh ideas to impress. Think you can build a cool app that will boost their online presence? Suggest it! Found a new tool to better market their business? Share it! Do everything you can to show that you care deeply about the client's success. And hey! You might be able to get more work out of them.


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