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Dealing With Problem Clients Without Burning The Whole Bridge

You’re having a good, productive day. Your clients are going to be happy with the work you’re getting done and there doesn’t seem to be a care in the world. You check your email and are suddenly hit with the weight of the world. A true feeling of dread. That problem client of yours has sent you an email requesting more changes to a project that’s been finished and paid for for weeks now. This is the fourth time since completion. This pained feeling in the pit of your stomach is not what you imagined when you began freelancing, and you know you’d be infinitely happier if you didn’t have to deal with this person again in the future. But they’re a good contact and have introduced you to several of your current clients. How do you go about giving them the hint without burning the bridge?

If the above situation doesn’t hit home for you, congratulations! However, for most freelancers, this is a sad truth of the job. You’re going to begin working with someone with vigor only to have the business relationship turn out to be more taxing than it’s worth. The reasons aren’t just limited to feeling like your time is being taking for granted, mind you. There’s an entire myriad of issues that may arise, and there are a few simple ways to deal with them. Allow me to explain.

Examples of Problems

So as I’ve described above, I have experience with clients that are simply too demanding after an entire agreement has been fulfilled. Avoiding these potential problems is a whole other blog post, but for now, I can’t stress enough: Use a contract every single time. Have them sign something at the minimum. Sometimes though, even after that contract is signed and the job is completed, you end up being asked to “quick edit this” on the project you’ve completed and sometimes even to edit something that wasn’t part of the project. This is a serious problem, as your time is obviously not being valued.

In other cases, sometimes the scope of a project will change and now the client is asking for the project you’ve agreed upon to be combined with something that isn’t your specialty. Maybe you’re a graphic designer and now they want your design work to be made into a website, for example. In these cases, it’s a better idea to hand those aspects of the project to one of your contacts who really knows what they’re doing, instead of attempting the work yourself. This can be hard, especially when you know the client can pay good money for the work, but it’s for the best. Don’t overstep your boundaries and put your name on something that you’re not completely comfortable with. Back to this in a bit.

In yet another case, the client has shown that they’re bad at making payments. Worse yet, maybe you thought this would be a quick job so you didn’t have them sign a contract. Now the project is becoming more involved and not taking the quote into account that you provided earlier. Maybe you feel like you’re being taken advantage of because of this. This can be a terrible situation, as you may feel like that quote no longer applies due to changes in the size of the project. But maybe you feel that you can’t adjust that now that you’ve been taken for the ride for a while. Again I have to say, have them sign a contract!

But contracts aside, let’s talk about how to deal with some of these problems without being the “bad guy.”

Putting Them Back In Line…Softly

The main rule when dealing with these instances is to be friendly and professional. The tact you use to diffuse these situations can go a long way in keeping these people as contacts.

In the first instance, I find it best to begin micromanaging projects. A simple “I can’t afford to edit these things further without additional payment” will do the trick. If the client wants you to edit a business card or change something around on a project that has already been completed, do exactly that, making them fully aware that an invoice will be sent to them. If they decline to pay, let them know that you’ll be available and willing to help if they reconsider. If they accept, you’ll have a good precedent for billing for every little thing since it takes up your valuable time.

The second case is a good chance for you to involve one of your contacts to get your client in touch with who they need to work with. You can act as a liaison between the client and your contact in a situation where you can’t provide all that they need. Just make sure to keep the work you’re doing for the client separate so you receive payment and your contact gets the assets they need. The client should be very grateful for being directed to who they need to talk to.

In the last possibility, you can use a similar approach as in the first instance. Let them know that your time is valuable and that the change in scope has become costly. In the past, I’ve already stated that I can send them the work I’ve done, and if they’d like to find someone else to continue on the project, that’s fine. They’ll often times end up sticking with me, now with an adjusted invoice. If they don’t, problem solved. Also make it clear that until the previous payment is received, you won’t be working on the next part of the project. You need to get paid for the work you complete!

Make sure to follow up with ex-clients with a friendly email or any marketing bits you put out to your base. You want them to know that you certainly want their projects to be completed, even if it’s not in the cards to work together. Your handling of these situations can lead to them referring you as a professional in the future. Just remember: Friendly and professional!

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