How to Deal with a Bad Freelance Client, Pt. 2

And so it continues. If you missed the first post in this series, you can find it, here. Let’s just dive right in, shall we? Here are three more bad freelance clients you may encounter during your freelance career and how to best deal with them.

The Client Who Needs Attention

This. This is your client. Photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

If you wanted to be a babysitter, you’d be a babysitter, not a freelancer. Some clients just need a little babysitting, though. Or maybe it’s not that they need babysitting; maybe they think they need to babysit you. Regardless, this is the client whom you just can’t seem to shake when you’re working on their project. They don’t need your work so much as they need your attention.

They send you all the details for the project. You agree on a due date and payment. Then, they email you a week before the due date, “just to see how things are going.” Then they email you a few days before the due date again, “in case you have any questions.” They ask five of their own questions, all about things you’ve already discussed and finalized. Oh, oops, two hours before the due date, they remember some important info to give you.

You turn in the work. They have a few changes. They don’t want to send them by email. A conference call with two of their colleagues is needed. You have the call (unpaid). The call is an hour long but could’ve been boiled down to two bullet points in an email. After the first call, your main client contact calls you separately to ensure you understood everything that was said on the initial call.

You make the changes. They love the product and want to work with you long-term. However, they want to have a few meetings first, so you can really get a feel for the company. The (unpaid) meetings take up a total of five of your hours.

Repeat cycle.

Now, listen, this could actually work well for you, if you charge an hourly rate. If your client is paying you $50-$100 per hour, by all means, give them all the attention they want. Sit in on that conference call. Attend that meeting. And charge them for all of it.

If they are not, though, this is not worth your time. You are losing money. Stop answering their calls. Don’t attend meetings. If they like your work, they’ll stay with you. If they can’t deal with this, fine. Losing one client is better than losing money by working with that client.

The Client Who Thinks You’re an Employee

The client who needs attention is very similar to the client who thinks you’re an employee. This client also may be the one that personally rubs me the wrong way the absolute most. I LOVE not being an employee. LOVE. IT. I love working when I want, how I want. I love picking and choosing the clients I want to work with. I love offering only the services that I want to offer. So when a client treats me like an employee, I shut that down immediately.

If a client acts like you’re an employee, it’s because that’s what they actually want — a full-time, in-office, 100-percent dedicated employee. They probably just can’t afford one. So they settled for you and you, my friend, by default, will never be good enough.

How can you tell your client wants a “real” employee, not you?

  • They get upset when you don’t answer your emails within a few hours
  • They don’t understand how you can just take a day off without asking them first
  • They’re appalled when they come up with some new project for you and you tell them you can’t begin immediately because you have prior obligations to other clients
  • They refuse to acknowledge you as a freelancer; they refer to you as a team member and, as such, you’re expected to participate in team member activities, like quarterly evaluations or weekly editorial meetings

This is another time (like with the client that’s just plain difficult) when you’ll have to explain to them that you are not an employee. At all. You work for yourself. And 20 other people. Now, do it nicely. They may not mean anything by their behavior (even if it is bad behavior).

The way I think of it is, I’m a vendor, like your favorite store in the mall. I sell a product that you want. Sometimes that product isn’t in stock or the store is closed.

Throw a tantrum because Sephora or Forever 21 is closed, and you’re “immature” and “embarrassing.” Throwing a tantrum because your freelancer is out for the day is okay, though. Photo by Marcin Kempa on Unsplash

You wouldn’t call up the president of Bath & Body Works and incredulously ask why in the world they discontinued your favorite body wash or why they’re not open until 11 p.m. or why Store #4503854 is sold out of your favorite candle. You would either find another candle or just wait until the candle is back in stock; you would go there when they’re open and suck it up when they’re closed.

And if you decide you don’t like shopping at Bath & Body Works because of these things, okay. Good for you. Plenty of other people do and will.

Make sense?

The Client Who Guilt Trips You

Now this is a special breed of client. Sometimes they’re blatant and sometimes they’re sly, but at the end of the day, they’re downright abusive. Yes, just like a bad boss, freelance clients can be emotionally abusive to their freelancers.

The blatantly guilt-tripping client is going to pull out the crocodile tears. (Yes, I’ve literally had a client cry on me before.) Maybe they didn’t pay you for months and they “just feel so bad about it, but please would you continue working for them?”

Don’t fall for it. Don’t fall into that trap. Be stern. Get paid. And then in the future, make that client pre-pay.

The more clever client is going to straight-up gaslight you. When they’ve been (and know they’ve been) an awful client for one reason or another, and you’re ready to walk out on them, they’ll start doling out the praise.

If I give you this trophy, will you stick around and put up with more of my antics? Photo by Ariel Besagar on Unsplash

You’re their favorite freelancer! If only all the rest were like you! You’ve saved them so many times! You’re incredible at your job! By the way, there’s a new project coming up and the team could really use your expertise. Will you stick around for a few more months?

And then how could you say no to the people who love you so much? That would just make you a bad person.

Ignore the praise, reader. The money of the satisfied client who gives zero praise spends the exact same way as the money of the terrible client who piles on the compliments. Find those satisfied, quiet clients and hold on to them for dear life. They’re priceless.

A Word of Caution

Now, don’t read all of this and think that all freelance clients are bad or if you’re a freelancer, it’s going to be clients vs. freelancers for life. That’s not the case at all. And these “bad” clients aren’t all that common anyway. The good far outweigh the bad. However, it’s very important that new freelancers learn to identify these bad clients so they can protect themselves. As a freelancer, you only have yourself to rely on, so you have to carefully guard your work, your time and your income, and sometimes that means guarding these things from the very clients you need.

Holly Riddle is a freelance travel and food journalist who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.

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Holly Riddle

Content creator, full-time freelancer. Passionate about non-traditional careers. Published thousands of articles for hundreds of clients.