How to Deal with a Clueless Client
Occasionally, if you’ve been freelancing long enough, you’ll find yourself with what I call “a clueless client.” Maybe they encourage you to ask questions and email them with any concerns… but then all your emails and questions go unanswered. Maybe they complain that they’re not getting enough of your time and attention… but when you make time for them in your schedule, their projects are suddenly “on hold.” Maybe they constantly ask you to refer to the project brief… that they never send you, no matter how many times you ask.
Whatever the case may be, you might be tempted to assume that these clients are just plain bad. They’re rude, they don’t care about your time, they’re being difficult on purpose — but the case usually is that they’re simply clueless (although, sure, there is the odd bad egg in there). They don’t comprehend that the freelance life is different from corporate life. They don’t understand that you have other clients, or that you don’t have access to their internal drive of files and briefs.
So when you find yourself with one of these clients, what can you do? Here are a few options.
Option 1: Do Nothing
You could, feasibly, just do nothing. Let the client keep on as they are, clueless. This, however, leaves you with the problem of a clueless client. It means that you wake up to emails you don’t like, and you get mad at emails that make no sense and you’re not really enjoying yourself (which is the whole point of freelancing, let’s be honest).
So while doing nothing is EASY, it’s not ideal.
Option 2: Drop the Client
This second option is a good one to go with if and only if (a) the client’s pay is crap and (b) you can replace it. If you do not need their money, why suffer through a poor work relationship? If, however, you do need that cash, keep on reading, because you’ll likely want to stick to my favorite option, Option 3.
Option 3: Work Around the Client
This is my favorite option because it empowers the freelancer to work in the way that’s best for them, without sacrificing a client or, more importantly, their cash.
But how do you work around a clueless client and ensure that everyone’s happy?
Step 1: Realize the client will always be in their default mood.
This is no average client you’re dealing with. Their mood and how they treat you is not determined by how good of a job you do. If they’re constantly stressed, they will constantly be stressed. If they’re constantly rude, they will constantly be rude. Stop tying their mood to your performance. Do the job, take the money, don’t let their emotions impact your emotions.
Step 2: Do the job and keep receipts.
Clueless clients are clueless. So do your job, but keep receipts of everything they’ve told you and given you. When they ask why you didn’t follow some document you’ve never seen before, be able to prove you’ve never seen it. Protect yourself. There’s no room for a simple mistake.
Step 3: Identify the client’s main issue.
What is it about this clueless client that you hate so much? Determine that factor and then address it accordingly.
Do you hate their inability to provide instructions, leaving you struggling to complete a project blind? Refuse to start working on a project until you have every last bit of information you need.
Do you hate their constant emails? Filter their emails to a separate folder in your inbox and only acknowledge them when you’re ready.
Do you hate their last-minute requests or last-minute cancellations? Give them strict guidelines on how much notice you need for a project and then protect yourself from last-minute cancellations by getting your money up front, when a project is booked, and then writing it into a contract that you keep the cash (or at least half) if they cancel after a certain amount of time has passed.
Whatever you need to do to make them more bearable, do it. You might just find that fixing that primary issue makes working with the client worth y our while.
And If They Don’t Like It?
If you go with Option 3 and you find that your clueless client simply doesn’t like it, let them walk. Don’t be rude about it, remain professional, but stick to your guns.
The freelance life comes with too many perks and too much freedom to sacrifice it all in the name of one clueless client.
Holly Riddle is a freelance travel, lifestyle and food journalist and copywriter who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her Twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.