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9 tips and tricks for dealing with difficult clients

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Updated on:
December 12, 2022
December 12, 2022
Draft bulletproof contracts & be prepared for difficult clients with Bonsai.
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Freelancing might not be the easiest industry, but it does afford a great deal of variety and the potential to create a business on your own terms. There's always the drive to find new clients worthy of spending ample time on drafting a proposal template. Sooner or later you may encounter some who are disagreeable to work with or even experience late freelance payment. Building rapport may be something that you do naturally with most clients but, there will be times when this is difficult.

It is important to know how to deal with difficult clients and how to find the right approach to minimize complications. It can be disappointing when clients become hard to please after they hired you on the strength of samples or initial discussions and yet, nothing appears to meet their approval. Unfortunately, clients often lay the blame on the freelancer, and often it can be a result of their poor communications or, through changing their minds. Utilizing an in-depth freelance contract can resolve some issues as the client has to sign this off first, but some clients may even become angry or frustrated and this is not easy to deal with. Guesswork can lead to a project going horribly wrong so, be prepared and take a professional approach. This way, you will be able to retain both humor and reputation.


1. Fully outline the project

To learn how to deal with difficult clients, the initial goal is to identify exactly what your client needs and what is expected from you. Miscommunication is all too common. Perhaps the client may be unable to communicate their ideas in a way that is easy to comprehend or, they may not have a thoroughly-detailed plan and this can certainly lead to complications later. So, outline it, review it and double-check. This alone can limit difficulties. For example, when writing graphic design contracts, let the clients know how many revisions they can get so you won't end up doing endless revisions.

Equally, it’s worth having a cast-iron freelance contract in place to act as a buffer against misunderstandings. In addition, it’s worth considering the exclusion of endless revisions as part of the contract, and also avoiding spec work. Instead, set an additional price for this.

2. Adapt communication style

We all have our individual styles of communication but, for some clients, it will not be possible to connect with them. To build rapport and to increase ease of communication, it may pay to adapt your communication style. If your client is very direct and talks fast rather than having a conversational style, adapt your own communications and mirror their style. This may help build rapport. Make sure that it does not look like you are mimicking them as this would lead to more friction.


3. Raise issues as they arise

Sometimes, a smooth-running project may suddenly develop difficulties. This opens up the question as to whether the client expects you to resolve such issues as part of the contract, and whether you should time-track your efforts. Rather than continuing, discuss these issues as soon as is possible. Calmly clarify that this impacts workflow and suggest alternate ways of dealing with the situation. Where possible, communicate face to face as it is easier to understand. Written correspondence can be misinterpreted.

If not possible, written communications can at least be used to convey the efforts made should the project go wrong. A client may have a tendency to generalize rather to be specific, and this can be frustrating. They may discuss the faults but not provide details as to what is actually needed. To deal with these types of situations, create a list of bullet-point questions to help gain the answers you need.

4. Listen

Active listening is vital when it comes to business communications. If you want to know how to deal with difficult clients and reduce the potential for misunderstandings, concentrate fully on what they are trying to impart. Not all clients understand the process or, even have the finer details outlined fully in their minds, so, by listening with intent, it’s easier to detect any potential issues and have them clarified. This is likely to help minimize any grey areas and ensure you and your client are on the same page.

Active listening is something that all freelancers should do. Too often, people concentrate on their response rather than on what is being said. Make sure that you listen and absorb. Try to understand the situation from your client’s perspective as they may have a reason for being difficult.

It also helps to ask the right questions, such as by developing a branding questionnaire for design projects, or coming up with other related surveys for your client to complete.


5. Record all communication

While it is not possible or desirable to record all the conversations with the client, you can make fastidious notes and follow them to the letter. When a client is difficult or, if they change their minds constantly, add the dates and times of these project changes to your outline so you have a record of what to discuss if the situation grows worse. To consolidate these changes, it can help to confirm them with the client to ensure your understanding. By doing so, it helps to establish a plan of action which is especially useful for those clients who contradict themselves. High maintenance clients can be particularly frustrating so, a good outline can be used as a reminder.

6. Identify personality issues

Sometimes, personality differences bring a unique set of problems to the situation. When personality clashes manifest, it is important to consider why it has happened and whether making some adaptations to your communication style could lead to a more harmonious connection. But, if the difficulties continue or grow worse, it may be better to let someone else communicate with the client so that the project can be completed without further issues.

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7. Retain control

Freelancing can be stressful and the onus is always on the freelancer to manage the process leading to successful work outcomes. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to avoid being drawn into a complex scenario where tension forces decisions. When managing difficult clients, it is best to retain control and to steer the conversation in a professional manner, keeping the project on track. While it’s easy to start resenting the client or to dread communications with them, it’s important to push these feelings to the side. It’s all about professionalism and communication and by retaining this firmly in mind, it may be possible to complete the project in a timely fashion.

8. Remain level-headed

If you're dealing with a consistently terse or complaining client, your ability to remain level-headed and professional may be tested. But, corresponding or communicating in the same fashion will not improve the situation. It is difficult to not respond in a heated manner but, instead, take time away from the client and remain calm. The main focus has to be on completing the project so, keep this goal firmly in mind. Only respond when it’s possible to do so appropriately.


9. Terminating the project

Deciding how to deal with a difficult client when the project goes wrong is something that all freelancers have to do from time to time. In the first instance, do not take comments personally. Providing you have tried to manage the issue professionally, sometimes, it is important to accept that the situation will not improve.

Not all business results in being good business. In other words, you may decide to terminate the project due to unsolvable differences and fire the client. This may be a better option than having an unpleasant project that is continuously extended or, complained about. You have to consider the timeline for any project and track your investment to determine whether it's worth continuing. A difficult client can be draining so, always consider the full range of possibilities and have a contract clearly outlining how to deal with any eventuality. Occasionally, you may have to walk away. Do remember that you must try to protect and develop your business reputation where possible so, only terminate a contract if you have run out of options.

Finally, remember that all freelancers have difficult clients from time to time. It is not a slur on your abilities as a freelancer. Sometimes, it is possible to detect potentially difficult clients prior to commencing any contract. Consider those who consistently haggle over the price or, who change the parameters constantly as clients who may not be worth taking on. Although freelancing is based on well-researched and accurate information, sometimes, it pays to take the instinctive approach. For help with all your freelancing needs, explore Bonsai's free trial.

Draft bulletproof contracts & be prepared for difficult clients with Bonsai.
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