In a perfect world, all of our freelance writing clients would be wonderful to deal with. They would be easy going, clear in their instructions, and communicate regularly. In short, they would be just like us!
The reality is that you will run into some wonderful people who will probably have different work styles to your own during your career, but with a bit of flexibility it won’t be a problem for you. There will be some people who work in a way that is similar to your own, and you will feel most comfortable with them. Other people you will meet will prove to be difficult to deal with. When you are faced with this situation, you need to evaluate it and deal with it in a professional manner.
Consider the Situation Carefully Before Taking Action
Ask yourself if you are reading the situation correctly before addressing the situation with the client. In this age of e-mail communication, it’s easy to misinterpret someone’s tone, since we don’t have the same inflections that we get from phone conversations or face-to-face meetings.
You may have read an e-mail quickly or been having a bad day yourself and missed something. It’s a good idea to make a point of reading all your communications from clients at least a couple of times before responding, since stress or fatigue can make us miss important details.
If you decide that you need to contact the client, consider picking up the phone. It’s the quickest and most direct way to deal with any issues. Write out the main points you want to cover if you need something to help you stay on track. There’s nothing wrong with going over them in advance if you feel nervous about speaking with a client on the phone.
In a situation where this is not practical, send a carefully-worded e-mail to address your specific concerns. Explain that you want to make sure that you and the client are on the same page before you go any further on the project or that you want to clarify a particular point. By keeping it low-key, you are not going to escalate the situation any further. Your difficult client may not actually be a difficult person to deal with at all. It may simply be a communication issue that you need to work out.
Be Clear About Expectations
At other times, the difficulty in the working relationship comes from a difference in expectations. If you are working with a client who has never hired a freelance writer before, spending some time at the outset to outline expectations can nip difficulties in the bud. This is especially important if you are working offsite.
Let clients know from the outset what your standard office hours are and the best ways to get in touch with you. It’s a good idea to provide more than one means of contact in case someone needs to reach you quickly.
While it doesn’t happen often, e-mails can get lost or delayed. You may want to provide a back-up e-mail address in case a client does not hear back from you within a certain time. Tell new clients from the outset that you normally respond to e-mails within 24 hours on weekdays and that if they don’t hear back from you to resend the message to the alternate e-mail account.
Listen to Your Clients
If the client has an issue to discuss, your first instinct will probably be to go on the defensive. Once you do that, you will miss out on really hearing what he or she is trying to say. When you are able to wait until the other person has finished explaining how they see the issue without immediately trying to argue or deflect what he or she is saying, you have a better chance of resolving the situation.
If someone takes the time to let you know that they have a problem, they are giving you the chance to improve your business. The first thing you want to do is address what the client is telling you, but you want to be sure that you understand exactly what the issue is. After you have listened to your client, repeat what he or she has conveyed to you in your own words, either on the phone or by e-mail, and then offer up at least one solution.
Offer Specific Solutions to Solve the Problem
This option works in your favor, as well, since you still retain some level of control over the situation. The client is not likely to suggest something a different solution and you will not be offering something that you are not prepared to do.
For example, if your contract states that you offer a certain number of revisions included in your fee, you may be prepared to offer one more round at a preferred rate to move forward on the project in this one instance. Be sure that you explain to the client that this is special accommodation to deal with the issue at hand and make sure that you have approval before you go ahead.
When the Client Wants to Change the Scope of the Project
At times, the issue of dealing with a difficult client is one that comes from the scope of the project changing but the amount of compensation is not keeping pace with it. While you want to show some flexibility when dealing with your clients, you also want to be compensated appropriately for your work.
If you haven’t discussed additional fees at the time the scope of the project has changed (“I’d be happy to do [x] for you at [x] rate”), you’ll have to renegotiate the terms of your contract. You can contact the client and explain that since the original terms did not include the additional services that now form part of the project, you will need to include them in the scope of work now. Provide an updated quote which includes the new services for approval and wait to be paid before performing anything outside of your original contract.
To avoid this type of “scope creep” on future projects, be very clear about what the gig entails before you start work. Get the details in writing, and be specific about the number of revisions your fee includes (if you are providing a per-project fee). If you charge separately for phone/Skype/in-person consultations, be very clear about this and let the client know your hourly rate so there are no surprises.
By using your listening skills to advantage and being assertive, you will be able to diffuse many difficult client situations. If your goal is to preserve the working relationship, a little flexibility can go a long way in smoothing over the inevitable bumps that will come up from time to time. Here are some more suggestions for dealing with challenging client situations from around the Web:
5 Tips for Freelancers on Dealing with Difficult Clients
Freelancers, It’s Not You, It’s Them
Angie Johnston says
Good points… I just want to revisit getting things in writing. You shouldn’t even sit down at your computer for a client if you don’t have a contract with his or her signature on it! Naturally, clients with a good track record don’t need to sign one — but if this is your first time working with them, insist on the contract. They’re businesspeople; they’ll understand.
Noemi Tasarra-Twigg says
I agree. Especially these days when you never know with whom you’re doing business. As for old (good) clients, yeah, a contract should not be necessary.