People like to romanticise the lives of freelancers: we wake up when we feel like it, stay in our pyjamas and only work if we’re in the mood.
Anyone with even the slightest freelance experience will know that, in reality, it can be a constant struggle to prospect clients and find assignments paid at fair value. How should you handle clients who are, let’s say… difficult to manage?
Allow me to offer a brief insight into those clients who are bound to annoy any freelancer!
The one who acts like your boss
Still haven’t come across this one? Just give it time. They are as inescapable as chocolate during the Easter holidays.
How do you recognise them?
They are the one requesting or demanding your presence at the office during certain hours, complaining if you are not at their beck and call, or threatening repercussions if ever you dare to be unavailable.
Avoid them like the plague, because what they are offering is nothing short of wage labour in disguise.
Is it fair to say that, if you chose to be a freelancer, you didn’t want to work under a manager?
To avoid any unpleasant surprises, take the time to carefully define every aspect of the assignment before you accept it. Are you unsure about a specific detail, but worried about coming across as difficult? Ask the question anyway – it’s not the client who will bear the consequences over the coming days or months. If they overstep the mark, gently remind them that, if they would like to order you around and see you first thing every morning, that’ll be a permanent contract with a fixed monthly salary. Kisses.
The one who confuses flexibility with availability 24/7
They schedule meetings at awkward times and without notice, they expect you to appear at the drop of a hat, or they or ask you to deliver yesterday.
Well… no. Quite simply, you are not at the mercy of the client’s goodwill.
If needed, you are certainly prepared to travel or handle urgent assignments, but only if you can and want to. This must not jeopardise your existing commitments on other projects.
You can (in fact, you must) make a stand against a client who is overly intrusive, interferes with how you organise your business and disrupts your daily work for other clients and projects.
Unless you want things to snowball out of control, you have to learn, and occasionally force yourself, to make the client understand where the boundaries lie. Some may take a more subtle approach, others may not, but the most important thing is to be true to yourself in the way that you communicate this.
The one who doesn’t know what they want
“I’d like the logo in the top-right. ”
“Why isn’t the logo in the middle? ”
“You tested the app on iOS as well, right?”
The indecisive client is everywhere and poses two major problems: the project does not move forward as planned, which causes frustration and wastes time for everyone. Ultimately, it’s the freelancer who loses out and runs the risk of not getting paid.
Putting everything in writing beforehand is still the best way to protect yourself against issues such as these. This is why it is important, before starting the assignment, to carefully read the brief and make revisions with the client if necessary.
If the client requests changes, you must evaluate the corresponding cost and time spent, in order to redefine the objectives and deadlines, and confirm the scope of the updated project together.
Your brain after the umpteenth change.
The one who doesn’t have the budget (or the penny-pincher)
These will often be the same clients whose expectations are beyond the realms of fantasy. They have extremely detailed specifications – or, even better, specs that are overly long and inconsistent about the required technology – and deadlines as tight as their budget.
In all fairness, I am slightly exaggerating here, but let’s take a look at this type of client before dismissing them altogether:
– Unfamiliar with the market
This client has heard all about freelancing, has seen that it could be financially beneficial for them (less restrictive than committing to a permanent contract) and is relying on a metric they claim to understand: ADT.
Except they don’t necessarily realise the work this entails for you – how many hours it will actually take. Rather than sell yourself short, take an educational approach by breaking down exactly what is involved in ADT. And if they only understand figures? Showing the client KPIs should offer some reassurance. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your freelance expertise and project management know-how.
– In fact, they have zero budget
Instead of turning them away without a second thought, why not try to reach a compromise and accept the project under conditions that are advantageous to you? Below are a few potential avenues for negotiation:
- Accept the fee, but make sure to outline the scope of the assignment and time spent if the project would add value to your portfolio.
- Offer to become a business provider and leverage the client’s professional network.
- Pool your expertise: is there a mobile developer, UX designer or copywriter on the client’s team? How could they help you in return?
- All that interests them is spending the least amount possible.
Naturally, they will pursue the best possible ADT and try to knock down your fee as much as they can. What else is there to say? Shall we move on?
The one who doesn’t pay
Disclaimer: I’m talking about those clients who deliberately avoid paying, the ones who will gladly string you along to get services for free.
There is no shortage of techniques to avoid paying, some of which can be rather creative!
The most widespread technique is radio silence (or “ghosting” to the younger generation). Despite the reminders by email or over the phone, nobody gets back to you.
There are also those who refuse to pay for changes, or believe that they are not obliged to pay if the work is not duly completed (to their liking) upon first delivery.
Once the project has been delivered, and if your numerous reminders have gone ignored, you will have to launch legal proceedings: a dunning letter, followed by formal notice to pay, a court order and, lastly, a summons.
Upstream, you must verify the financial health of your prospective client, approve the payment terms together and leave nothing to chance when it comes to invoicing and general terms and conditions of sale. In particular, these must stipulate the payment period of 30 days, late payment charges and lump-sum compensation for recovery fees.
Of course, before getting on your high horse, try to seek an amicable solution. It may be that the client has simply forgotten or the delay is involuntary, perhaps because the head of the start-up is buckling under their workload or the CEO has used a less scrupulous subcontractor. You may well find that the problem can be quickly resolved.
It feels good to let it out, right?
Plenty more could be said about the worst types of clients out there, however, it’s worth bearing in mind that these freelance experiences are invaluable when it comes to identifying toxic projects in future.
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