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Difficult clients – who needs them? Well, probably you. As a freelance designer you need every client you can get. Difficult clients are easy to spot. They email or call relentlessly, the project specs seem to be a moving target, they want you to Photoshop the sweat off their brow from their headshot, or argue that their logo just isn’t red enough. But unless you can afford to turn business down, monster clients are just part of doing business. You can’t control how someone else acts, but you can take certain actions to prevent abuse.
Heading Difficult Clients Off at the Pass
1. Before you do any work, define payment details and establish your main contact during the project. Create a schedule that shows design presentation dates, revision dates, feedback dates, final project hand-off, and any other aspects particular to that job so there are no deadline miscommunications. You might not know who the troublemakers are right off the bat, so it’s important to do this for all your clients - and it’s just good business.
2. Keep detailed notes on the project including conversations, emails, and meetings, so you can reference details and keep your client updated.
3. If you want your clients to respect your time, you must respect it first. Build extra hand-holding into your fees, as a contingency. In the initial consultation meeting, establish what is included and what is considered extra. For example: Two rounds of revisions are included, anything else is billed hourly. Calls before 6 p.m. included; after 6 p.m. they’re billed at an hourly rate. Companies do this all the time, and it’s not wrong to establish boundaries.
The Care and Feeding of Difficult Clients
1. As the designer it is your job to understand your client’s needs. If you run into a problem and can’t provide a solution you may not wholly understand what the problem is. This means you need to ask more questions (look for our upcoming post on which questions to ask to get the information you need).
2. You are the expert in your field so speak with authority. However, avoid arguing back and resist the urge to “win.” Keep your eye on the goal – to get the information you need so you can give them the design they want and ultimately get paid.
3. Know what that business is worth to you. If you bill hourly, then keeping that client might not be so bad; they’re probably earning you more money than your other clients. However, if you’re doing a package or are paid by the completion of the project, you might actually be loosing money — so cut them loose instead.
The Bottom Line
Freelance designers have to learn to handle all type of customers. Remember, you can never change them, only how you react to them. Learn not to take it personally. Learn how to ask the right questions. Learn when it’s paying off, and when it’s time to call it quits.