NOT EVERY CLIENT IS GOING TO MAKE THINGS EASY.
If your freelance career has proceeded thus far without ever having a bad client, congratulations. You’re a unicorn, in that you don’t exist. We’re all going to experience shitty clients just like employees will experience shitty bosses and cashiers shitty customers. No matter what, despite your best intentions, you will at some point end up with a client who makes your life hard. Fortunately for freelancers, they are just a client, and will not be with you forever or even for long. Unfortunately, because this is the case, freelancers often have the mindset of “just deal with it, after a few weeks you’ll never have to see them again.” This can lead us to ignore certain warning signs that would have us avoid some clients all together. The good news, a lot of clients fall into the same categories and can be managed with some basic techniques.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
These clients don’t quite know how to give you space. They probably aren’t super comfortable or accustomed to working with freelancers and are more comfortable treating them like employees.
The most well-known is the micromanager. They can’t trust you to do a good job without poking in their seemingly superior nose. This problem stems from insecurity, pressure to perform, or their company culture. To cope, ensure that you bombard a micromanaging boss with detailed updates before they’re asked for. Be sure to over-communicate, so there is no chance they think you missed something.
A similar client to the micromanager is the workaholic. They live and breathe work without an off switch. They work like a jackal and expect the same from you. You want to manage their expectations in a similar way you would a micromanager. The main difference would be that you want to make sure to communicate not only what you’re doing now, but what the next steps are. Make them feel like you’re thinking ahead.
A third type of “overly close” client is the brown-noser or the BFF. They want to know about your goals, your favorite food, your star sign. These aren’t necessarily bad traits if they’re genuine. These things become a hindrance if they aren’t genuine or if they start to occur too often. If a client is calling every other day just to chat because they’re bored, they may need to be told that, while you appreciate the conversation, this isn’t the best method for producing good work.
IN THE WIND
These clients are in many ways the opposites of our first category. They give you so much leeway that you don’t have enough direction to do the job.
You’ve got the airport client. They’re always on the move and the only chance you get to chat with them is while they’re boarding a plane. They might want to give you feedback, but simply forget. Then there are clients who simply don’t want to have to deal with, or hear about anything, they just want it done. Whichever version of the airport client you have, you manage them in the same way. Keep working hard and keep them updated. Just because these clients don’t say so, they still want updates. The thing to keep in mind here is that they don’t have very much time to read or listen. Send short, easily digestible, recaps on a regular, but not super frequent, basis. This way they feel in the loop, but not bombarded with info.
Another “windy” client is the push over. These clients want everyone to love them, whether it’s an employee or a freelancer. This can lead to them not sharing their full opinion for fear of hurting feelings or being seen as too harsh. This isn’t a bad attribute, necessarily, but you may have to remind your clients you want direct feedback and constructive criticism. Push them to be honest with you and make sure you aren’t actually too sensitive.
We’ve all had a client who was a character. They’re unpredictable and often straight up weird. These clients can be fun to have, but hard to work with.
The drama queen or king likes calling unnecessary meetings and getting overly emotional whenever things go wrong (even if they haven’t). On the other hand, they will praise you like crazy when things go right (even if it’s minor). Anticipate this client’s behavior and have an action plan ready to dampen it. The more they see and hear the more they have to freak out about, so try not to worry them with every little detail. If there is ever a problem of any kind, make sure to have a solution before the problem is even mentioned. Regularly reassure them that everything is fine.
The impulsive client changes their mind every other meeting. They regurgitate every idea they see on impulse without thinking them through. This leads to a frustrating amount of wasted time. If this client goes too far off the rails, do your best to corral their thoughts in the right direction. Praise their ideas first, then ask many detailed questions about costs, capacity, goals, fit, etc. The best way to get them to change ideas is to have them realize it on their own.
Finally, you have the authoritative client. These guys think their shit smells like roses and don’t want any input. They believe too strongly in their vision no matter it’s quality or practicality and basically want you to be an extension of them. These clients can be tough, but the best way to go about managing them is to acknowledge how clever they and their ideas are before you give any notes. If you do happen to make a change on your own, try to spin every suggestion as “a refinement” that will actually result in the “true essence” of their vision.
All the clients we’ve discussed here will become more manageable the longer you work together. Never go into a relationship thinking a client will be difficult. If you stay positive and know how to navigate the early weeks and months, they could turn out to be one of your closest and longest lasting clients.