What’s your least favourite thing about running your own business? If I asked you for the top three things that cause stress, I’m pretty sure dealing with difficult clients would be somewhere among them. You know, the kind of clients who are constantly on your case, or have bloated expectations despite being price conscious, or clients who don’t pay on time (well, we covered those ones here). We all want to LOVE our clients, but sometimes the relationship can just get too strained, and even make you resent your client. Often the underlying issues are not that major, but when you’re juggling many clients, the one who’s a sticking point always stands out and cause stress. So, what do you do when a client relationship is in dire straits? Especially when you don’t want to jeopardise your reputation, or find it really hard to set boundaries or speak up.
1 Client who has a million ideas
Sure, ideas are a good thing. A creative client is a dream, but sometimes a Pinterest-crazy client with too many ideas can get a little bit tiresome, especially if those ideas don’t really work in the context of your work, or take the project to a direction that’s not right for your creative aesthetic.
My best tip:
Step up as the expert. Expert is such a big word, but if you are taking money for your services, you are aligning yourself as an expert in your discipline, so act like it. If a client has an idea you don’t think will work, let them know why. Give them enough information about the way you work, and what your vision and aesthetic is like, and there will be a lot less confusion. Clients often want to be led in the right direction, that’s why they’re hiring you, the expert.
2 Client who calls 10 times a day
Trust me, I get you. You feel much more comfortable corresponding via email in the first place, so that you can keep your thoughts together and have a record of what was discussed, I’m with you on that one. But once in a while you get a client who LOVES to hang out on the phone, and who loves to phone you constantly to see where you are at with the project. You develop a nervous tick around your phone, and your palms start sweating when it starts to ring again. I know it feels like they are harassing you, but trust me, they’re not. They are most likely just excited about working with you, and want to feel special and like they matter to you.
My best tip:
Put systems in place for client communication. Make it a habit to send weekly updates on what you achieved that week and what you’re going to work on the following week. If you offer them reassurance that you are working on their stuff and that they matter, and they have enough information about how your process and timings work, they will hopefully find less reason to phone you constantly. With the most keen ones, arrange regular skype calls to keep them in the loop and happy with the progress, that way the communication is on your terms, and for the rest of the time you can get on with actually doing work without constantly glancing at your phone with a heavy heart.
3 Client who has too high expectations
Even though you’ve agreed on a price and your client has signed off on a statement of work, some just can’t help but try to get more for their money. They will try to add tasks or keep changing things endlessly making the hours you work stretch on and on…
My best tip:
Be polite and professional, but firm. Remind them of what your agreement was and what’s included. Tell them that you’re happy to do extra hours or revisions, but it will cost them extra. Put the ball in their court and ask them if they want you to put together a quote for the extra work, and they can then decide whether they want to go for it.
4 Client who keeps changing their mind
You’re weeks into working on a project, or ready with a concept or a plan for a shoot taking place soon, and your client asks you ‘Oh, but could we do it this way instead?’. It’s a heart-sink moment. You’ve invested time and creativity into this thing, and now they want to do a 180, there’s nothing that will kill your excitement for working for a client faster.
My best tip:
Let go of the ego and see that it’s probably not the end of the world to change the concept. However, you do need to get paid for the work you have already done. Explain to your client that you’ll invoice them for the hours worked so far, and that you’ll create a new quote for the new aspects of the project. A better way to handle this would be to charge half of your fee upfront in the first place, so that the client really grasps that the work doesn’t begin until they’ve decided on the direction and paid, and that their payment won’t be refunded if the project is changed or cancelled. Education up front is always the clearest option, and sets expectations correctly.
5 Client who doesn’t pay on time
If you’re struggling with not getting payments in on time, go read this post about getting paid, and download the email scripts to help you with how to word things nicely and still get your clients to pay.
Have you come across any other awkward scenarios to add to these? I would love to know how you handled those!