difficult-clients

The 3 Most Difficult Clients: How to Deal

Ahhhh, the one thing for a freelancer that makes us, breaks us, and usually manages to drive us up the proverbial wall.

The Client.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I LOVE my current clients with a capital “L” and a little sideways heart! Everyone I am lucky enough to write for right now has been completely lovely. In fact, most freelancers have great clients that they have a wonderful working relationship with.

It isn’t always so, though…

Those “trying” ones I am referring to are the ones that we all run into every once in a while… the Demanding Client, the It’s Not Impossible Client, and the Do It For Me Client.

The Demanding Client

Demanding client
Now this client is often perfectly friendly and professional.

She just happens to be one of those with a very specific idea of what she’s paying you for, when it will arrive, and is sure that it will be perfect (not nearly perfect, not almost perfect) every time without fail.

She’s fair with feedback (if you work for ELance, ODesk, or one of those find-me-a-gig companies that use a rating system), but you can be sure that if you’re five minutes past a deadline, your rating will show it.

How to deal:

This is the client that loves communication, and that goes both ways. She’s often more than happy to answer your questions, and prefers that you ask (rather than wing it) if you aren’t clear on something. She likes frequent updates, and you’ll earn brownie points with a daily email that simply lets her know you’ve drawn up an outline, or completed your research, or are doing a final edit.

If there’s a problem, let her know as soon as you can, and be sure to mention what measures you’re taking to correct the problem.

Mistakes will be made, own up to them and be willing to correct them… ”I apologize for the oversight, give me a few minutes and I’ll send you a corrected copy,” is her favorite thing to hear if something upsets her.

The It’s Not Impossible Client

It's not impossible client
Ooooh, this is the client you must tread carefully around. Although friendly and even solicitous, this client is persuasive… sometimes too much so.

He is the one who wants a 50 page, researched and cited, detailed report on root canals by 5pm the day he assigns you. He also wants it done for about $10. There is no convincing him that this is impossible… he is very much a “where there is a will” man.

He is also the one who might try to convince you to plagiarize, accept payment outside your company policy, and/or any number of unethical practices.

How to deal:

The best thing to do with this guy is to be polite and professional, but stick to your guns. Be firm when you tell him, “I am sorry, but I simply cannot complete this within the time frame/budget you’ve proposed.”

Be ready to offer him alternatives. This client is good with suggestions, and you’ll get a much better reaction from him be offering a compromise you can live with. Suggest a reasonable time frame or budget, and assure him you just want to make sure you can give him your best work.

The exception… don’t be afraid to give an uncompromising NO to unethical practices. A freelancer’s entire career rests on reputation; don’t sacrifice yours to keep one immoral client happy. You can find other clients, but you cannot rebound from sinking to the illegal.

The Do It for Me Client

Do it for me client
Every once in a while, we run across a client who requires a lot of reassurance, some hand-holding, and the ability to work without much direction.

This girl wants to publish a book, and she knows she wants it to be about her cat… and that’s about it. Or, she got herself a blog and doesn’t have the time, patience, or desire to post to it regularly.

In some ways, this is a great client. For those freelancers who like to work independently, or for the creative writer who likes letting the work flow where it may, this client is ideal. However, she might cause some stress for a freelancer who likes a definite assignment, detailed instructions, and a set schedule.

How to deal:

If you are in the first category, you’re golden… just do your best on the project and let your client bask in the shine of a perfectly executed project that she didn’t have to stress over.

If you’re in the second, your best plan of attack is to get the answers to specific questions, then build your own assignment from them. Ask when your client wants to see a finished product, ask what she wants the most, and ask what she sees it looking like when it’s done.

Form a plan, and then send her an outline for approval… and don’t worry about this part much, you’ll likely get a “sure, that sounds fine.”

Above all…

No matter what client you’re dealing with, communicate often and with composure. Keep your whining and frustration (rage?) off of anything your client may see.

Remember, this person is essentially your boss… treat him or her as you would a supervisor in a company.

Ok, I know you all have a good client horror story… post your best ones in the comments and let’s see who has the best bad client!

Written by Tori F.
I am a freelance writer and photographer with a wild imagination and inspiration in the form of my two minions (my children), a few feline familiars, and a view out my front windows of the wild West Texas canyons.


  • LOL! These are as nothing.

    How about the raving nut cases? Like the one who told me and my associate editor that his deceased father was sitting at the conference table with us, and that as we got further into the project, we’d be able to see him, too? Or the one who wanted me to copyedit the book in which he purported to prove that the red-rock hoodoos of Sedona, Ariz., were put there (embedded with a coded message to humanity) by the same space aliens who built the Egyptian pyramids?

    Where on earth did you get those great kid pix? :-D

    • Wow! I’ve been writing for years and just now realizing that I may be a lot luckier than I believed…I’ve dealt with some crazies, but that was in my bartending days and my years as a volunteer EMT.

      May I ask…as you got further into the project, did you ever get to meet Dad?

      Although I haven’t had these experiences (I must say, my own blog would have been MUCH more interesting over the years if I had), my advice would probably be much the same as with the grumpy clients. Especially the clients abandoned by the mothership…I think I’d keep them on for inspiration. You just never know when you might need some off-the-wall material for a good humor post!

      Thanks for sounding off, and good luck with those clients!
      ~Tori