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A freelancing career is a great opportunity to do what you like at your own pace. Today, freelancing is considered as being your boss without the hassle of starting your own business. You can work from the comfort of your home and set the schedule the way it suits you the most.

However, although being a freelancer certainly has its benefits, there are also a few downsides to the whole thing. One of those downsides is handling problematic clients more often than not. The fact of the matter is that freelancers are oftentimes not taken seriously by the companies that hire them.

That’s why as a freelancer you may experience inconveniences, such as missed or late payments, unrealistic expectations, client dissatisfaction, and so on, quite often. Nevertheless, just because every project counts to a freelancer, you’re not about to let everyone simply walk right over you. With that in mind, here are a few ways to deal with problematic clients as a freelancer.

How to Spot a Problematic Client?

In most cases, you won’t know with whom you’re dealing with until you start negotiating the terms for the project in mind. Some clients tend to be quite cooperative with you only to become clients from hell later on.

By that time, you’re already involved and you’ll have difficulties handling the situation. Therefore, try to spot the problematic ones as early as possible.

For example, here are a few common scenarios that indicate problematic clients.

  • Clients who don’t know what they want — these clients have a general idea in mind about a project, but they’re uncertain as to what they need. You may make suggestions and recommendations to which they’ll agree, but they will most likely change their mind by the end of the day.
  • Clients who like it, but not really — these clients are arguably one of the most problematic ones. They will like everything you do, until the very end. Once you finish the project or a milestone, they will come up with some trivial reasons as to why they are not quite satisfied with your work.
  • The greedy bunch — these are the clients who try to get a bit of extra out of the project; without having to pay for it, of course. They can act quite surprised when you say you charge extra for that sort of work.

Researching the Client

One of the best ways to know what you’re up against is to research the client before you agree to work with them. This may be a bit more difficult to accomplish as not everyone discloses information about their company as transparently as they should.

Fortunately, you can find at least one fellow freelancer who had dealings with that client in the past.

If you run into information, such as the client was unwilling to pay, the client demanded too much, we didn’t hear from them in weeks and so on, you’d best avoid them altogether. You may miss out on a project but if a client is as problematic as others claim them to be, you might not get paid at all.

Work under a Contract

A contract is a legally binding document that can protect you both legally and financially from troublesome clients. Working under a contract should be a must for freelancers, unless you want inconveniences on your hands.

In most cases, clients will be happy to sign a contract that outlines everything you’ve agreed on previously, which includes terms of payment, deadlines, quality of work etc.

However, if a client wants to convince you that you don’t need a contract, there’s a good chance that they might want to pull one over on you. Without a contract, there isn’t a way to protect yourself in case you don’t get paid or something similar.

On the other hand, if a client doesn’t abide by the terms outlined in the contract, you can always take them to court and settle things there.

Take Care of Unpaid Invoices

It’s no secret that the majority of freelancers get paid via invoices. That’s where problematic clients tend to shine. Late or missed payments may hurt you financially and you must ensure your invoices are due on time. But how can you do that if a client is hesitating to pay your invoice?

In some cases, it’s probably just a misunderstanding, such as a client didn’t see your email or they simply forgot to pay. You can settle that by sending a reminder or by calling your client on the phone. It’s always okay to give clients the benefit of the doubt. However, if a client is persistent in refusing to pay you, you’ll have to take the necessary steps to get paid.

As an example, you can consider invoice factoring as a means to manage your debtors. You can send a warning letter in which you’ll mention a lawsuit. That usually wakes them up.

Worst case scenario, you take them to a small claims court or regular court depending on the seriousness of the matter. If a client is problematic when it comes to payment, don’t hesitate to do what you must. It’s always to be polite at first but you cannot allow problematic clients to ignore you forever.

Define Expectations for Both Sides

Negotiations with problematic clients may seem like a tug-o-war for the most part. You must do everything you can to set clear expectations on both sides. Tell your clients and educate them if you must on what’s possible and what’s not. Also, when it’s possible and when it isn’t. Some clients don’t understand what a deadline is.

They may agree on it, but come running to you with “We need this yesterday!” That’s why it’s important to set up guidelines for the project and outline conditions for how the project will or should proceed.

If you cannot reason with clients during the negotiations, you can expect additional problems as time goes by. If you’re able, say goodbye to such clients before you get any deeper. If not, then you’ll have to manage them somehow until the project is completed.

Charge Clients Upfront

Freelancers have an opportunity to implement a payment system that works best for them. Regardless of the system you have in place, you should make it your practice to charge clients upfront. This activity can protect you from missed and late payments, as well as problematic clients who prefer to pay as late as possible.

Make it your standard policy and make it known to clients before you agree to do work with them. Charging upfront oftentimes makes troublesome clients act straight from the beginning.

If you get paid at the end of the project, they may try to fool around with you. As an example, you can charge upfront based on the scope, the length, and the complexity of the project.

  • Charge 100% upfront — many freelancers to this for small projects that don’t last too long. You get paid in full before you deliver your work. That way you avoid any payment hassles from troublesome clients.
  • Charge 50-60% upfront — this is a good way to ensure payments on mid-sized projects. You get paid at least half of the price upfront and you negotiate the other payment terms.
  • Charge 30% upfront — this payment method is ideal for longer, more complex projects. You get paid a portion up front and you get paid for each milestone as the project progresses further.

Being a freelancer isn’t as easy as everyone believes it to be, especially when you have to deal with all sorts of clients.

You try to build a reputation so that you’ll get more work coming your way, which isn’t easy when you have to deal with problematic clients. In any event, look to protect yourself first from any inconveniences and don’t hesitate to turn down clients who may be more trouble than they’re worth.

Written By
Keith Coppersmith is an Adelaide based business consultant with a degree in Media Management. With experience in numerous small businesses and startups, he enjoys giving advice on all things marketing.

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