Empowering the Freelance Economy

How to keep your cool when a client loses theirs

Photo source: Yan Krukau: via Pexels
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As you build your portfolio you will come to understand that clients and corporate cultures each come with their own personalities. But with a few strategies, you can navigate even the trickiest client situations with grace and (eventually) a smile.

Client communication, especially in the early days of the relationship, can be like an awkward first dance. You follow their lead, but sometimes they are just as prone to stomping on your toes as you are. That’s why client communication and problem solving strategies should be treated an art form. One that requires a light touch and can always do with refreshing.

Scenario 1: The Upset Client

A missed deadline, a misunderstood request, or simply a bad day on their end can turn a client into a misfired firecracker.

  • Stay calm: Mirror their energy, but with less intensity. Let them vent, and acknowledge their frustration with a simple, “I understand why you’re upset.”
  • Listen actively: Don’t interrupt. Pay close attention to their concerns, taking notes if needed.
  • Focus on solutions: Once they’ve had their say, shift the focus. Ask clarifying questions and offer solutions. Don’t be afraid to apologise if a mistake was made, but own it and move forward.

Scenario 2: The Indecisive Client

They waver and waffle, unsure of what they want. Endless revisions and a never-ending stream of “one more thing” requests can leave you pulling your hair out.

  • Set clear expectations: From the outset, establish a communication plan and revision limits. This provides a framework and helps manage their expectations. It also means you aren’t working for free.
  • Offer choices: Present a few well-defined options, allowing them to choose a direction.
  • Find common ground: If they keep changing their mind, try to find the underlying thread in their revisions. This can help you pinpoint their true desires.
  • Humor as a reframe: If they are admit they are being decisive you could give gentle humorous prod with, “Perhaps we should flip a coin to decide?” which could inject some levity and nudge them towards a decision. You could explain, if they can live with the outcome, that could mean they have chosen what they really want. But if the coin comes up tails when they really wanted heads, this can be an easy way to move things along.

Scenario 3: The Scope Creeper

Their initial request seems straightforward, but then, mission creep sets in. They keep adding tasks and features outside the original agreement.

  • Be clear on scope: Define the project scope in writing upfront. This serves as a reference point for both parties.
  • Communicate early and often: Keep the client updated on progress, and proactively flag any potential scope changes.
  • Negotiate new terms: If additional work is required, discuss it openly and agree on a revised timeline and budget before proceeding. You may want to set a price rather than falling back on predicted hours as that could be very unclear if they go off task often.

Above all, you want clients to feel their objectives are in good hands even when things go off course.

Think of your positive attitude as contagious. By approaching client interactions with a smile and a willingness to find solutions, you’ll build stronger relationships, foster trust, and navigate even the bumpiest roads with composure. After all, a happy client is a repeat client, and that’s worth the song and dance.

1 Comment
  1. Big Jon says

    I have found, as a very successful freelancer of over 35 years who has worked literally all over the world, that a simple “Eff Off!” usually does the trick!!. Obviously this isn’t the first approach, but one has to also be prepared to simply walk away if a client is being particularly insatiable (they simply refuse to be satisfied), unreasonable, unrespecting of the brief’s boundaries and limitations and of your promise to deliver. Thankfully this has only needed to be done for 2 or 3 cases, but I find that I can remain calm and comfortable in the knowledge that I am not hide-bound to them and CAN walk away if I wish – allows me the freedom to “manage” the client without fear. And fear is the worst thing that most freelancers find holds them back. If you’re good at your job and have a good reputation, then ALWAYS keep that in the back of your mind when dealing with the awkward or stupid (or both) client. One last thing: Keep it in proportion. I lead projects which cost tens and even hundreds of milli0ns of Dollars/Pounds/Euros. At that level, everyone is under MASSIVE pressure. If you’re just handling a small job, then just keep your focus and patience proportionate. Good luck!!!!.

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