How to Work with Difficult Clients

How to Work with Difficult Clients | Lemon and the Sea: Dealing with people who drive you crazy, even though you have to work with them every day.

We all have them - those clients who drive us absolutely crazy, but we can't seem to let go of. It may be that you need the money or that you started working together before you realized how difficult it would be. Maybe your client expects you to answer emails at 10 pm or wants to control every aspect of a design. No matter why it happens, you will eventually have to deal with a difficult client and it's better to be prepared before it happens than try to deal with it on the fly (trust me on this).

Why are they difficult?

Sometimes dealing with a difficult client is as easy as making sure you're communicating clearly. Start with figuring out if there is something that wasn't set up at the beginning of your process or if the person has unrealistic expectations.

  • Your client doesn't understand your boundaries. Maybe they call or text at all hours. Maybe they expect to be involved in every little decision. No matter what boundaries are being tested, be sure to be firm and remind them of your policies.
  • Your client doesn't contact you. If you have a client who hires you and then disappears, try emailing a few times to see if they simply missed your first email. If they continue not to answer, stop working on their project and let them know that you won't be continuing until you hear from them.
  • Your client nit-picks all your decisions. Some clients want to be involved in everything, even things they don't understand. Try reminding them of why they hired you - because of your expertise - and make it clear that you will keep them updated with progress reports.
  • Your client is inconsistent. Maybe your client just can't seem to make up their mind about the direction they want to take in their project. In this case, it can be helpful to jump on a video call and discuss what issues they're seeing and try to resolve them by talking it through.
  • Your client expects you to do work you didn't agree to. This one can be tricky because we always want to keep our clients happy, but sometimes their requests just get out of hand. Refer them back to your contract and make it clear what you will and will not be doing. It can help to mention that you don't do certain work because it's not in your field of expertise. Many people just don't understand that you can't do everything.

Try going with easy fixes first - talk to them, be open and honest, and see what they have to say. Sometimes clients are just uninformed or don't realize that they are making your job difficult. Starting with conversation can help clear things up quickly and keep the relationship positive for the remainder of the project.

Tips to Fight Through

If you need to continue working with a difficult client, that's okay. Not everyone is in a position to fire clients that don't fit their desired feelings (despite what Facebook may lead you to believe). There are ways that you can make a tough situation more bearable.

  • Be clear about expectations and boundaries up front. Welcome packets are especially useful for this. You can include information about your work hours, your method of contact, and when you expect your client to be available. Be sure to stick to the guidelines you set up at the beginning of a project - don't answer that email at 10 pm if it's outside of your business hours - this is one time where it pays to be firm.
  • Take time off - with advanced notice. This is great for long-term or ongoing projects and can really help you get back into the work. Take a week off from your client and give yourself some breathing room. Just be sure to give them plenty of notice and get anything urgent finished ahead of time.
  • Turn off your email alerts. I'm sure you've heard this one before, but it is truly a business changer. Set your client emails up so they go directly into a folder instead of coming into your inbox or turn your email notifications off altogether. That way, you won't be tempted to work on something when you should be taking time to yourself.
  • Come back to your values. This is often where I get lost in difficult client situations. I find that when I'm stressed, I tend to forget about taking care of myself. I don't exercise or eat healthy, I may forget to turn to God for help, all because I'm "too busy" trying to handle a client. Remember to make your values a priority. That email can wait until tomorrow. Other things may not be able to.

Calling Off a Project

As difficult as it may be, sometimes you can't resolve the issues you're having with your client. There are times where it is appropriate (and healthy) to fire a client. But, before you throw in the towel after a frustrating day, make sure you evaluate what calling off the project will mean.

  • What does your contract say? If you don't have a clause in your contract about calling off a project once it's begun, you need one. You should include information about who can call off a project, how that needs to be done, how much money is owed/refunded, and how the work already done is handled. That way, you can refer to that section of the contract when stopping work.
  • Is what you're getting out of it worth the stress? There can be a lot of benefits to working with certain clients - money, experience, networking, exposure - and you need to take the time to figure out what you get out of the project. It may be that with just a few more stressful days you can get a lot of exposure in your field, so you keep working. But if your reward isn't worth the stress you're experiencing, it's probably time to walk away.
  • How can you end the project gracefully? Firing a client is never going to be easy, but sometimes the situation can be salvaged so you don't get bad reviews or word of mouth. If you are going to stop work, make sure to let your client know and then follow the steps laid out in your contract. You can even suggest someone else that might be a better fit for them.

Anytime you're dealing with a difficult client, it can really wear on you and cause you to doubt yourself. Don't. They hired you because of your skills and your ability to help. You need to value what you do, even when someone else doesn't seem to.

How do you deal with difficult clients?