How to communicate with difficult clients

As a freelancer, it’s your job to keep your clients happy. Most will be easy to work with, but some client relationships are inevitably more difficult to manage.

Disagreements can come from anywhere - miscommunication, a sudden change to the brief, or just simple indecision. Some clients might kick up a fuss purely because they’re having a bad day. There are ways to navigate this carefully and make sure your invoice is paid in full. Here are our top tips for communicating with difficult clients.

See things from their perspective

This is very difficult to do, particularly when you’re confident in the work you’ve done and feel like you’re getting some unnecessary grief for it. At the beginning of a conflict, it’s better not to defend yourself too much. This can inflame things and put a massive barrier between you both.

Try to look at the situation objectively and distance yourself. If you were in the client’s shoes, what would you be expecting? What kind of resolution would work for you?


Just give them what they want (within reason)

You’re paid for your skill and expertise, but the client has a big problem with the choices you’ve made. Most freelancers have been there.

It’s frustrating to be doubted, especially when you’ve worked hard on a project, but sometimes these interactions have to be filed under ‘battles not worth fighting’. If the client keeps insisting on a terrible design choice, or some cheesy website content, it’ll be easier for you to get paid if you just give them what they’re asking for. It’s their money after all!

Swallow your pride, make the changes, and maybe leave it out of your portfolio… 


Keep it polite!

If you send an angry, expletive-filled email, you’ll only feel good while you’re typing it. Once it’s sent, it’s out there in the world and instantly regrettable. Remember you’re talking to a real person, despite how difficult they’re being.

For your own peace of mind, and for the sake of your business’ reputation (these things do tend to be shared on LinkedIn), it’s important to be polite no matter how irate the client might be.


Find a solution wherever you can

A client will only argue for argument’s sake in rare cases. Most likely, they’re unhappy with what you’ve provided in some way and they want a solution. It’s hard to put up with criticism, particularly when it feels unjustified, but don’t let it stop you from searching for a workaround.

It could be a partial refund, a redraft, or just an apology for not quite getting it right. Whatever the solution is, you’ll find they’re usually happy to leave you alone and pay the invoice as soon as it’s sorted.


If communication completely breaks down…

Regrettably there are some clients out there who live to make life difficult for other people. If you’re unlucky enough to end up working with one, and nothing seems to be keeping them happy, your invoice will probably be contested or completely ignored.

If you’ve exhausted all options, sometimes you need to cut your losses. Remember, it takes up your valuable time to send back-and-forth emails. Maybe it’s time to let them go and write the invoice off?

If you’re not going down without a fight, third parties can sometimes help. If you sell or trade through a platform, there could be mediation services available to help you get paid. Small Claims Court is also an option if you’re determined to get the invoice paid despite the lack of cooperation.

On the whole, freelancing is a great way to make a living. You have complete autonomy, and get to charge for something you’re really brilliant at. Sometimes, however, you need to get your tactful words out and construct some careful emails. It’s a delicate business, but it’s worth it if it gets your invoice paid!


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