Did you ever have to deal with a difficult client? Like saddling up a wild horse, handling a difficult client can be a daunting and challenging task. It requires a lot of patience and skill, but believe me, it can be done successfully. As a freelancer, one of the most important things you can do is manage your clients’ expectations. In this blog post, we will discuss some tips and tricks for setting and managing expectations with your clients in a way that benefits both you and them.
1. Communicate clearly and often
It is important to manage client expectations from the very beginning. Be clear about your expectations, your timeline, and what you need from the client upfront. This will help set the tone for the project and manage expectations from the start. Set realistic timelines and deliverables and be sure to communicate these clearly to your client.
If a client asks for something that is outside of the scope of what was agreed upon, be sure to let them know and come to an agreement on how to proceed before moving forward. If possible, try to let them know that you are willing to work with them on it. But, if the request is something out of your expertise or ability, make sure you tell them what their options are and how much time each option will take.
It is a good idea to define the ways of communication at the very beginning. You can send regular updates by email or set a phone call once per week. Many demanding clients want to be in control all the time. Keeping them updated about the project status gives them peace of mind and can help you avoid unwanted reactions.
2. Define your process and deliverables upfront
When you are first starting out as a freelancer, it is easy to underestimate the time and effort required to complete a project. This can lead to problems later on down the line when a client feels that you haven’t delivered what was agreed upon. To avoid this, be sure to define your process and deliverables upfront, so everyone is on the same page from the get-go.
Usually, the project request should contain a detailed project description and deliverables, but it may happen that the request is not precise enough. When dealing with demanding clients, it is a clever idea to define those details even before you start working. Try not to leave any room for guesswork. If something is unclear, ask for extra information. You can also check our advice for dealing with poorly written project requests, which may help you prevent the headaches.
Do you have your process defined? Usually, each one of us has their own ways to approach the projects. They tend to create a pattern, where you deal with each work in a similar way. Try sitting down and thinking of it for a moment: write down your usual way of proceeding with the projects. You can then make it a part of the on-boarding email or publish it on your website. Demanding clients usually want to know as much as possible, so they will be very satisfied to read about your working methods.
3. Create a project schedule
Once you know both the scope of your project and your working process, it’s good to create a schedule. This schedule should include milestones and deadlines for each task. Having a clear schedule will help keep everyone on track and ensure that the project is completed on time.
It is a useful tool to deal with clients with the tendency for micromanagement. Personally, I believe this is the most annoying type. It is extremely hard to focus on your work then someone wants to track your every movement and have impact on every decision. This is especially true when you have a clear note on how your service should be delivered, and some clients don’t hesitate to tell you how it should be done. Therefore, presenting a clear and detailed schedule upfront can save you both time and energy. Updating your client may turn out easier as well, as you can easily refer to the point of the schedule you are currently working at.
4. Get everything in writing
When it comes to working with clients, always get everything in writing. Make sure that every decision you make or accept when starting the project is written down somewhere: either in a document, or in the email. Above all, this rule applies to all of the details of the project, including deadlines, payment terms, scope of work and anything else that is relevant. This will help avoid misunderstandings or miscommunications down the road.
It may happen during the project that you agree on modifications or some extra work. If it is done during a meeting or a phone call, make sure you later share a written version of those updated terms with the client and ask for his confirmation. After all, we are only humans, and some details can fade from our memory, or we can misunderstand each other. Remember: better safe than sorry!
If down the road the client has idle concerns or complains about your work, refer him to the details of your agreement. It is also a supporting material for you if at any point you happen to have doubts about the terms you agreed on.
5. Have a contract
That being said, one of the easiest proofs against demanding clients is creating a contract. When you are a freelancer, it is important to have a contract that outlines the scope of work, deliverables, and timeline for the project. This will help manage expectations from the start and prevent any misunderstandings down the road.
The contract should be as detailed as possible, and you should go over it with the client before starting work. Make sure that both you and the client understand and agree to the terms outlined in the contract. This will help avoid any issues down the road. If you are working with a demanding client, a contract can be a helpful tool to manage expectations and avoid misunderstandings. It is essential to have a contract in place to protect you from things like overdue payments, being paid less than what was agreed, or being expected to make extensive amends without charging for your extra time.
Your contract does not have to be overly complex. If you don’t know where to start, you can use some of the widely available templates, like the one on SignWell. You can easily customize it to your needs. Some clients may produce their contracts, as well. You can accept them but be aware that if you decide to do so, you run the risk of not having included some of the terms that are important to you. You also have to remember to read the contract thoroughly and review any doubts with the client to avoid misunderstandings.
6. Offer alternatives
Some super demanding clients have truly unrealistic expectations about their projects. It may come from their lack of knowledge of your industry. If a client is asking for something that is not feasible, stay calm. It does not have to mean that the whole project should be rejected.
First, try to show them that you are open and willing to find other options. Prepare alternative solutions that will still meet their needs. This shows that you are willing to work with them to find a mutually beneficial alternative.
If you cannot think of any alternative for the client demand, try to sit down with them and discuss the situation. What is the ultimate goal they want to achieve? What element of the project do they care about the most, and what are they willing to let go? With just a hint of good will you may find a compromise the client will be willing to accept.
7. Handle changes with agility
Another type of client that I am not a huge fan of is the “Great Modifier”. No matter how well you plan, there will always be changes that come up during a project. But some of the clients have a particular talent for changing everything. And constantly. Even though it may be super annoying, try to approach it with calm.
The key is to handle these changes with agility so that they don’t throw off your entire plan. When changes do come up, assess their impact, and make adjustments to your schedule and resources as needed. A clever idea might be to focus on the 2-3 things that will have a significant impact by choosing where to invest your time and resources. Also, try to make sure that the modifications don’t disturb the final result. In the excitement of introducing changes, your client may need a little reminder of the original direction of the project, and the most extreme ideas may need to be turned down a bit.
8. Stay calm and professional
No matter how difficult a client may be, always remain professional. This means being respectful, keeping your cool, and maintaining a positive attitude. Even when things are going wrong, it is important to stay calm and professional with your clients. This can be difficult when you are feeling stressed or frustrated but remember that losing your cool will only make the situation worse.
If you get an email from your client with harsh comments that agitate you, do not act immediately. When you are heated up, you may write or say something that may damage your career. Go for a walk or talk to your friend about how you are feeling. Write a response once your head is cool, and try to keep it substantial, avoiding any personal comments or sarcastic language.
In an extreme situation you may need to take a break or step away from the project for a bit. If that happens, let your client know so they can understand why there might be a delay in getting things done.
9. Set clear boundaries
When you are working with a client, it is important to set boundaries to protect your time and energy. Be clear about what you are willing to do, and what you are not. I personally find it hard to say “no” or to negotiate better when the client is asking for something that I cannot deliver. But I try to remind myself that I have to be assertive and know my limits. As a freelancer, you have to be a business owner. You have to know what you can deliver and what you cannot.
Saying “no” to a client can be difficult, but it is important to do it in a respectful way. Be clear about why you are saying no, and offer alternatives if possible. For example, if a client asks you to work on a Saturday, you can say that you are not available, but you can offer to work on Sunday instead. It is also important to set boundaries around payment. Make sure you are clear about your rates, and when you expect to be paid. I always make sure to include this information in my contract so that there are no surprises later on.
10. Know when to walk away
Finally, extreme cases may show up, and you have to know when to say enough. If a client is proving to be too difficult to work with, it may be best to walk away from the project. It is not worth sacrificing your mental health or well-being for a job.
There are usually warning signs that a client is becoming too much to handle. If you are constantly anxious or stressed about a project, or if you are dreading communicating with a client, it may be time to reassess the situation. Trust your gut, and if you feel like you need to walk away, do it.
Be prepared for anything
When you are freelancing, you never know what might happen. A client might suddenly decide they want to change direction, or a deadline might get moved up. While it is impossible to predict everything that might happen, being prepared for anything and remaining calm and professional will help you handle whatever comes your way.