What do you do when you realise that your new client is going to provide a few sources of new wrinkles across your forehead? Do you scream and shout at them or do you try and figure out a solution that works for both parties? How do YOU deal with difficult clients?

At some point, this happens to every one of us in our freelancing career.

[Tweet “Life is not all sunshine and roses and you can’t expect all your clients to be like that either.”]

However, there are ways you can reduce the likelihood of working with a difficult client by following a few tips.

3 Tips to Reduce Difficult Clients Coming Your WayHow to deal with difficult clients and how to avoid them

Tip #1: Speak to them

Before accepting any type of work from a freelance client, make sure that you’ve met with them, either in person or virtually (Skype or Google Hangout).

You should be able to determine if the client is a good fit for you or whether there are going to be some issues in the foreseeable future.

Here’s an example:

A new client on Upwork contacted me to do some ghost blogs for them on an ongoing basis. I progressed through to an interview stage and ‘met’ with them on Skype.

Within about 2 minutes of getting into the interview, I had already identified that this client was not someone I would work well with.

They were very vague on some of the details and definitely couldn’t answer all of my questions. Plus, there was an underlying ‘vibe’ that I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on from an email conversation, that just really turned me off.

So I didn’t take the job on, even though it was offered to me.

Tip #2: Do your due diligence

Do your own research. See what you can find out about your prospective client online.

What’s happening on their social media accounts, are their clients loving them or hating on them?

What about feedback from other freelancers?

Do you own due diligence before accepting them as a new client.

Tip #3: Always implement a contract

Never start working with a client without a contract, whether that’s one you provide to them or one they outline to you via email before pressing the ‘hire’ button on Upwork or Freelancer.

You need to make sure you understand deadlines and when you’ll be paid, so there are no nasty surprises.

While that’s all well and good Lise, I hear you saying, but what do I do if I’m in this situation now? How can I get myself out without damaging my reputation or pissing anyone off?

Good questions! Here’s what I did when I inadvertently ignored my own advice!

6 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Clients (when you're already working with them)

#1: Actively Listen

Make sure you’re listening to what your client is saying before you jump down their throat.

Take some notes. If you have a contract in place, review what was agreed upon. Make sure the client isn’t deviating from this before you take any action.

#2: Bite Your Tongue

Don’t argue. It gets you nowhere, particularly if the client is being difficult and yelling at you.

It’s in your best interest to remain calm while they are ranting. Count to 10 while they are letting off steam and then deal with their issues head-on.

If you’re at fault, take responsibility and rectify it as quickly as possible.

When a client is at this point, they are more likely to share about their displeasure online than they are about how great you are.

#3: Repeat

If you were actively listening to what they said above, you will be able to repeat what you’ve heard back to them. This is key to making sure that you’ve understood where they’re coming from and that they are also clear too.

Start off your response with something like “I just want to make sure I’ve heard and understood you correctly, John. What I heard you say was xxx”.

When you do this, they will immediately see that you’ve listened and that you’ve understood. It also provides them with an opportunity to further clarify the issue if it wasn’t communicated to you the right way.

#4: Take Action

Do something about the issue, whether it’s your fault or not. As far as your client is concerned, they have been wronged; it’s your job to fix it – within reason of course!

Definitely apologise if you were clearly in the wrong, if you weren’t, offer to fix it anyway and explain how and when you plan to deal with it.

Make sure you follow up with them if there are going to be any delays in meeting the new deadline.

#5: Listen Again

If the client is not happy with your remedy, ask them what they would like to happen and then see if you can meet the request.

In some instances, they may not want you to do anything, which is when you should definitely do something.

If you don’t, you run the risk of the client telling 10 friends, who’ll tell 10 friends… just how bad you were to work with.

Social media is great for airing out your problems, as most airlines quickly find out.

#6: Cut Your Losses

Sometimes it’s best to just walk away. There are some clients who love being difficult for the sake of being difficult. They are the ones who love the sound of their own voice, can never reach a solution, and always look at things in a negative way.

You don’t wanna keep these clients on your books.

How you walk away will determine how well you come off in this scenario. It’s best to try and make it look like it’s their idea and that they are in control.

You can drop subtle hints when chatting with them, saying things like “If you’re not happy, then you need to do what’s right for you and your business”, or saying “I won’t be able to fit that request in right away, if you need to find another solution, I understand”.

Say this enough times, and the client will more often than not choose to end the contract with you, which is the best way to end this type of working relationship.

Sometimes though, you just need to get outta Dodge, so the best way to handle this is to let the client know that at the end of whatever work you’re doing for them, you will be unable to continue working with them due to an increased workload or whatever works for you.

Offer some recommendations on where they can find another person to replace you and make sure that you end the contract to the best of your ability.

[Tweet “You gotta face the fact that clients can just be plain annoying at times…”]

You gotta face the fact that clients can just be plain annoying at times. Make sure you’re not taking on work with clients that clearly show signs that they are a naysayer, an ‘I have all the answers’ man, a line-backer or a Xenophobe.

These are all people you probably want to avoid, but maybe you like a challenge, so learn how to deal with them and you’ll save yourself some stress further down the line.

Do you have a difficult client right now? How are you dealing with them? I’d love to know how it’s going, so leave a comment below.

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Lise Cartwright
Lise Cartwright

Founder of Hustle & Groove and your creative business strategist. If you want to get notified of new posts just like the ones you see here, then make sure you join the awesome H & G community — Join Now!

    2 replies to "How to Deal With Difficult Clients"

    • Deian Isac

      Lise, you’ve summarized it very well. Once you’ve been in the business for a few years, you’ll be able to spot bad clients early. One thing I noticed is that asking clients to sign a contract is a very hard thing to do (even if you are active in the B2B space). However, you can make them accept your terms of service and cancelation/refund policy instead.

      • Lise Cartwright

        Hey Deian, thanks for your comment. I’m sorry that you’ve experienced clients not signing a contract… my rule of thumb is I won’t work with someone without a contract. I understand re getting them to accept your terms of service and refund policy, but that doesn’t really protect you from everything else. It’s always your call, of course, when it comes to running your business. It’s always about what feels right for you!

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