Dealing With Demanding Clients


Jason Cohen from A Smart Bear asked about dealing with demanding clients in my previous post about changing client definitions. The points he has raised are excellent and merit an answer through a blog post. We've all had clients that give us impossible deadlines or keep adding specifications that weren't in the original assignment making for countless revisions.

To quote him:

I'm also finding that the customers who remain are becoming more demanding, even to the point of no longer being profitable to support.

So then I'm left with an odd dilemma -- should we keep these customers or not?

You could argue "yes" because eventually things will recover and you'll still have these customers. Also because not being profitable but having revenue is perhaps still better than not having the revenue.

You could argue "no" because not being profitable is the end of the game.

So how do we deal with such a client? Before making any decision about keeping those clients or letting them go, it is important to evaluate your business and its needs. Ask yourself these questions and proceed according to the answers.

Can your business survive without the client's account?

Yes: Let go of your client. Let them know why you're turning down work from them. It is important that a client knows why a freelancer is choosing not to work with them. Even if they don't see it that way, it'll be a favour to them and future freelancers they work with. Be nice and polite. You never know when they might come back to you on your terms.

No: If your answer is no, consider the next question

Can you talk to your client?

Yes: Tell them your problem. Sometimes a client doesn't realize that they're being demanding or difficult. Recently, a client of mine gave me a very lean deadline. I managed to complete it on time but had a lot of trouble. After submitting the work, I told them about it and they were surprised as they didn't realise it would cause me problems. I'd been submitting my previous work well before the deadline so they assumed that I didn't need as much time.

No: Can't talk to your client? Consider the following option.

Set down your work terms

This is something that freelancers should consider from the beginning. Make a 3 or 5 point standard policy about your work so that the next time they send you work, things are clear from the beginning. Depending on the problems you're facing with the client, your points could include the following terms:

  • State that the pay being discussed is for the original assignment.
  • Clarify that further additions to the work after it has been assigned may cost more.
  • Include a fee for rush jobs. State what your definition of a rush job is.
  • Include a minimum day figure for turning in rush work. It will save you from being taken advantage of. The client may be paying you more, but that doesn't justify them asking you to turn in 1500 words in one day.
Important: If you're introducing this strategy to your existing clients, then make sure you let them know beforehand. Don't wait till the next assignment to send them a memo. An email updating them the change in your policy will be fine.

It doesn't matter if you're successful or just starting out. Demanding clients can suck you dry. The key is to be assertive and make changes according to the situation as they arise.

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William L. said...
January 18, 2009 at 5:12 AM  

That is why I learned to design a contract for my clients to sign and understand everything there is before the job actually starts. This way I always have something to fall back on and show the client when the client tries to make changes that might add extra time and costs.

There is no room to argue when the client has signed a contract for the job stated. A new contract then can be designed adding the extra work and cost - and again getting the client to sign the new contract for agreement.

This way both the client and the designer are covered - and have an understanding.

Jason Cohen said...
January 18, 2009 at 9:32 AM  

Thanks for the detailed response!

For me personally the idea of spelling out the original SOW could be most effective. That way when there's deviations (which is inevitable and acceptable!) it's clear what's going on.

Another consideration is the attitude and background of the customer. For example, technical people often respond to logical arguments whereas others might be more swayed by emotional appeals.

Samar Owais said...
January 21, 2009 at 1:09 PM  

William: I agree. Clarifying everything in the beginning is the best option. We learn with experience.

Jason: I'm against using emotional appeals. It doesn't seem professional to me. If a client can't understand my problem through simple logic - I'm going to deliver the work and probably think 10 times before accepting more work from them.

But that is my personal opinion. I haven't yet faced a situation where I'd feel the need to appeal to a client's emotions so there's no telling what I'd do in a given situation.

Glad you liked the post!

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