Every freelancer has had to deal with a client from hell. One that, as The Oatmeal describes, makes you “begin to fantasize about other careers, like someone who digs ditches for a living or gives baths to the elderly.”
While most clients are great to work with, clients from hell can throw our lives into complete disarray, causing anxiety, problems sleeping, and frustration. So much so that freelancers needed to find a way to vent about it on ClientsFromHell.net.
It can be hard to admit that you are dealing with a client from hell, and even harder to fire them.
Again, not every client is like this, but the ones who are can make life as a freelancer miserable. My hope is that this article will help you as a freelancer identify these types of clients, avoid them, and, if you do get stuck with one, how to get rid of them. That way, you won’t find yourself day dreaming about digging ditches. And you can find those amazing clients that make work fun again.
You’ve got a client from hell
Whenever I talk to a freelancer who has a client from hell and doesn’t realize it, I just want to scream: “Your client is a jerk! Can’t you see it?!” Only to realize that I have clients that are doing the exact same thing to me.
It’s always easier to identify when SOMEONE ELSE has a client from hell. But it’s not so easy to identify when YOU do.
Below are 4 indicators you can use to tell if you have a client from hell.
1. Violates the contract
The contract is the blueprint. It isn’t just for legal purposes. It also tells each party what is expected of them and at what time in order for the project to be completed on time. There are specific terms that you as the freelancer need to follow, and certain terms the client needs to follow. If the client starts repeatedly violating those terms, even minor points, you can expect them to violate larger terms later on, such as paying on time.
2. Unreasonable requests
I once had a client who was completely unreasonable. In our contract, I had set a timeline for the project, with due dates for both her and me. I had sent her a mockup and told her to please have it back to me within 1 week, so I could turn around with the final revisions in 2 weeks.
Of course, she took 3 weeks before getting back to me, and expected me to have the final revisions done in 2 days.
Some clients will just be unreasonable, and there is nothing you can do about it.
3. High maintenance
Some clients forget that as a freelancer, you work with a number of other clients. Every so often, these clients want you to treat you as if they are your only client. They will call you any day of the week, at any time (for instance, Sunday evenings when you are sitting down for family dinner). You could go out of your way to try and accommodate them. Believe me, I’ve tried. But sadly, with this type of client, no matter what you do, it won’t be enough in their eyes.
4. Doesn’t pay on time
This is the biggy. Your job as the freelancer is to deliver an amazing service on time. When you do, the client is expected to pay in full on time. That’s the mutual exchange that is supposed to occur. A lot of clients will give you excuses on why they can’t pay. If this occurs once in a while, you can usually work with the client to remedy the situation. But if this happens over and over again, don’t expect things to change. It’s time to move on.
How to avoid clients from hell
So you now know the signs of a client from hell. Now let’s talk about how to avoid them.
1. Listen to your gut
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a potential client and just got a bad feeling from them. Either we just didn’t vibe, or our views on the project differed. it wasn’t something I could quite describe, but could definitely feel. And when I ended up working with these clients, my gut feeling ended up being spot on. Trust your gut feeling.
2. Get everything in writing
In the real estate industry, if it’s not in writing, it’s most likely not enforceable.
Treat your contracts and communication with your clients in the same manner. Make sure your contracts lay out exactly what work you’ll be doing so the client understands completely. And if additional work is needed after the proposal has been finalized, write them in a new proposal for the client to sign.
When things aren’t in writing, problems will occur on both sides.
3. Communicate regularly
Many freelancer-client issues arise simply out of miscommunication. And the number one way to avoid miscommunication is to communicate. When I work with my clients, I like to check in with them regularly. I update them on the project and see if they have any questions or concerns. If any issues do arise, you’ll be aware of them early on and can remedy them quickly.
4. Collect a deposit
Before I begin any project, I always collect a percentage of the project fee upfront. If we lived in an ideal world, everyone would be honest and pay on time. Sadly, we don’t live in that world. There are people who just aren’t able to pay after you complete a job, or intentionally won’t pay you. Collecting a deposit before beginning the project not only limits the downside if they won’t complete the payment, but also shows that this client is capable of paying you.
How to escape a client from hell
It’s certainly hard to leave a client. If you’re like me, that feeling of “giving up” is never easy. There are certain actions you can take to help remedy situations with clients from hell. But it’s important to remember that with some people, they won’t change.
Here are the ways I handle clients from hell:
1. Don’t respond right away
If you receive an email, phone call, or are in a meeting with a problematic client, end the call, leave the meeting, or just walk away from your computer. Your immediate reaction to your client will not be good (i.e., screaming at them, or writing a berating email).
Instead, take some time to cool down and revisit the situation. You’ll come back level-headed. And your client may come back level-headed as well.
2. Talk with the client
When some freelancers run into an issue with a client, they will just bail. Instead I try to talk with the client and see if we can solve the issue in a reasonable manner. If the client won’t pay, see why they can’t pay and see if you can set up a payment plan of some sorts. If the client is angry at you, maybe there is something else going on in their life. Or maybe they are treating you a certain way because their last freelancer screwed them over and they are worried about it happening again. Just talking with people can diffuse many situations.
In fact, I recommend reading “11 Signs Of Problematic Clients You’ll Meet In Freelancing.” It’s a great read for any freelancer to get an idea of what clients have to face with freelancers from hell.
3. Fire the client
As I mentioned, in some situations, the client will be so unreasonable that there is no way to remedy the situation. In such a case, you are lucky to be a freelancer. You have the ability to fire the client.
Freelancers are not tied down to one client. They have multiple clients, and can always get more clients. If a client you have is a client from hell, you can kindly let them know that you will no longer be able to work with them. Simple as that.
Being a freelancer has huge ups and downs. You have highs when you finish an exciting project that a client absolutely loves, and lows when you have a client from hell.
It’s important to remember that as a freelancer, you need to protect yourself from these types of clients. It’s never worth losing sleep over a client.
Once you are able to take the steps to avoid working with problematic clients, you’ll find that you attract better clients, who appreciate your work and are willing to pay higher rates. And, in the end, you’ll be much happier.