Freelancers and small business owners might not have to deal with demanding bosses on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean their work lives are always pleasant. In fact, many self-employed persons struggle with difficult or downright bad client relationships.
As tempting as it might be to sever relations with every client who tries your patience, this strategy won’t help you grow your business. Instead, small business owners need to learn how to identify tough clients, and resolve any problems that may arise in the most efficient manner possible. Here are some of the most common types of bad clients, along with tips for managing them.
It’s not only freelancers who need to possess strong communications skills. If clients can’t get their ideas across, then you, as a business owner, have no way of implementing them successfully. Moreover, it’s tough to satisfy clients if they’re constantly changing their minds about what they want. With this in mind, poor communicators, including those who are simply wishy-washy about their goals, are among the most difficult clients to work with.
To minimize issues, it’s a good idea to agree to a communication strategy upfront. For example, ask if your client prefers to meet in person or be contacted by phone or email. This way, your client will be able to communicate via their preferred format, which should help him or her feel comfortable with discussions. Sometimes a person might be more eloquent in person, or more descriptive using email.
Additionally, freelancers should strive to speak their clients’ “language.” If your client uses shorthand or other technical terms, ask to clarify those terms to avoid misunderstandings. It’s also a good idea to put effort into learning your client’s industry jargon.
You might love your freelance career, but the odds are good that you wouldn’t work over 40 hours a week if you weren’t getting paid. Unfortunately, many clients try to lowball freelancers. Some clients even request that work be done for nothing in return.
Rather than firing low-paying clients, freelancers shouldn’t be afraid to renegotiate with them for more appropriate rates. Start by emailing clients to let them know that you are increasing your rates, the reason(s) you are increasing them and that you would love to continue working with them. Along with discussing specific terms for services, you should set clear prices for changes and revisions to work. Remember that you are an expert in your field and deserve to be paid accordingly.
From clients who don’t pay on time—or at all—to those who regularly change their minds about what they want, unreliable individuals can take a serious toll on your business. To minimize issues, consider using fixed-price contracts, or even ask for payment upfront. If clients truly desire your services, they should be willing to pay in advance. Some self-employed persons also prefer to be paid hourly rather than waiting to bill upon project completion.
If your client is notoriously unreliable, ask him or her to agree to a written contract. Along with stating the products or services you will provide, list the payment terms clearly, including due dates. By securing a signed contract before starting work, you can protect yourself legally should the client change his or her mind about something down the line.
You might also want to consider using an accounting software, such as Quickbooks to send out your invoices. By emailing professional-quality bills at the same time each month, you let your clients know that they are dealing with a business.
As a small business owner, you likely have more time for one-on-one client interactions. Even the most generous freelancers, however, have to set limits on the amount of time they can spend with one person. If your client calls you multiple times a week or demands daily updates, he or she could rightfully be considered high maintenance, and is probably taking up too much of your valuable time.
To minimize the burden of attention-hogging clients, freelancers should set clear boundaries. If you don’t answer emails after 6pm or speak to clients on weekends, state these restrictions upfront. Additionally, you can calm anxious clients by telling them what to expect beforehand. If you offer weekly progress emails or reporting, let them know this information. It’s also a good idea to prearrange phone calls or Skype meetings so clients can gather all their thoughts in advance.
Finally, you shouldn’t be afraid to say “no” when a client asks for something above and beyond the call of duty. After all, you can’t provide round-the-clock service to one client without neglecting some of your other paying customers in the process.
In some cases, despite your best efforts, it might become necessary to sever a relationship with a client. If you have to “fire” a bad client, it’s important to write an email that states your intentions using clear and definitive language. Avoid offering specifics, and simply say that you think the client should find another provider more suited to his or her needs. The last thing you want is to find out clients are badmouthing you to their colleagues—your potential customers—in the industry!