Difficult clients got you down? 6 freelancer tips for working with frustrating clients

Dealing with clients isn't always easy. Here are some tips to help ease those frustrations.

June 19, 2024

Freelancing offers you so many great benefits that full-time jobs don’t. But it’s no secret that freelancing can also be frustrating. Late payments from clients, the grind of constantly looking for new work, and not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from are all downsides to freelancing. And dealing with difficult clients is one of the worst ones

Sometimes it’s that you deliver exactly what they asked for, only for them to change direction completely once you’ve completed the job. Other clients will want to micromanage your work, even though they hired you for your expertise and you’re trying to guide the project in a way that will actually be successful. And sometimes they’re just outright rude and difficult to work with. 

We can’t make all of your clients a pleasure to work with, but there are some great freelancer tips to help you deal with the ones who aren’t. And if you start using the strategies below with all of your clients, it can help you get ahead of these problems before they begin and set yourself up for success with each individual client. 

Freelancer tip #1: Make sure expectations for both parties are clear and in writing 

One of the most common problems between freelancers and their clients is that if expectations aren’t clear the project has little chance of being successful. You can put in the best work of your career, but if you’re not clear on what the client wants you’ll still end up feeling like a failure. That’s why it’s so important to outline exactly what the client needs when they hire you. This includes digging deeper into why they want whatever deliverables they’re looking for so that you can understand their strategic needs and be sure that your work can help them achieve those goals. 

Freelancer tip #2: Outline communication expectations

This is another area where doing this upfront before you even know if the client will be difficult really helps you avoid problems down the road. What channel is preferred for communication? What are the best times to reach you? What are the best times to reach your client? How often will you check in with each other to make sure the client is happy with how the work is progressing? 

Taking a moment to align on these and educate each other on how to best communicate with you helps facilitate a smoother working relationship. Your needs in terms of things like the best times to reach you might not always align, but that’s ok. The important thing is that you’re communicating your needs, and hopefully aligning somewhere in the middle. 

Freelancer tip #3: Align on payment terms before you begin the work

It would be great if clients always quickly paid their freelancers, but we all know how often that is not the case. Only 42% of freelancers report that they typically get paid on time for their work. And sometimes there’s an enormous amount of chasing your client after the work to get paid at all. Our best freelancer tip for this is to align on payment terms before you get started. 

Ask the client upfront when you will be paid for the work and what payment method they’ll use. Get it in writing, and try to negotiate if you don’t like the payment terms they’ve set. If you’re having trouble getting them to pay once the work is completed you’ll have a little more leverage since you can show them that they aren’t following what they’ve already agreed to. 

Freelancer tip #4: Speak up when things aren’t working

It can be uncomfortable having difficult conversations with clients, but if you’re having problems with a client it’s better to address it head-on. Calmly explain to the client the problem you’re having and explain how it’s impacting your ability to deliver them great work. 

Although it might not always feel this way, you and your client want the same thing at the end of the day: great work that you’re both satisfied with once the project ends. Letting them know that the issue you’re having is inhibiting your ability to do this will help them understand that solving the issue is in their best interest as well and hopefully, motivate them to help fix the problem. 

Freelancer tip #5: Keep a record of conversations wherever possible, particularly around big changes 

Some clients constantly change their minds about what they want and this makes a freelancer’s job extremely difficult. Outlining expectations at the beginning does help manage these clients, but sometimes that’s not enough to keep them accountable and they still go back and forth on what they want. 

Try and record all of your conversations with your client. If that’s not possible, keep detailed notes after each meeting with them and then share the notes with all parties afterward to make sure everyone is aligned. This gives you timestamped notes each time they change direction, and lets you point back to those notes when they’re not being consistent with their demands and blocking you from completing your work.

Freelancer tip #6: Know when to terminate a project

Sometimes, you try all of the above and things still don’t improve. If you feel like you and the client still can’t get on the same page and you’ve exhausted all your options it might be time to fire the client. Particularly if you don’t see a way where things are improving and it’s just adding stress to both you and the client. 

There are risks with this, so it’s important to exhaust all other options before you get to this point. How much time and work have you already invested in this project? Would it be worth it to write that off as wasted energy? Does this client know any of your other clients or potential clients to the point that it might hurt your reputation? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before terminating. 

The nature of freelancing is that some clients are going to be difficult. If you have a mostly strong history of delivering for clients and working well with them, it won’t reflect on your abilities or value as a freelancer if you fire a client when you feel that it’s impossible to work together effectively.

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Difficult clients are always going to exist, but using these freelancer tips can help minimize the frustration around working with them and help you see better success with those clients. And freelancers often all feel the same struggles. Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re on an island. Head over and join our freelancer community for helpful content around freelancing, interactive opportunities for our freelancers, online conversations around freelancing, and more.