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The 5 Kinds of Crappy Freelance Clients

by Bryce Emley Oct 14, 2013

One of the myriad minor problems freelancers have to deal with is handling a vast array of clients. Sure, that means you don’t have a single boss to answer to, and you can just drop a client if you don’t like him/her (typically a “him” in my experience). But it also means you’ll see everything from the godsend to the creep to the just plain asshole. You’ll need to know how to handle each of them if you want to enjoy a long career freelancing.

The non-payer

I’ve actually had good luck getting clients who pay — though that doesn’t mean they’ve all been so forthright. My second-ever client didn’t pay me (where’s my $45, Mfon?), but I should have known better — he was unresponsive from the get-go and had no history on his oDesk profile. I sent him about 30 emails, but nothing. I also once had some super-successful self-help dude suddenly get an account issue come pay time. I messaged him, increasingly angrily, over about a year until his second or third accounts manager finally just PayPal-ed me.

The best thing you can do is never let it become an issue. Avoid anyone who seems remotely sketchy, and try to stick to secure websites. Asking for upfront payment can be a big help, but you have to earn your right to that by building a good reputation.

If this does happen to you, don’t harass them (at first). With the latter client, I started with about 10 friendly emails, then got progressively more aggressive, until I was downright threatening. I even started pestering him on Twitter (self-help marketers love Twitter and fear a bad image there). When someone finally started cooperating, I pacified and apologized. Remember, you want to get paid. Swallow your pride.

The string-alonger

I had a client who kept sending me small-time jobs, and once I delivered, would ask for repeated revisions until — lo and behold — it was suddenly past deadline and he had someone else do it without telling me, even though the final version was “perfect.” I did about four of these, none for pay (he even used my work on one of the jobs). Finally, I said, “Hey, brah, something’s gotta change. I can’t keep doing this and not get paid.” You know, forward and assertive, but polite. He said he understood and promised to pay 50% in advance next time. Haven’t heard from him since.

Point is, give the client the benefit of the doubt at first, but ultimately exercise your right to get paid — it is, after all, the fulcrum of any business transaction. If you’re being hustled, it’ll sort itself out, like it did for me. If it’s an honest client, he/she will understand and work with you so you’re both benefiting.

The dude who thinks he’s better at what you do than you are

These are the worst. There is no client that makes me want to go Street Fighter on an ’89 Camry more than this type. I’m a copywriter. I know how to market and write copy. When I get an IT company CEO who starts telling me what my video script is supposed to do better to get her company more clients, I have problems. It’s why the person hired me instead of doing it herself.

Honestly, there’s not much you can do about these people. You’ve got to bite the bullet and give them what they want — or rather convince them they want what you’re providing. They obviously like to feel in control of what you’re working on, so calling them out or defying them outright will probably not go well. Instead, deliver your revisions with justifications for what you change or don’t change. Trust your own judgment and explain why you made the choices you did so the client sees the logic without being told directly he/she’s wrong.

The OCD douche

One thing every freelancer will run into is a client who’s seemingly never happy with what’s delivered. I remember a $10 gig for which the client requested literally 9 revisions for the 100 words of copy for a nonprofit event. He said something about “If you want a good review, let’s really try to make it perfect”; i.e., he was testing my claim that I would revise until I got it right. It eventually pittled off and I got no review, but I played along.

Just keep in mind that your client is the buyer of a service. As a freelancer, you’re making what they do possible, and to some degree are representing them, so they do deserve to have what they want. They’re paying you. Suck it up, get it right, and don’t be a dick about it.

The creep

This isn’t just a danger for the ladies. There was a middle-aged male client I had who repeatedly made awkward jokes about me coming to his residence, even borderline offering to “wine and dine” me if I were ever in town. Maybe it was all innocent, maybe he was just in need of a friend and liked my personality, who knows. I’m not judging. I’m just saying, this stuff happens, and if it were to happen, there’s a chance it might make you uncomfortable.

My advice? Deal with it — if it pays (it didn’t for me). You’re working potentially thousands of miles away, so just do your work and don’t humor the conversation. Just circle around it politely. Or, if you’re actually into it…

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