How to Handle Difficult Clients Without Losing Your Cool

Difficult clients can make you want to pull your hair out. I’ve been fortunate for most of my freelance career. Most clients have respected me and my time. But there have been a few that were difficult to work with during a project. They didn’t give me much direction. In one instance, the client held a conference call with other people on his team to review my work. Each one of them took turns talking down to me. No matter what I did, they had complaints. If you’re dealing with a difficult client, don’t stoop to their level. Instead, follow these tips:

Be direct, but respectful.

The customer isn’t always right, especially if they’re treating you poorly. You have a right to stand up for yourself. Sometimes people step on your toes to see how far they can go without getting push back from you. Set boundaries with the client.

Tell them (respectfully) how they should be communicating with you. If they’re sending curt emails, hop on the phone. If they’re sending you work late at night and expecting you to get it all done, explain your office hours. In some instances, people are simply not aware of how their tone is coming across. If the way they’re doing business is bothering you, speak up. Paying for a service doesn’t give anyone the right to be difficult, condescending, or rude.

Talk to the person in charge.

I’ve been in a few difficult situations where the person I worked with on a project wasn’t the main client. The client connected me with another person who I needed to work one-on-one with to deliver the assignment. Having multiple people giving directions can be a challenge. If someone who isn’t the main client is giving you trouble, speak with the person who’s in charge. They may be able to mediate the situation or they could come up with a better working arrangement.

Cut your losses.

At the beginning of my career, I took on work from anyone. I didn’t have standards for working conditions because increasing income was my only goal. This is great for a while until difficult clients and projects start impacting your work-life balance.

Since taking a stand, I’ve developed a strict “cut my losses” policy. No amount of money is worth me being in a situation where I feel uncomfortable. It’s too damaging to other areas of my business and personal life. Dealing with a difficult client can be terrible for productivity. It can also be terrible for your mindset.

If getting an email or call from the client makes you anxious or fearful, it’s time to rethink the working relationship. There have been cases where I’ve ended a project without charging just to put an end to the situation. I don’t always recommend this. If you’ve put in hours of work on a project, you probably want to get paid for your time. However, I decided that the small amount of money I was earning from the difficult client wasn’t worth the trouble. Pull out your contract and consider your options.

The bottom line is, freelancing is supposed to give us the freedom of choice. Don’t stick around and work in a situation that’s making you miserable. Stand up for yourself, bring up your grievances to the right person, and come up with an amicable way to end the relationship if all else fails.

Losing a client isn’t the end of the world either. My belief is that more clients will come my way whenever I need them. Adopting this mindset makes it easier to get rid of deadweight clients.

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