There are so many client personalities it’s hard to generalise them into just a few. But here I’ve noted the most common types that I came across and how I handled it.
“I’m not really sure what I want”.
Don’t expect clients to know what they want. You’re the expert, so it’s your job to figure that out. What you can expect them to know is what problem they have that prompted them to talk to you. Spend as much time as possible getting to know what their problem is, where it comes from, and it impacts their business. You’re trying to avoid starting down the wrong path, because when that happens, and the project can turn into a complete waste of time for both parties.
An important step for any client project is to check-in on a daily basis (at least) with progress and ask for feedback. You’ll avoid many problems by making the client a part of the process.
“I want to do it all, by tomorrow”
Pretty common with entrepreneurs. Although it can be funny the 20th time you’ve heard it, it’s not a reason to scoff and tell them no. It’s your job to turn their business goals into a manageable, pragmatic plan to get them where they’re going. So the solution is simple — break their big dream down into milestones, with the most detail being in the first couple of weeks worth of work. Don’t plan much further, because things will change.
If it’s not acceptable to your customer, don’t be offended. Just try to help them see why it has to be done that way and remember that most clients are talking to you because they don’t know how things work themselves.
“I think you’re worth it, but I can’t afford it.”
Very common, and easily solved. Be upfront and clear with your pricing. Is your rate fixed, hourly, daily e.t.c.? What happens if things go wrong? What happens if they change the work halfway through? All these kind of pricing and payment problems should be figured out by you well before you approach any clients. If you don’t know where to start, research all the options you have along with the pros and cons. the best way to figure out what works is to stick to one sales model and follow through with it — regardless of whether it works for you or not. If it doesn’t work, you can change it for the next customer.
You might be in a position where you want or need the work, so a discount feels necessary. It rarely is. You can reduce the price of your service by reducing the scope of the project instead. Try and give them the most value possible for the budget they have. If you’re really interested in helping them out, figure out ways they can do things for free or for themselves. It might not put money in your pocket, but if it can help them build a business then they may become a client in the future.
Swapping services can another be a good way to lower the prices for potential customers. If you do, make sure you’re doing it for your own interests and it’s something you would of paid for anyway — this is a business after all.
Sometimes a customer will not respond to email or voicemail regardless of how persistent you are. There really is no way to solve this other than to keep trying to get through to them. Most of the time it’s due to illness or being away. Don’t automatically assume they’ve run off with your work or are trying to avoid you. Just give them time but keep following up. Running a business is more than a full-time job so small businesses generally need a bit more time to get their shit together.
Sometimes this can happen right after you issue an invoice, which is why it’s important to set expectations when doing so. Make sure you have a short payment due date because you can’t afford to wait too long to get paid. 7 days is perfectly acceptable. If you still don’t hear anything, that’s when the interest charge clause in your contract kicks in, and it increases their bill the longer they wait. I’ve had this happen a couple of times and when I’ve reminded the client about it, they have suddenly cleared their schedule to talk to me and pay their bill. Both times this has happened to me I’ve cleared their interest charges because the small amount of money means nothing if I’ve pissed off the customer for being strict. Remember it’s just a deterrent — not a way to make more money.
“Can you try it like this…?”
This type of response usually follows on from a client that doesn’t seem to know what they want. So the same kind of solution applies here — always make sure you have a clear idea of what success looks like to them. Ask as many questions as you can about what they’re expecting. If you’re trying to convince them to do it a certain way, be absolutely clear about what the results will be.
You can make sure that fixed priced projects have an end, by defining it as the amount of work done, not by them being happy with the results. It’s important your clients are happy, but not at your expense. For example, when writing an article you can give a fixed price for 3 drafts and a finished piece, and then charge a small fee per additional draft. That way the project can run on and you’re still getting paid.
If you can, find out if they’ve worked with freelancers before and if they have, try and get a reference about them from that freelancer. This can help you avoid or manage them better.
“No, that’s not what I wanted.”
It happens rarely, usually when I’ve been lazy about requirements gathering, to begin with. The answer here is to recognise you’ve missed something. Go back to the beginning and ask them what they need. Make sure you get solid examples of what a successful outcome looks like to them.
Maybe you’ve been through and they still don’t seem happy? If you can’t figure out what’s wrong it could be their fault — but to be honest I’ve only ever been paranoid that this is the case. It’s never actually been true in all the time I’ve freelanced. Most of the time, going back over what they want and expect solves things.
The biggest challenge for freelancers is when you get a client that exhibits many of these traits at different times. At least when it does happen, even if it’s not on this list, you know that there will be a solution, and it’s just another problem to be solved.