Freelancing tips for spotting and managing difficult clients in the world of freelance

Freelancing can introduce you to both amazing and challenging clients. Here are our freelancing tips for spotting and managing difficult clients.
Freelancing tips for spotting and managing difficult clients in the world of freelance

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We've all heard that old adage about the widespread damage that one bad apple can do.

Unfortunately, that also holds true in freelancing. You could have a solid lineup of great, reliable clients, but agreeing to partner with one difficult one can quickly spoil your whole flow.

As you juggle demanding requests, slow payments, or a litany of other issues, your other work could fall behind. To avoid getting into this sticky situation, it pays to know how to identify and manage these kinds of relationships before they snowball. 

Today, we're sharing freelancing tips to help you do just that. Read on to discover how to spot a difficult client from the outset, along with advice to help you successfully manage those contracts if you do decide to take them on. 

How to spot a potentially difficult client

Although it would be nice to avoid a headache before it occurs, there isn't a universal way to identify a challenging client. Rather, they can take on quite a few different forms, each creating their own version of frustration. 

As you seek to build your freelance queue, it's important to be aware of certain client types that could make your efforts more daunting and less fruitful. Let's take a look at a few of the most common ones.

The Unrealistic Demanders

As a freelancer, you're no stranger to working hard, even if this means staying up late one night or getting up before dawn to finish an assignment. Tthere are some clients that are demanding in a way that challenges you, grows your skills, and ultimately makes you a stronger professional.

We aren't talking about those here.

Instead, we're focused on the clients who place unrealistic expectations on you and expect you to thrive and excel under such conditions. They load you down with assignments only to give you a very narrow time-frame to complete them, all the while expecting your quality levels to remain consistently high. 

Accepting this work might sound feasible at first, but it's not long until you're burnt out and exhausted, which will inevitably show in your deliverables.

How to spot one

There are a few ways to identify an impossibly demanding client, including the following behaviors:

  • Expecting you to be on the clock 24/7
  • Entering into scope creep, adding on extra tasks outside your contract
  • Shortening or changing your agreed-upon timeline

The Non-Communicators

For a freelance project to be successful, you have to stay in contact with your client. This might mean emailing them weekly status updates, discussing changes on the phone, or hopping on a virtual chat to verify a few details. While each client might have their own preferred method of communication, keeping those lines open is critical to the success of your project. 

Sometimes, you can identify a non-communicator as soon as you begin discussing a potential partnership. Other times, you might not realize it until you've already committed to the effort. Suddenly, you find yourself stuck with no clue where to go next. This is especially detrimental if your payments go MIA along with the client. 

How to spot one

These are some of the easiest clients to spot. You can tell that a client is about to go silent if they begin:

  • Ignoring your contact requests
  • Taking weeks to respond to your messages
  • Lagging on their payment turnarounds

The Micromanagers

Constructive feedback and project guidance is important. However, it's an entirely different reality when you're working with someone who wants full authority and creative control over every single aspect of your work. 

A micromanaging client can make the project feel draining and even suffocating, and cause you to doubt your own abilities. 

Micromanagers often put so much time and effort into controlling your output that you may begin to wonder why they hired you in the first place. Think of this client as the freelance alternative to the boss who's always peering over your shoulder or showing you how to do your job.

How to spot one

It can be difficult to recognize a micromanager at first. In the beginning, their inputs can be perceived as innocent, or even helpful. Yet, over time you'll begin to realize that the constant check-ins are getting out of control. A few red flags to look out for include:

  • Submitting excessive requests for updates
  • Questioning your expertise
  • Overcomplicating simple tasks 

The Non-Payers

Thus far, we've discussed clients who exhibit traits that many people find difficult to work with. Yet, many of these issues can be corrected or circumvented with the right management techniques.

Non-reliable payers, on the other hand, are one type of client that it's best to avoid altogether. While the world of freelance will understandably be full of ebbs and flows, no one should agree to work for less than a fair payment. 

Even clients who seem communicative and amenable could suddenly go silent when you issue an invoice. They may develop contracts that are purposefully vague or retort with questions if you ask about your payment. 

How to spot one

Knowing how to identify a non-paying client can help save your sanity (and your bank account) in the future. While these signs will not always point to future ghosting, they can help you avoid working for far less than you deserve. They include:

  • Requiring a free "trial" work period
  • Refusing to sign a contract
  • Avoiding discussions about the project budget

Freelancing tips to help manage difficult clients

If your workflow is healthy enough that you can hand-select the clients you know and want to work with, then you may be able to avoid these challenges in the first place. However, if you're looking for new work, it can be tempting to take any proposal that comes across your home desk. 

In that case, there are a few key steps you can put into place today to help you manage a difficult client in the future.

1. Always create a contract

Contracts are the #1 way to keep your freelance business on track. These essential documents allow you to clearly define project parameters, including:

  • Your exact role and requirements
  • The deliverables you'll create
  • The project timeline
  • Agreed-upon payment terms

Even if the job seems small, go ahead and write up a contract. The drag-and-drop builder in Moxie helps you create initial proposals with ease, and turn them into actionable and enforceable contracts later. You can also use our handy Discovery Forms to capture key client expectations right out of the gate. 

When you have a contract in place, you can help avoid many of the risks that accompany difficult clients, including scope creep, unrealistic expectations, and non-payment. To keep micromanagers at bay, remember to add specific terms around feedback and revision cycles. 

2. Track your time

Tracking your time is the easiest and most effective way to prove that you've been working hard on a project. If you find that a particular client is becoming demanding, you can show them your hours to prove how hard you've been working.

This is also a valuable resource for clients who refuse to pay you for your time, as well as those who insist on hoarding it by micromanaging. When you can clearly show where your time is going, naysayers have little room to assume that you're slacking off. 

With Moxie, your time-tracker is built right into your delivery workflow. This way, everyone stays up-to-speed on the hours you contribute.

3. Establish communication goals early

Before you begin work on a project, establish check-in procedures with the client. This way, you can prevent losing touch with them halfway through the work. 

Allow the client to choose their preferred communication method, and follow up as planned. If you feel their responsiveness beginning to lag, touch base as soon as possible to get back on track.

4. Create professional invoices

A professional invoicing tool does more than help you deliver quicker, better-looking invoices. It also automates, simplifies and streamlines the process.

Our app makes it easy to create and submit an invoice in seconds. With clickable "pay" buttons, your clients can send money with one simple click. In the event that they lag behind, automatic, templated reminders help keep them on track.

5. Plug into your freelance community

Even when you're in the throes of a difficult client relationship, understand that you're not alone! There is an expansive, incredible community of like-minded peers just waiting to share their experiences and expertise with you.

When you join Moxie, you gain immediate access to this inner circle. Use this community to discover ideas and inspiration on ways to handle even the hardest of clients. Ask for feedback, read through business development ideas, and grow professionally by connecting with this group.

Along the way, you can also lean on Moxie's team of trusted advisors. From contract attorneys to collections experts, we have the resources you need to work smoothly and successfully. 

Find freelancer success as you grow

In work and life, challenges can either ground you or help you find your wings.

These freelancing tips can help you identify a potentially difficult client, but that doesn't necessarily mean to avoid them completely. As you work through setbacks and learn to chart your own course, you'll grow stronger and more confident as a freelancer.

By creating detail-rich contracts, tracking your time, and staying consistent with communication, you can help turn even the most stressful partnership into a successful one. While there may always be a few exceptions to this rule, you'll soon discover that it's easiest to bounce back when you have the right tools at your side.

Get started with Moxie today and move forward in confidence.

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Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
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