Table of Contents
- Problems with Clients and Contracts
- Problem No.1: Client Didn’t Give You The Information You Need
- Problem No.2: Client Doesn’t Want To Pay
- Problem No.3: Client is Not Communicating
- Problem No.4: Time Zones
- Problem No.5: Different Expectations
- Closing Thoughts on Common Problems with Clients
There are many different problems with clients freelancers have to deal with. Some are more serious, some less. In this article, you will find possible solutions for five of these problems. These problems are not getting information or data from your client, not getting paid, clients not willing to communicate, being in different time zone than your client and having different expectations than your client. I hope this article will help you deal with these problems and make your freelance career easier. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
One thing before we will dive into individual problems with clients and how to fix them. This article is aimed on freelancers, and working with clients, in general. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you are a graphic designer, web designer, developer, stylist or even hairdresser. You can still find some tips you can apply in your work. This is also the reason that I chose rather general problems instead of being more specific. So, please don’t take this short list as something definite.
There is a lot of other issues and problems with clients freelancers can have depending on their specialization. In case of web design and development, we will discuss these more specific problems in the future. For now, I wanted to make this article useful for the greatest number of readers.
Problems with Clients and Contracts
As mentioned in the beginning, we are going to discuss problems that include topics such as getting assets and information you need to get the work done, money, communication, time zones and setting a common ground for expectations. Thorough this article I will often mention the necessity for having a contract (very often). If you don’t have any yet, and can’t afford to pay a lawyer to create one, you can find a collection of customizable contracts created by AIGA for design-related work on docracy.
In case you are not a designer (web, graphic, etc.), you can still use docracy website to find contract and other documents suiting your specific needs. And, no. This is not any advertising material or pitch and I have no connection to docracy.
Problem No.1: Client Didn’t Give You The Information You Need
Let’s start with one of the problems with clients you may encounter as a freelancer. You just got hired to work on an interesting project. Unfortunately, except a brief description, your client didn’t provide you any other details. Depending on the freelancer, there are various ways he or she can react. First, freelancer can become nervous, even anxious, because he doesn’t know where to start. He is facing blank canvas without any information or plan in hand.
Second, freelancer can take what’s available and get the work done as best as he can. Interestingly, there are many freelancers using this exact approach. These people are often able to deliver very good work with only small amount of information. However, don’t get me wrong here. This is not at all a praise. If anything, it is pure amazement at the fact of how far can some freelancers go when they have no idea about professional process (I refer to web design industry now).
The third and last type of reaction is that freelancer will take the initiative … And write the client what exactly he needs to get in order to complete the project. This, third, reaction is the right one. It is also the one real high-end professionals use. Here is one thing I some times hear from some freelancers on conferences, in work and on social media. They complain that their clients have no idea about what information they should give them. As a result, some of these freelancers will react according to the second example – do what you can with what you have.
When they are done, they hand over the work, get paid and hope they will never work with that “awful” client again. If similar situation happens again, they will ask Google for articles about solving problems with clients, and find article like this one because they think they know where the problem is. Unfortunately, their idea about the problem is only illusion. In a fact, this is not one of the “problems with clients” you may have to face. This only problem is you.
Let’s say you are going to a hairdresser to get a new haircut. How often do you tell the hairdresser how exactly should she hold the scissors and comb? How often do you tell the hairdresser from what angle should she make the cut? How often do you tell her how to use a hair spray? Actually, are you doing any of these things? In most cases, probably not. You just sit down, say what haircut do you want and let the hairdresser do her job. Then, you pay her and leave.
Why don’t you tell the hairdresser all these things? What’s the difference between you going to the hairdresser and you being approached by client? Except the fact that in the example with hairdresser you are the client, there is no real difference. Hairdresser can be a freelancer and you are her client. So, tell me, why she is not expecting you to give her information about how to do her job? Why she is not waiting until you give her all this information? The obvious answer is that she is a professional and you know it.
That’s why you don’t talk into her work and how she does it. By the way, this is also the reason that you pay her. You are paying for her expertise, knowledge and experience. Assuming she is a freelancer, and regardless of the industry and job description, what’s the difference between her and you? Well, there is no real difference. Both of you are professional freelancers. Both of you are working with clients on a daily basis to pay your bills. So, why do you expect your clients to know what you should do?
I hope that, by now, you see what was I trying to show you. If not, here is it. It is responsibility of the freelancer to know the process and tell the client what necessary information you need from him. Paradoxically, your client knows this, and you actually too. Okay, one more quick example. Imagine you want to build a garden house. After some administration stuff, you talk with architect and create a blueprint for the building. Next, you hire workers and buy the necessary materials. Then, you will wait and let the workers do their job.
Again, you don’t tell them how to hold a shovel or how to prepare the concrete and lay bricks. You know they are experts in all these things, so you let them do their job without distractions. If they need something, they let you know. Just like with hairdresser, they are (hypothetical) freelancers and you are their client.
The solution is simple, yet complicated. It is easy, yet hard. It is sweet, yet bitter. You just have to understand that your client hired you because you are the professional. Meaning, you know what to do, how to do it and in what sequence to do it in order to achieve the best results. It also means that you know what information and assets you need for your work and you don’t hesitate to ask for them. Don’t rely on your client to tell you how your workflow and process should look like. He doesn’t know it. Also, don’t ask your client how long the project should take. He doesn’t know it.
Sure, your client will probably have some less or more delusional idea about how long it should take. However, he is not an expert on this subject. That’s also why his idea will in most cases be rather further from the reality than closer to it. I’m not trying to offend anyone here. This is just how it is. For example, since I’m not an expert, my idea about how long it takes to build a one-floor house will be probably pretty inaccurate.
Anyway, the only solution for problems with clients such as this one is accepting that it is not their responsibility to know all these nitty-gritty stuff. Your clients expect you, as a professional, know it. Your clients also expect you to ask for what you need. Accept this and many of the problems with clients you currently have will disappear and your work will get easier and you will enjoy it much more. Remember that when someone pays you, you are the one who is leading, not the client.
Problem No.2: Client Doesn’t Want To Pay
There is one thing I have to admit. Through my whole career working as a freelance web designer I had to deal with different problems with clients. However, I have no experience with problem such as this one. One experience, that is closest to this issue, was when one of my clients refused to pay the full price we agreed on. In order to solve the situation, I spend almost whole week exchanging mails and messages with that client. After short negotiation, we were able to find common ground. Client got a small discount, I handed him completed project and we parted on good terms.
Important thing in my example was that I exceeded the time estimate set for the project. Whether it was caused by ever-increasing amount of requests from the client for design modifications is irrelevant now. The fact was that I gave to my client date when work will be completed and I missed it. That’s the reason for discount. I made a mistake and so I had to pay for that.
Possible Solution No.1
What if you are in similar situation? Meaning, you screwed up something. My advice is to admit your mistake and offer your client some kind of compensation. This compensation serves two purposes. First, you will show your client that you are willing to acknowledge a mistake when you make it. In many cases, it will also result in fixing any potential damage of the relationship between you and your client. Meaning, it is possible your client will want to work with you again in the future because you acted like a professional.
Second purpose of this compensation is to give punch your ego. For many of us, me especially, some smaller punch here and there is necessary to keep us humble. Sure, it is much better to be able to regulate our ego by ourselves and not exposing our relationships with clients to any risk. Anyway, remember this. When your client doesn’t want to pay you either full price or any money at all because you made some mistake, act like a professional. Acknowledge your mistake and offer your client a compensation. This is fair.
Possible Solution No.2
Now, what if you didn’t make any mistake and your client is refusing to pay you? Okay, let’s suppose that you are one hundred percent sure that there is absolutely no problem caused by you. The first step is to immediately reply your client with decent email. Don’t let any emotions to take the control. No matter how serious problems with clients you have to face, never be rude or impolite. Remember, you are a professional so act like one. Write a short email in which you ask the client for explanation. And, one more thing.
You should also stop working on the project because you don’t know whether your work will be paid or not. Make sure to include this into your email. Again, in polite way. Then, just wait for client’s response. The next step depends on client’s response. Maybe you will find your client has a serious reason, not directly related to you. He may have some personal or business problems and can’t pay you the full price. In that case, I suggest you offer your client paying at least some part of the price both of you will be willing to settle on. Then, you hand over the work you’ve done so far.
Remember, it is better to get paid at least something than nothing at all.
Possible Solution No.3
Until now, we discussed only options where you will manage to get paid. However, what if your client refuses to pay you and also reject any of your offers for settlement? Well, it depends on what’s stated in the contract you made with your client. In many cases where client is refusing to pay or settle, this document is your last chance to see any payment for your work. So, my suggestion is to begin to follow the procedure set out in the contract. Also, if you have a lawyer, as you should, you should ask him for help or advice. This is when problems with clients get serious.
From now on, you should let your lawyer to do what he can to help you get out of this situation. One more thing. In case that the payment is ridiculously low, you may consider dropping the client, accept losses and move on. Otherwise, you may spend more money on lawyer than how much you can possibly get from your client as compensation. You should also keep in mind that any further negotiation will cost you additional time which you will not be able to spend on different project. So, do the math and choose the best option.
In case of problems with clients related to payments, the best solution is to always sign a contract. Some freelancers skip this step because they want to get to work as sooner and finish it in shorter time. Some freelancers may also be afraid of losing their client if they will demand signing contract. Let me tell you that both of these reasons will only do you more harm than benefit. You have to understand that contract is not there to slow you nor to scare your clients. Contract is here to protect from many types of problems.
It is in your own interest to have a signed contract for every project you will do for your clients, regardless of the amount of earnings. Also, if your client is reluctant to sign the contract, it should be a sign for you that something may not be right. Simply said, client having troubles with signing contract may not be the best client for you. In other words, if client is reluctant to sign contract, you may be better off not working with him at all.
Problem No.3: Client is Not Communicating
Another example of common problems with clients is either bad communication or lack of it. Well, let’s be honest. This is one of the problems that can be found on both sides of the business. Although, I would say that it is more prevalent on the side of a freelancer. The problem is that clients are usually not tweeting about “freelancers from hell” like freelancers do about “clients from hell”. This creates imbalance in information we have at our disposal.
Anyway, let’s get back to our topic – problems with clients who are not communicating. First, we have to do the same thing we did in 7 Soft Skills Every Freelance Web Designer Must Have Pt1-Communication article, part “The Danger of Over-communication”. Meaning, what amount of communicating do you consider to be good. Some clients will be willing to spend two hours on Skype or Google Hangout every day discussing the project. Others will get in touch only twice a week to “check” your progress. This makes good communication vague and hard to specify.
In any other case, the first thing we would have to do is to create some common ground. This means we would specify how communication should look like. I will skip this part for now and use easier and simpler indicator. In other words, let’s just suppose that your client was not responding on your messages for the last seven days. No matter what standards you or your client may have seven days of quite is enough. Still, there is one important condition – you are actively trying to communicate with your client.
Moment for a Real Talk
Otherwise, you are not in the “problems with clients” group, but in “unreliable freelancer” group. Luckily, I have advice for this variant as well, and it is quite simple. Step number one is to take one or two days off. Step number two is to have a real talk with yourself. Meaning, think about whether you want to be freelancer and seriously pursue this career in the long-term. If you decide to go for it, you have to commit to act like a professional. This means, delivering quality work, being on time, keeping in touch with clients and so on. Otherwise, good luck.
Now, let’s get back to those of you having problems with clients not responding on their messages. The next steps will largely depend on your options. The first and most effective step is to get up and visit your client personally. If your client is in the same city like you, I suggest that you visit him personally. Sure, it will cost you some time to get there, but you will have a hard time looking for more effective way to reestablish communication with your client. What’s more, this will also show your client how far are you willing to go, in the good sense.
Unfortunately, in today’s hyper-connected world, it is unlikely that your client is on the same continent, not to mention the city. So, unless you are looking for an adventure, personal visit is not an option. Then, you can use technology at hand. Meaning, if you have a phone number, call your client. If you have his Skype, again, call him or her and send a message. Slack? Just like in case of Skype – send him or her message. Do you know some of his social media profiles? What are you waiting for, log in and send him a message or tweet.
In case you have only email address setting an automated message that will be sent in specific intervals might be a good idea (for you, not your client). Wait a moment … If I do this, I will be like a pain in the butt! Yes, you will. Sure, there can be a variety of reasons why client is not responding to your messages. Still, you have to keep in mind that this is a business. It is your source of income. What I mean is that you should not take it personally or feel bad.
Imagine that you get a loan from a bank. When one of the bankers will ask you to pay the loan, will you take it personally? Will you think that banker doesn’t like you? Probably not. You will see it only as part of a transaction. If you still feel bad or uncomfortable, you can reframe this situation and think about it from different perspective. Imagine that it was you, who is not responding. How many messages, do you think, would you get from your client. How many times, do you think, would he try to reach you? Don’t feel bad. Just keep your messages and tone polite.
As many times, the best way to solve problem is to prevent it. This is kind of a paradox. Anyway, what I mean is this. In the beginning of the project, discuss with your client how will you communicate with each other – what tool will you use and how frequently will you be in touch. It is also a good idea to tackle this topic in your contract. Since contract is official document, everything specified there is taken more seriously. You will also look more professionally because it will seem that you think about every detail.
Problem No.4: Time Zones
When you ask freelancers on what problem with clients they have, of the answers is time zones. Time zones were and still are a problem for me as well. The problem, I think, is that we are living world that is more and more connected and we are getting used to it. Unfortunately, this has a major downside. We are forgetting that there are factors that are still the same. Time is one of these factors. It doesn’t matter how fast is your connection. Time still plays by its own rules. So, if you are in London and your client is in Tokyo, you must remember that there is 8 hours difference.
The only solution for this problem is to, again, think ahead and agree on a certain schedule with your client. What if you are in the situation when difference in time zones is not allowing you to communicate with your client in the real time? Simple example can be that while you have a midnight, for your client is a morning. In this example, it could be hard to find time that suits both of you. Fortunately, you can solve this by choosing the right communication tools and addressing this issue as soon as you can.
Meaning, instead of using phone or Skype calls or Hangouts, you can stay with messages. This way, neither you nor your client will have to worry about creating complex schedule and being in touch on a certain time. Just remember to always discuss these aspects of work with your client, making him part of the decision making process. Don’t try to come up with “the best” solution in solitude. Again, make the solution part of the contract.
Problem No.5: Different Expectations
The last of the problems with clients freelancers can have is having different expectations. This can often lead to serious problems to preventing you from finishing the project. Unfortunately, we all have different meaning for words we use to describe our expectations. What is good for one person may be bad for another. What you may perceive as excellent, your client may perceive as not good enough. Due to this relativity present in our language, it is easy to either misunderstand someone or being the one who is misunderstood. How to solve this?
The easiest, and probably also only one, solution I will offer you is to create a common ground with your client. This means asking your client not only for his expectations, but also asking him for examples of the work he personally likes. You should always insist on providing concrete examples. Doing so, it will be much easier for you to connect your client’s words, ideas and expectations to something more tangible. In other words, it will reduce the relativity of the language. Also, these examples will help you create results that will have a higher chance to resonate with your client.
Otherwise, you might find yourself in the never-ending cycle of reviews and iterations. One more thing. Don’t forget to jot down all this information and include them in the contract. Put simply, you should never start your work unless you have a collection of examples provided by your client and precise description of what his expectations are. If you don’t have any of these things, ask for them and insist on knowing them. Don’t take “I don’t know” as an answer.
Closing Thoughts on Common Problems with Clients
Being a freelancer can be tough. There are a lot of problems with clients you may have to deal with. I hope that these five we discussed today will help you make your freelance career easier and more satisfying. My last advice? Just keep in mind that when you will find yourself in doubt, ask. Whether it is your client or another freelancer, have the courage to reach out and ask. It is well-known fact that if you ask a question you may look stupid for five minutes. However, not asking at all will leave you stupid forever. In the end, remember that all problems with clients are opportunities to learn and grow as a freelancer.
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