Some clients just love to be difficult.
Over the course of a freelancer's career, he or she may work with hundreds of clients. Each one can have a totally different personality -- some more agreeable than others. In this post, I'll share the four most difficult types of customers and offer tips for dealing with each.
1. The wild man
It’s 7:08 p.m., and your client just left you three voicemails. You stop playing the board game with your son to see what this could possibly be about. After listening to the messages, it becomes clear that the customer really didn’t have an urgent need. He just wanted to complain about several issues outside of your control. During normal business hours, you’d be happy to play psychologist while he vents. However, this is family time, and it’s setting a dangerous precedent to take calls when you’re “out of the office.”
So, how do you deal with your wild man? First, it is important to take some action. Ddoing nothing will only make the situation worse. Bite the bullet and return the phone call. Most likely, he has already moved onto calling the next person on his list. Leave a voicemail and explain that you’ll be happy to help tomorrow when you get back into the office. Be sure to point out that you appreciate his phone call, but you’re typically not working after 6 p.m. You should also send a quick email confirming that you received the voicemails and that you’ll circle back tomorrow. Again, politely emphasize your normal work hours and mention that you don’t typically check voicemail after hours.
It’s OK to set boundaries for yourself -- and your customers. You need to live a normal life, and setting realistic expectations keeps everyone happier.
2. The nitpicker
There are two types of nitpickers: one who is willing to pay for your time, and another who is abusive of your time. The later is easier to deal with. You simply complete your contractual obligation with a smile and then stop accepting new projects. The former is a little trickier to manage. This type of client is happy to commission as many of your hours as necessary to get the job done right. At first, this sounds great. However, after dozens of iterations and meetings, you begin to lose faith that the project will ever get done.
To effectively deal with a nitpicker, you need to structure a process. If you’re a writer, for example, it may make sense to break up the creative workflow into phases. Instead of sending a completed blog draft and hoping for the best, reduce your risk by taking smaller steps:
- Directional buy-in: Send the client three concepts (instead of one). Chances are, one of your ideas will be acceptable.
- Editorial review: Hire another freelancer to review your work before delivering the finished product. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.
- Collaboration: When sending your work, be sure to welcome changes and edits.
You’ll never change a nitpicker, but you can certainly change the way you approach your work. In the end, nitpickers can actually help you improve your game.
3. The analyst
“That sounds like an interesting idea, but I think we need to do some serious number crunching before we move forward.” Sound familiar? You might be dealing with an analyst.
While analysts often have stellar instincts, they also tend to be very methodical -- sometimes to a fault. In today’s rapidly evolving, hyper-competitive business environment, some decisions require expedited action. Unfortunately, analysts can become paralyzed by the very data they seek, thus allowing opportunities to pass and competition to gain market share.
As much as analysts thirst for spreadsheets and pivot tables, they also desire team members who can guide the decision making process. When working for an analyst, it’s extremely important to start and end with the data. Have a great idea? Super. Keep it to yourself until you can aggregate enough data to isolate the problem and support your proposed outcome. When you’re ready to make your presentation, be sure to support all claims with accurate and relevant statistics. You know the client will ask for the information. Why not be proactive and make a positive impression?
4. The penny pincher
You’re in the business of delivering value to clients in exchange for a reasonable hourly rate. You’ve worked hard to build your market presence, which makes it especially difficult to interact with ungrateful clients. When customers seem more focused on cutting your hours than they do in growing their own businesses, it is easy to lose your motivation.
Before you give up and quit, stop to ponder the client’s motivation. Does the customer really have a vendetta against you, or does she simply have cash flow issues that you can help improve? Instead of billing for hourly work, would a pay-for-performance model be more appetizing? Could you actually increase your effective hourly rate by bundling services and simultaneously relieving your client’s stress level?
You should also be mindful for other opportunities to help the penny-pincher. If you have access to the budget or income statement, look for excess fat to trim. You may also consider referring lower-cost software applications or services, for which you are an affiliate. In doing so, you instantly boost the company’s profitability and pick up a commission along the way.
Just because a client is difficult, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep him or her happy. Remember, you’re in business to help clients solve problems. Adjusting your approach and maintaining a positive outlook can go a long way to achieving this goal.