If you work for yourself, odds are you’ve had a flaky client. You know what these clients are like. They don’t answer emails or phone calls on time. They’re distracted when you finally talk to them. They want you to do work that isn’t what they’ve hired you for. And worst of all, flaky clients almost never pay on time.
But here’s the good news: You’re not alone.
Flaky or difficult clients are a common part of self-employed and freelance life. Over at Forbes, writer Abdullahi Mohammed notes that there are two types of bad clients, because “Some clients are bad on purpose, while others are oblivious to what an inconvenience they really are.”
How To Deal With Flaky Clients Tip #1: Always Have A Contract
Even if you’re working with the best client in the world, you should always have a signed contract.
That goes triple if you’re working with a flaky client.
When you sign a contract with your client, you’re setting expectations on both sides around payment, the work required, due dates, and what’s expected on both sides.
You should also have what’s called a “statement of work”–a document describing the project you’re working on, what you’re creating for your client/selling your client, and the major milestone dates for different parts of the project.
Creating a contract for your freelance project is easy. Either use Docracy, which offers free contracts and templates you can adapt, or And.Co and the Freelancer Union’s Freelance Contract Generator, which automatically creates simple contracts for freelancers.
How To Deal With Flaky Clients Tip #2: The Client Always Pays A Deposit
There’s something funny about requiring clients to pay a deposit: It makes them psychologically invested in a project getting finished quickly.
I personally do two tiers of deposits for my copywriting and consulting work: 50% pay up front, with 50% pay upon conclusion. On larger projects, I adapt that to 33% up front, 33% at a mutually-agreed midpoint in the project, and the remainder paid upon conclusion.
Deposits are useful because they incentivize both your client and you to get things done: Your client has paid money to finish the project in advance, and you want to get the rest of your money.
Beware of a client that doesn’t want to pay a deposit… If they don’t want to pay you up front, odds are good they might not want to pay you at the conclusion, either.
How To Deal With Flaky Clients Tip #3: Set Boundaries
When you’re working with a client, things usually go well until they don’t go well.
One thing many freelancers and consultants encounter is something called scope creep.
We’ve all encountered scope creep–it’s when a client wants you to do additional work, and offer additional services that weren’t in your initial agreement with them.
Or maybe you have a client that doesn’t realize you’re an outside expert they’ve hired for a certain task, and they begin to treat you like an employee who’s asked to do other tasks around the office.
Be professional but respectful when this happens, and look at it as an opportunity to upsell! Offer a fair price for the extra services, or do some–but not all–as a “value add” for your client. But be very clear that it’s a value add.
How To Deal With Flaky Clients Tip #4: Find Allies
This tip is for freelancers and self-employed workers doing projects for companies or organizations. In these cases, you’re often dealing with one primary contact at your client and then a number of employees or assistants who also jump into the mix.
When you’re in these situations and you have a primary contact who doesn’t respond to phone calls or emails timely, or keeps on changing their mind, find allies inside the organization.
In other words, if you aren’t hearing back from your contact or have trouble with them, reach out to their coworkers. Do this in a very respectful, very deferent way that does not involve you in office politics.
But remember–you and your client have a vested interest in getting this stuff done.
How To Deal With Flaky Clients Tip #5: Use Psychology
At the end of the day, your client is a human being just like you. No matter how difficult a client they might be, they’re people with needs, wants, and desires.
Think about what you can offer them, why they’re being difficult, and what you can do to gently set them back on track.
You don’t have to be a “client whisperer”–all it takes is learning what your clients want, and finding the best way to help them out (and be better clients in the process).
How To Deal With Flaky Clients: Resources
Amazon: Getting Paid: How To Avoid Bad Paying Clients And Collect On Past Due Balances (David Wander)
Forbes: How To Spot A Bad Freelance Client And What To Do About Them (Abdullahi Mohammed)
Olyvia: How To Avoid Client Regret: 9 Signs That You Should Pass On Work (Erika Madden)
Quickbooks: How To Deal With The 4 Types Of Bad Clients (Jeff Davis)