How do you avoid getting burned – or burned out – by difficult clients?

Nine times out of ten, when you look back, the signs were there from the start. It’s why most experienced freelancers have a mental list of ‘red flags’ – behaviour from a potential client which might lead to trouble down the road.

We don’t always catch those ‘red flag’ clients. What if you’re newer to the freelancing game? Or what if you really need the work, so you’re prepared to overlook a spot of tricky behaviour? Or maybe you’re already in a challenging situation and wondering what to do next. Let’s look at the options…

Prevention is better than cure

Turning work down isn’t easy, but when the signs are there that a potential client could be difficult to work with, that might be a wise decision.

It leaves space in your schedule for a better client to come along. And could save you untold amounts of stress in the future.

Often if a client is less than ideal, then a project won’t get off the ground in the first place if you stick to your guns on things like having a clear scope, a signed contract and an upfront deposit before you start work.

But even with those elements in place, there are other signs to look out for that might hint at a problematic situation down the line.

Picture credit - Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Picture credit – Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Things to look out for in a potential client include:

  1. Being unsure of what they want out of the project,
  2. Being negative about every previous freelancer who’s worked with them,
  3. Never having worked with a freelancer before,
  4. Insisting everything’s super urgent and needs to be delivered fast – when there’s no specific reason e.g. the work is not for an event or other immovable deadline,
  5. They quibble on price or mention the “exposure” you’ll get,
  6. They don’t turn up for meetings or calls or don’t treat you with respect in other ways,
  7. You have a bad feeling about the project (it’s often worth listening to your gut).

If any or all of the above are happening, then it’s best to steer clear.

But what if it’s too late for that? What if you’ve already started working with a tricky client? What then?

Be the grown-up in the relationship

First of all, it could be worth seeing if the situation can be rescued. Your client might be stressed, overworked, or have other reasons they’re not at their best.

Re-state your preferred way of working, any contractual obligations they’re not meeting, and what you need from them for a healthy, professional working relationship.

Sometimes by reiterating specific boundaries, you can salvage the relationship. Maybe you won’t work with them again in the future, but at least you can make it to the end of this project.

But what if things are too far gone, and you need to move on for your own sanity?

Remember the “free” in freelancer

We’d never advocate leaving a client in the lurch over minor issues, but if there are serious problems in a working relationship, it’s worth remembering that you are perfectly entitled to walk away.

In fact, it’s a good idea to include a termination clause in your contract. This makes it clear what will happen in the event that you’re unable to continue working with a client.

It should outline who takes responsibility for finding someone to complete the work, what will happen with payments, and how much notice you’ll give them.

What if your client pursues you for damages?

It could be that by not completing the project, you’re leaving your client out of pocket. So what happens then?

Insurance kicks in for burnt-out freelancer

We recently helped a freelancer who ended a client relationship early due to not getting along with the client and feeling a bit burnt out dealing with them. The client then pursued the freelancer for damages for loss of income and expenses incurred, as they had to hire other freelancers to complete the project. Our insurer managed to negotiate the damages down to £4,500 and legal fees were £9,800.

This was all covered by the insurance, and it meant we took a lot of the stress off this freelancer, as they didn’t have to find (and pay for) their own lawyer or deal with any of the back-and-forth negotiations. We handled it all.

Prevention AND backup

We still think prevention is key – don’t even start working with someone who’s giving off “red flag vibes”. But having insurance behind you means you’re covered from all angles, and if a difficult client slips through the net, we’ve got your back.

If you’d like to read more about the kind of insurance you need in your freelancer business, all the details are here.

We asked ourselves one important question…

What do we want out of an insurance provider?

With Jack is the answer