Articles - 18th July 2019

10 Difficult Freelance Clients You Need To Fire

Words by Steff Green 
Illustration by Will Francis

As a freelancer, you deal with a wide variety of people. Most are amazing – the clients you want to work with again and again – but some… some give you nightmares.

Whether you’re quoting a job for a potential client, or you’re debating whether it’s time to sever an established relationship, here are ten of the most difficult types of freelance clients, and how you know it’s time to let them go. 


Difficult Client 1: Haggling Hannah

Hannah is brash and opinionated, and she will spend more time arguing over price than setting out the creative brief. A Haggling Hannah will wring every last ounce of value from her budget and will want to understand exactly where every dollar is being spent. Haggling Hannah will be placated by a structured package with invoices broken down into chunks of time, but if you don’t want every second scrutinized in minute detail, it’s time to kick her to the curb. 


Difficult Client 2: Low-Tech Lewis

A Low-Tech Lewis calls instead of emailing, insists everything be faxed to him and calls in-person meetings for every minute detail of a project. If you ask him about the cloud, he’ll point out the window. Low-Tech Lewis will suck your time and strain your working relationship as you hold his hand through the entire creative process. Sure, you could spend hours answering his nonsensical questions about technology, or you could focus your brainpower on a client who gets it.


Difficult Client 3: Second-Opinion Stan

Second-Opinion Stan might be a single cog in the machine of a giant corporation or a small business owner who shares the company with a spouse, business partner, or particularly astute cat. Either way, he runs to his team for a second, or third, or tenth opinion on every decision. You’re surprised he goes to the bathroom without asking permission.

All this waiting for decisions makes Stan painfully slow to work with. He often introduces conflicting ideas you’re expected to resolve. You can try limiting Stan’s damage by only presenting him with a couple of options, but you may find Stan and his invisible team of decision-makers simply too much work. 


Difficult Client 4: Need-it-Now Nathan

Nathan is a repeat client, which is wonderful, but every job Nathan brings to you needed to be done last week. Nathan believes all his jobs are “high priority” and doesn’t know or care that you have other clients. You’ve got to carefully manage how much of Nathan’s work you can handle at one time. Let him know that repeated urgent requests are unacceptable – sometimes, Nathan’s are just disorganised and they don’t realise they’re being disrespectful of your time. If Nathan becomes too demanding and too stressful, it’s time to cut him loose. 


Difficult Client 5: Dithering Debbie

Dithering Debbie doesn’t know what she wants. She’ll ‘know it when she sees it’, but in the meantime, she’ll stall even the simplest job with several rounds of intense edits while you silently scream in the corner. 

Take a hard look at your screening and onboarding process if you end up with too many Dithering Debbies. You may need to clarify how you work and what is expected of the client. Usually, a Dithering Debbie suggests the client isn’t ready to work with a freelancer yet, or that you’re not a good fit for each other. 


Difficult Client 6: Copycat Calvin

Unlike Dithering Debbie, Calvin knows exactly what he wants. The only problem is, he wants you to copy someone else’s brand/work. He doesn’t care how you do it – he sees nothing wrong in stealing from others in order to achieve his goals. Be clear on issues of intellectual property and explain that you can incorporate ideas and concepts into his project without outright copying. If Calvin still refuses to alter his brief, it’s time to say goodbye.


Difficult Client 7: Lets-try-it-my-way Leslie

On first encounter, Leslie appears to be the ideal client – she’s enthusiastic, she’s excited, and she’s fascinated in the creative process. The only problem is, Leslie won’t take her finger out of your pie, and her creative ideas are all terrible. You can use her concepts as a jumping-off point for the team but if Leslie insists on taking creative control (and then blaming you when the project fails), then you need to set her free to follow her own creative dreams.


Difficult Client 8: Paranoid Peter

Paranoid Peter dangles an exciting, top-secret project for a major brand right in front of your nose. Unfortunately, his non-disclosure agreement is the length of a historical novel and he acts as if you’re biding your time to rip him off. Paranoid clients might feel overly cautious because they’ve been stung by a freelancer before, or they’re trying to find ways to get out of paying you. Which one is Peter? You need to decide. 


Difficult Client 9: The Too-Cool-For-You Tillie

Too-Cool Tillie works in an industry you’ve dreamed of getting into – music, or film, or space exploration. Something hip. Something cool. She know that if you don’t take her job, some other freelancer will snap it up. She’s not worried – in fact, she insists on special treatment as if she’s doing you a favour. Freelancers will put up with a lot for a Too-Cool Tillie, but you have to draw the line somewhere.  

Difficult Client 10: Disappearing Daniel

Daniel was super-enthusiastic about your project in the beginning, but he seems to have ghosted you. Where is he? What’s he doing? Why hasn’t he paid that invoice?

It could be that Daniel has something in his life that’s keeping him from work. Or he could be a disorganised scatterbrain. Or maybe he’s trying to get work from you without paying for it. The only way you’re going to find out is to contact him. If he doesn’t answer emails, give him a call. Try an alternative phone number. Leave messages. Check his LinkedIn. Eventually, you’ll get through. If all else fails, let him know you’re stopping work on the project until you hear from him. 


These are only ten difficult freelance clients who are more trouble than they’re worth. It’s not who you attract, but how you deal with them that defines you as a business owner. Have a clear idea of your ideal client and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and say no when you know things aren’t working. Your business – and your stress levels – will thank you for it.


Have you had a difficult freelance client recently? How did you deal with them?

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