Is the Customer Always Right? How to Avoid Difficulties with Clients

There are many things that the life of freelancing can offer you, from flexibility, more down-time with your loved ones and of course the freedom of being your own boss. However, there’s one thing that any freelancer no matter their industry can never escape despite the fact that you’ve given up the office life, and this is walking through the potential minefield of dealing with difficult clients.

However, the potential headaches of endless negotiation and constant changes to the project are increased for freelancers as they’ve got to depend on every project to make a living, unlike working in a professional agency where their contract and wages are secure. Thus, freelancers cannot simply drop clients who are a hassle to work with. So how is a freelancer going to cope with problematic clients?

The negotiation: Doing your research

Before you start negotiating with the customer on the finite aspects of the project you will need to undertake some effective research. You will need to have looked at every aspect of the project posting before you can start negotiating on deadlines and costs. Especially if the project is web design or development based. This is important as you need to be sure that you have the skills and experience to back-up any prices and deadlines that you start giving to the client. Moreover, many clients may have a clear idea in their mind of the end result of the project or product. But you are the expert, and you‘ll need to be secure in your expertise to convince the client of any adaption to the project outline that may need to be made. Curtailing the aspirations of the client is made much easier if you have the know-how to back-up your opinion.

Additionally, if you have the right qualifications and an extensive, top-quality portfolio then this is the time to show these to the client. By assuring the client of your skills this should make the negotiation process a breeze, because you can negotiate from a position of strength with the client – especially if they want to cut corners and rush the project’s completion.

Sticking to agreements

Before the project gets underway you and the client must be sure on the legalities of your business relationship. Terms of payment, final deadline, expected results, these are all things that need to be clearly agreed upon through a written contract. Do not agree to conditions over the phone and you may find it helpful to agree to some project milestones or crucial deadlines. In-fact, by creating a “road-map” for the project you and the client have absolute clarity over whether the project is progressing to schedule or not. This transparency should diffuse any issues that arise over whether a project is developing successfully and whether all pre-agreed targets are being met on time.

Effective communication

One important step to reduce misunderstandings and to develop a healthy working relationship between you and the client is to ensure that communication between the two of you is open and fluid. Whilst you do not have to be at the beck and call 24 hours a day, you should nevertheless encourage questions during set business hours, and if possible via a variety of means. For example making yourself open for business via Twitter is a great way to reduce phone calls from clients that can distract you from the work and lower your productivity, mainly because Twitter allows you the breathing space to sort through a number of requests when it most suits you. Plus, Twitter also acts as a great way to interact with clients that live in different time zones to you, as the worst thing you want is to be inundated with calls in the middle of the night. But communication is more than just tweeting and emailing, it also requires a knack for understanding the client’s problem as quickly as possible and using your expertise to provide a workable solution or compromise.

Remember, whilst the customer is paying for your service, you are the expert and thus you shouldn’t be afraid to stick your ground over what you think is required for the project, nevertheless remain respectful and professional at all times. Plus, if you think there is the potential to work with a client on further projects in the future then allow for more wiggle room when negotiating and catering to their needs. If anything, the positive feedback that they can give to you is golden when looking to secure more projects in the future.

"It is hard to capture everything Eric brings to the table in just three attributes. He is a very creative designer who has learned to balance his creative expertise with a professional and personable business side. He commits to deadlines and budgets, which when he helped us with a project for one of our largest clients, it made a significant impact on the success of the project. I would highly recommend him for any project."
Chris Beauchamp, Director of Client Engagement, The Institute for Generative Leadership

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