5 types of nightmare clients and how to deal with them as a freelancer

Kayla Brown
Written by Kayla Brown
on June 03, 2021

You did it! One brick at a time, you’ve built your freelance business from the ground up. You've worked hard and it's slowly starting to pay off! The proof? That tiny trickle of work has grown into a steady stream of clients looking to partner with you. You feel like you're in a dream! You even start to think — "Freelancing isn't so hard — look at me, I've already got it figured out!"

And then… Wham! One of your lovely new clients sends you spiralling back down to earth with a hard thunk when they slowly reveal themselves to be an absolute nightmare to work with! What can you do when one of these 5 distinct types of monster clients come blazing into your life/inbox? Read on, and we'll break down exactly how to handle it without destroying the foundation you've worked so hard to build!  

Never-Satisfied Sam: What to do when your client is never happy with your work

You did exactly what you were supposed to do. Before you got to work, you agreed on a project deadline, scope, price, and deliverables. Then you completed the project and sent out an invoice (with Xolo Go, of course!). 

"Actually," they counter, "could you be a dear and fix a few tiny problems?" And as a professional/good person, you were only too happy to oblige! But that was three rounds of edits ago, and there's still no end in sight. That's when it's time to go to Plan B. 

New freelancers — and even veteran solos — will be tempted to tell these types of clients to take a hike — preferably somewhere uncomfortably warm, steamy, and full of brimstone. And while that would undoubtedly feel liberating in the moment, this decision could have some disastrous consequences. These clients will likely leave a trail of negative reviews across the interwebs, which will ruin the reputation of the business you've worked so hard to grow

But it's still just as important to have boundaries — and this is true of any nightmare client you deal with, not just Sam. Be polite and professional, but honesty still rings true as the best policy. Keep it simple, direct, and cordial. Let the client know that you're sorry, but you no longer have any availability going forward. It may mean taking a hit financially and accepting less payment. But consider it a semi-expensive lesson to always write the amount of revisions into your contracts going forward!

Unpaid-invoice Iris: What to do when your client doesn't pay

Nobody likes being ghosted, but it's especially agitating when you're being financially ghosted. You delivered great work, on time, and you deserve to be paid! (You'll get no argument from us!)

What would happen if you didn't pay your internet bill? Your provider would swiftly discontinue service. It should be no different with you and your clients. First step is to immediately stop working if they've ordered other projects. 

In most instances, simple payment reminders, personalised emails, and repeat invoices will help get the point across. Another trick is to add late payment charges that slowly accrue on each new edition of late payment notices. If this still doesn't work, you can write messages threatening legal action, talk to a lawyer, or see if there is legislation in your part of the world that will help you collect from a non-paying customer. 

But every freelancer eventually comes across a real jerk of a client that just flat out refuses to pay, no matter what combination of tactics you employ. At some point you have to realise that you're just wasting your own time (and money), and it's time to walk away. Remember not to feel badly — it happens to all of us! But it's an important lesson to always have a contract with strict payment terms. 

Note: With Xolo Go, you'll have access to our Project Tool, which will provide some protection against bad clients and unpaid invoices!

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Demanding Dana: What to do about a needy client?

Your phone is full of unanswered notifications from friends, asking where you are and why they haven't seen you lately. Your family is worried about your health and wellbeing. And it's all because your latest client has no concept of boundaries. They call at all hours of the day and night, even on weekends. And when you answer, they immediately demand to know whether or not you've read the email they just sent you — literally 90 seconds ago. 

One of the amazing things about being a freelancer is that you don't have to answer to anyone about how you choose to schedule your day (especially at a moment's notice!). It can be helpful to ask a prospective client, right from the start, about what their expectations are around your availability, as well as their preferred channel of communication. 

But there will always be time vampires and clients who want you to spend every waking moment paying attention to them and their needs. A great workaround can be to set up a calendar around your working hours (calendly is a great option) where they can book time with you in 30 minute blocks. A few calls is fine, but if they're eating up your time, don't be afraid to charge them for it! 

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Negotiating Nancy: What to do if your client is always trying to get a lower price

When clients try to negotiate a lower price, it's important to take a step back and evaluate why they're fighting you so much. It's usually for one of three reasons: 

Reason 1: They're afraid of paying too much 

Many clients live in fear of being "ripped off" by freelancers. It can help to assuage these fears by taking the time to walk them through the value you'll be delivering. A second tactic is called, "anchoring." Anchoring is when you tell them your minimum that you "absolutely won't go under" and then make an "exception" — for them, just this once. For example, "I usually wouldn't go below 1,000, but because I'm really excited about this project, I'll do it for 850." This makes them feel like they've "won" so they'll happily pay up. 

Reason 2: They have no idea what kind of resources are required to complete a project

Many clients are unaware of the number of hours it takes to complete a project. But don't let their ignorance cause you to undervalue your time and the value you bring to a project. The best way is to sit them down and walk them through the process. For example, many clients assume that writers spend all their time typing away as fast as they can. They don't consider that writing is only half the job — there's research, thinking, outlining, and editing to be accounted for, too!

If they're still dragging their feet, give them options. "I could do it for (X amount) but that would mean I wouldn't be able to provide you with (Y service) and the final product will be affected in (Z way)." It's important to help your client to re-frame the scope of the project so they don't just think in terms of time and dollar signs, but instead focus on the value you're providing!  

Reason 3: They know they can't afford you

These are the types of clients that will try to make you devalue yourself simply because they don't have the budget to pay you. Ultimately, it'll be up to you whether you decide to discount — maybe because you're really excited about the project. And be sure to communicate that this is a one-time offer, and you're not going to continue to do work at a reduced rate indefinitely! 

In this situation, you also need to be prepared to cut your losses. Do you really want a client who is going to fight you on every invoice and make you feel like your work isn't worth the money? You deserve to have clients who will appreciate the value you bring — and be more than willing to pay you for it!

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Toxic Tammy: What to do when your client is rude and abusive 

Everyone has bad days, but if you have a client who continues to show red flags? We're talking about treating you with disrespect, yelling at you, calling you names, not respecting your boundaries, and making you feel less like a professional with valuable skills and more like… pond scum. 

There's absolutely no question that you need to get out, like — yesterday! There's no excuse for this kind of toxic behaviour from anyone, and the longer you put up with it, the more they're going to try to push your boundaries even more! Be polite, but firm. Tell them that it's not going to work out, and if they press you for details, you can be honest and say that you don't work with clients who disrespect you. 

Keep clients in line with Xolo Go

As we've fully established by now (see above), keeping clients happy while retaining boundaries is a full-time job on top of doing the actual work! That's why solutions like Xolo Go are invaluable for the modern freelancer. Xolo Go helps freelancers to effortlessly create and send invoices to clients in a click. Our handy projects tool will help you easily draw up contract terms so that you can set clients expectations right from the start. And if they try to ghost you when payment time comes, having a contract will provide you with that much more protection! 

Xolo also helps make other undesirable aspects of freelance life more palatable. We help easily streamline tax reporting, and make uploading business expenses a breeze. Best of all, there are no monthly fees or contracts. You only pay us when you get paid! 

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