How To Deal With Clients As a Freelancer So That You Never, Ever, Ever Get a Nightmare Client

MattBusiness18 Comments

Okay, so I lied a little in the title. It’s just not possible to never, ever, ever get a nightmare client.

I’ll get that out of the way from the beginning.

If you’re dealing with people as a freelance filmmaker/videography, then you’re going to have to work with people. And when you work with people, there’s always a chance that you might meet a Nightmare Client.

What we can do, however, is minimize the chances of ever encountering one of these awful clients.

It’s all about setting boundaries and becoming acutely aware of the potential for these nightmare clients to rear their ugly heads. In so doing, we eliminate the bad clients that we’re already working with and make our freelance lives so much easier.

So, where to start? How do you handle clients wanting to give feedback?

KNOWING WHERE YOU STAND

I completely acknowledge that when you’re doing work for someone and are being paid by a client, that they have a right to sign-off on what you produce. However, at this point, I’m starting to see how clients are going to be ahead of time. And I’m starting to recognize who’s likely to be difficult.

I can always tell that when I have a client who says something like, “Can you send it to me by x-date so that I can see if it needs any changes…”

…I just know that they’re going to request changes.

It’s almost like people who are managers themselves HAVE to have that first draft (or three!) so that they can give changes and feel that their power is being used during the project. I know that even if I delivered a PERFECT project to them straight-off, they’d still request changes almost as a default measure.

Maybe this is a rite of passage and completely normal for all businesses in general and just something that I have to get used to. But I seem to be able to tell who’s going to request changes by the way they verbalise things ahead of time.

Keep an eye out for the, “Can you send it to me by x-date so that I can see if it needs any changes…” lines. If you hear that, then you know you’re at risk of meeting a difficult client. Maybe not a nightmare client, but a difficult one. When you hear those words, your radar should go off and you should be on high alert.

Now, it’s fine to get asked to make changes on a piece of work, of course. In film and video production, we’re really in the subjectivity game, and getting things right straight-off is not always possible.

Still, when a client says something along the lines of “see if it needs any changes,” then this should be a warning bell that they’re already mentally preparing you for the distinct possibility that “it’s gonna need a new tweaks.”

Just you wait and see.

HELP!! HOW SHOULD I BE WITH THESE CLIENTS!?

This one’s quite funny, as I often get asked bizarre questions when people find out I have my own business and I work with clients.

Whether the person asking is a freelancing themselves, or just someone who’s interested in business and what’s involved with freelancing for clients, this question seems to come up a lot:

Question: “So how do you act with clients?”

Me: “What do you mean, how do you act?”

Firstly, it shouldn’t be an act. Business should be an extension of your real personality. Just a more guarded and professional one. It’s not like you’re going to be acting all ’10 shots of tequila into the night’ with your clients as if it’s New Years Eve with your friends.

But often this question involves a follow-up dialogue where the person seems to think you put on some crazy, big-shot act with clients. I guess they envision me sitting casually in a director’s chair, puffing on an over-sized cigar and reciting Jean-Luc Godard quotes as responses to client questions.

The truth is, you act with clients so that it’s not an act. You know your business and your craft, you speak from the heart and shoot from the hip.

Here are my Top Five Pointers:

1. You let your clients know what’s possible and what’s not possible. And you do it as early as possible from the outset and before any work has started.

2. You always remain polite. Always. You can also be calm and chilled out no matter the situation.

3. You respect client boundaries and you’re always professional. This means no calling after-hours, unless you’re given express permission to do so. It also means no potentially offensive jokes on-set. Two rather obvious examples, but you’ll be surprised how often I hear stories about those or something very similar.

4. You abide by deadlines and meeting times. This is common sense and clearly Business & Life 101, but I’d be remiss not to throw it in here.

5. You leave someone better for having met you. Wouldn’t it be something if you could improve the world (or at least you’re personal sphere of influence) just by being an awesome human being during every interaction you have?

GETTING THINGS DOWN IN WRITING AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE

This is  huge for your business and your sanity.

I’ve lost track of the amount of times I could look on a project that facing issues and notice that I didn’t quite iron the details out well enough in advance.

Putting together a rock solid and detailed Brief will pay dividends over and over again.

Get everything about the project down on paper. This should be a combination of any meetings you’ve had with the client, as well as your thoughts and ideas that have been okayed by the client.

That’s the key here: you must get everything okayed and signed off by the client. It sounds obvious (and it is!), but you’ll be surprised how much I made these kind of mistakes when I was first starting out. I’d go blindly into long-term deals and big contracts with clients without properly getting all the project details ironed out and agreed on before I started the work.

This has to be detailed and it has to be before you start the work.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT FROM YOUR BUSINESS

This is something that should be addressed long before you start dealing with clients. However, I mentioned it in-between the last point and before the next, because it’s absolutely paramount to how well you’ll do in business. Not to mention how well you’ll sleep at night.

You need to be absolutely crystal clear on what you want from your business.

Do you want to work a standard 38 hour work week? How are you with working weekends? Are you comfortable working every hour that’s sent your way?

How would you like to be paid? Just bank transfers, or are you happy with accepting cheques as well? This is important as you need to get clear on whether you’re happy visiting the bank to cash cheques, or whether you’d only like to visit the bank when you’re withdrawing cash to pay for that brand new yacht!

What are you happy with working on? Are you just a live-action footage person? Will you do motion graphics work as well? Will you travel overseas for projects? Or do you have a certain radius around your hometown that you’re happy working within?

Guys, you should get clear on everything you want from your business. This way, you’ll know exactly what you won’t put up with from business and clients. We’ll cover that in just a minute.

SHOW ‘EM WHO’S BOSS

This is a controversial one. And it’s certainly one that’s underused by most freelancers.

As we already mentioned, people who are managers themselves have to have that first draft (or three!) so that they can give changes and feel that their power is being used during the project. Clients (especially the big boys) want to assert control. The problem is that since they are not the expert, their “suggestions” only harm the final product.

The easiest solution I have found is raising rates. For some reason, when you position yourself as the high-priced option, clients seem to trust and respect your judgement a lot more. If you are the low-priced option, it’s the complete opposite and you will get the worst clients who are often control-freaks.

Bigger prices weed out Nightmare Clients.

To illustrate the point, this video of Don Draper from Mad Men doing his thing is must-see viewing:

Here’s a transcript in-case you can’t watch the video:

Ken Cosgrove: (To client) I’m not telling you to listen to anyone, but this is a very fresh approach.

Don Draper: “It’s okay, Ken. I don’t think there’s much else to do here than to call it a day. Gentlemen, thank you for your time.

Client: (shrugs) Is that all?

Don Draper: You’re a non-believer. Why should we waste time on kabuki?

Client: I don’t know what that means.

Don Draper: It means that you’ve already tried your plan and you’re number four. You’ve enlisted my expertise and you’ve rejected it to go along the way you’ve been going. I’m not interested in that. You can understand.

Client: I don’t think your three months and however many thousands of dollars allows you to refocus the core of our business.

Don Draper: Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. Either he lives in your heart or he doesn’t. Every woman wants choices. But in the end, none wants to be one of 100 in a box. She’s unique. She makes the choices and she’s chosen him. She wants to tell the world he’s mine. He belongs to me, not you. She marks her man with her lips. He is her possession. You’ve given every woman who wears your lipstick the gift of total ownership.

Client: (pause) Sit down.

Don Draper: No. Not till I know I’m not wasting my time.

Client: Sit down.

LEARN TO SAY “NO”

One of the best things we can learn for our business is how to say: “No!” Exclamation point not always needed. The important thing is that you learn how to say no. This can always be one of the best things you learn to do in your life as a whole.

When we say no, we exercise boundaries.  By exercising boundaries, you get clear on what you will and won’t put up with in your life. You then make it clear to your clients from the outset. You do it politely, but you do it firmly.

Here’s how you set boundaries:

1. Get out a pen and paper.

2. Write down everything you won’t put up with in your life anymore. You can have one for business and one for personal.

3. Read your list once a week. Sunday is good.

4. Let the people you work with know what you boundaries are. As mentioned, do it politely but firmly. If they don’t know what your boundaries are, then you can’t take issue with them not respecting them.

Now, if someone crosses a boundary, you say: “No.”

Politely but firmly.

A client asks you to do something extra on top of what you already budgeted for?

“No. We can do the extra, but you’ll be charged extra for it.”

A client wants to throw a whole bunch of extra footage at you last minute that they shot with a cell-phone last year?

“No. We can use that extra footage, but it’s going to jeopardize the quality of your project.”

Learn to say “No” and you’ll be liberated.

HOW DO I GET RID OF A NIGHTMARE CLIENT?

So you have someone who wants to work for you, but who you’re sure will be an awful client. However, they won’t stop bugging you asking for your services.

Now this, my friends, is a Quality Problem. You can do one of two things:

1. Tell them you’re ridiculously busy and you’re just not in a position to take on any more business right now. This works great in lots of cases, but I’ve found it can sometimes make the person more interested in woking with you!

The trouble with coming across as exceptionally busy (whether you are or you aren’t) is that you’re touching on two of the biggest Key Persausion TacticsScarcity and Social Proof.

You’re making yourself scarce by saying you can’t work with them. And, because you’re too busy to work with them, you’re suggesting you’re insanely popular and therefore your work must be great!

This is certainly one to be careful with. Freelancers without many clients take not, though – this tactic can be great to attract clients and gain more business.

2. Raise your rates astronomically. Quote them a huge price for the work. It might sound harsh, but sometimes this is what’s needed to deal with a potentially difficult client. If you don’t scare the difficult client off with this, you make sure you get paid well, which should mitigate any potential loss of sleep in working with a bad client.

I hope these pointers help you out in your business, whether you’re freelancing as a filmmaker or plying your trade in another industry. Let me know below what you thought of this article. Also, what else would you like to read about? Let me know in the comments below…

 Click here for the next part of the guide! 

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18 Comments on “How To Deal With Clients As a Freelancer So That You Never, Ever, Ever Get a Nightmare Client”

  1. That was an interesting article. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes too as a freelancer. I’ll never forget the time I went into my very first freelancing gig without any kind of a contract…not even saying what I was charging! Two months down the line…BAM…client refuses to pay what he owes!

    Lesson learned.

    Thanks for a great piece.

    Max

    1. Thanks for the comment, Max.

      To be honest, I don’t know one freelancer who hasn’t run into at least one major issue when it comes to dealing with freelancers. I honestly think it comes with the territory. It’s also part of a learning process that we’re all going through.

      Thanks for the comment and welcome to the blog! 🙂

      1. Definitely Matt! Great response. When you’re in the trenches you realize how true all of this is that you wrote here

    1. Hi petey,

      Disagreeing is good. If we all thought the same then I guess life would be pretty boring.

      Feel free to share what you don’t agree with?

      Thanks for the comment.

      Matt

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  4. Very helpful!

    Being honest (and confident) with your capabilities and limitations at the beginning is so important. I’ve accidentally (nerves) given several clients the impression that I’m doing A, B, and C for them, when my business is truly only built around A.

    Definitely a learning curve.

    1. Hi MrRadio,

      That’s definitely one of the worst positions to be in – if you find yourself agreeing to extra things in the projects that you’re not used to doing (especially to a professional level).

      For instance, if you come in as a video production company and next thing you know you end up doing social media marketing for them to promote the video, this can be a risky position to be in if you have no background and experience doing that. I’ve seen it happen.

      My advice would be to be firm with what you’re an expert on and what you’re willing to do to a professional level.

      It’s like the wedding videographer who gets talked into doing wedding photography and ends up producing below par work when the client expects professional level. It happens, but can be avoided if you know how to communicate with clients!

      Thanks for the comment.

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  6. This was a great article i have not had to deal with a difficult client but this has given me a good insight of what i can do if i come across this. one of many great articles on the site. keep up the amazing work.

    1. Thanks, kultha. Really appreciate you being a part of this community.

      Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.

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