Every freelance writer has at least one moment with a difficult client. Probably several, actually. As tempting as it is to cut clients loose and bid them a not-so-fond farewell, you should attempt to learn something from the situation. Follow through the five stages of Difficult Client Syndrome, and take heart that the process will make you a better writer. When you can learn to accept constructive criticism and still act professionally, you will earn more valuable interactions with clients in the future.
Stage One: Denial
“This client actually isn’t that difficult.”
You have heard from other writers that this client or platform is unusually troublesome. At first, it seems like you are living a dream. The client that everyone else seems to hate is absolutely perfect for you. They are quick to reply to your questions and love your work. Many writers have this kind of “honeymoon period” with a new client. If you have been around the block a time or two, you know that circumstances may change. Don’t let your guard down and become too casual in your writing or interactions. You may regret it later.
Stage Two: Anger
“Wow, that escalated quickly!”
It now feels like you were caught in a terrible daydream. The client from heaven has now turned into a person who takes forever to get back to you, and lets your submitted drafts sit forever before payment. This is a likely but unfortunate result of the client becoming too comfortable with you. Keep your attitude entirely professional while you receive constructive criticism. Do not turn into a nag, lest the client begin to think that is what you are really like.
Stage Three: Bargaining
“Let’s figure out how to make this work.”
Many writers decide to quit working with a client after the anger stage, but that is not always necessary. There are millions of people out there who need good content, and not too many of them will just let you do whatever you want. You may be the writing expert, but the client is paying for the services. Make a sincere and overt effort to meet them at least halfway, even if you think their suggestions are crazy. File it away for future use with clients requesting similar content.
Stage Four: Depression
“Why do they hate me?”
This stage is actually the best time for you to examine your personal reactions to the client’s feedback. People are not always going to be overly nice to you, and this is as true for freelance writing as it is for a regular job. Turn introspective and ask yourself what it is that you are doing that may be propagating this problem. Perhaps you can greatly improve the situation by asking the client specific questions when they first send the order, or by tweaking your approach in another small fashion.
Stage Five: Acceptance
“Difficult clients don’t have to ruin my life.”
Dealing with difficult clients is a part of life. It does not mean that you can or should refuse to work with all of them. In fact, investing time into learning why they seem difficult to you can teach you valuable lessons about how to interact with more clients. Make a note about the things they have taught you that you can use to improve your writing in general, and the time spent will not be wasted.
Difficult Client Syndrome is real, but you can get past it. By turning your frustration into a learning experience, you expand your understanding of solid client interactions and learn more about the kind of content needs real clients have.
Holly S believes that there is no such thing as a one-sided working relationship, and that she always has room to improve.