How to Cope When Your Dream Client Becomes a Nightmare


There’s always a chance your dream situation could go to sh—. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a friendship, relationship, living situation, job or what else—there’s always the possibility the dream you’re living will become a nightmare.

These situations are hard no matter the circumstances, but it’s especially trying when things go bad with a good client. It recently happened to me, and here’s what I learned about handling these precarious situations.

My Own “Good Job Gone Bad” Experience

First, a little on my own experience: I had a great client who I really enjoyed working with. We had an efficient, collaborative working relationship, and it was going great for around eight months.

freelance-problemsOne day, however, payments started coming late, communication became less frequent, and articles stopped getting published on time. I gently probed into what was going on, and the closest thing to an answer I ever got was that there were “internal changes” going on at the company.

I tried to make it work for a few more months, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth my time and stopped taking projects from them. However, the whole situation was frustrating and genuinely sad because it was initially an ideal gig.

How to Navigate a Declining Client Relationship

So, how should you, as a freelancer, handle this type of situation? Here’s my best advice:

Consider the Financial Impact

First and foremost, before you do anything, consider the worst case scenario—losing the client—and the impact it would have on your bottom line.

If you rely on this client to pay the bills (in my book, this means the job makes up more than 1/5 of my monthly income), you’re going to need to tread carefully. On the other hand, if it’s a minor client whose payments you could easily replace, you probably have room to be more straightforward about the issue(s).

Communicate Honestly, Yet Emphatically

When it’s time for confrontation, try to see things from your client’s point of view. Sure, you might be upset or frustrated, but you should approach things with an open mind and a willingness to compromise. Chances are s/he isn’t doing this to spite you—there’s probably something tough going on, and you know what that’s like, right?

Approach things with an open mind and a willingness to compromise.

Draft an email, or make a phone call. Be straightforward and explain what the issue is and how it’s impacting you. Don’t be accusatory. Don’t be passive aggressive. Just be honest. Ask if there’s something you can do to remedy the situation. More than anything, do your best to start a two-sided conversation.

If your contact values the relationship, s/he will reciprocate, and you’ll be on your way to a resolution that’s beneficial to both sides. If not, you may get stonewalled. This is a possibility you should be ready for, but again, be positive, understanding and honest. Even if your client doesn’t respond the way you’d like, you still need to maintain your professional reputation. Losing business is a part of freelance life!

Consider Your Contract

Do you have a contract? Now’s a good time to revisit it. Review the agreed-upon terms for payment, publishing, termination or whatever else is applicable. Again, don’t “throw it in their face,” but use it tactfully within the conversation to help resolve the issue and hopefully get things back on track.


Know When to Walk Away

In any relationship, there may come a time when enough is enough. For me, that point was when I was spending hours researching, interviewing people and writing articles on tight deadlines, only to have the stories sit in a publishing queue for months and have payments delayed for more than 90 days. As much as I valued the client and all they had done for me at the beginning of my freelance career, it was time to move on. I politely declined new assignments, stopped pitching and focused my attention elsewhere.

It’s hard to swallow the loss of a favorite client, but just think of the time you could reclaim if you weren’t chasing down payments or cutting through red tape. Put the bad experience behind you, and move on to the next one!

Do you have any advice on dealing with trouble clients? I’d love to hear it!

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