Anyone who has been in business even a month will tell you one of the hardest parts about being an entrepreneur is dealing with difficult clients. I have totally lucked out and usually have amazing clients, most of whom I could be friends outside of work. But occasionally you get a client that you don’t see eye to eye with, or someone that wants to hire you but does not see the value in your line of work. Some clients honestly don’t mean anything by it and may just have little knowledge about your industry or what you offer, while some clients are just looking to get the cheapest deal on your services. It can be difficult to know the best way to handle these clients, mainly when it comes to payment because, let’s face it, everyone wants a good deal and an amazing product. I myself am a sucker for Target’s dollar section. But as an entrepreneur you have to charge what you are worth and actually make an income. But when I first started my business I struggled with clients like this because it was so hard for me to stand up for my business and the amount I was charging. Even when you are charging pennies, someone will inevitably try and talk you down in price.
But while these types of customers can be hard to manage, they aren’t IMPOSSIBLE, mainly because we all deal with them. I find that a lot of it boils down to being very open and personable with your clients, answering all questions they may have as soon as possible, and being confident in your end product. People will be happy with the end result if they also see the value in it, and that acknowledgment of your product starts with how you present it.
Work is always more fun at a coffee shop, am I right? Mike and I love walking to nearby coffee shops to enjoy some delicious late evening drinks. Don’t mind me as I enjoy this fizzy-fruity-espresso drink and answer some client emails.
Establish Groundwork/Expectations Early On
Obviously contracts are a must when working on a project to project basis. This ensures that the clients are aware of exactly what they will receive, what they should expect out of the entire process, and all costs are agreed upon upfront. All questions can be answered before any work is even started. For all of my contracts and invoices I use Dubsado. It’s super user friendly and they just added contract templates that make it even easier to cover all your bases. I also create a Client Portal on my site for each individual client that keeps track of the work that is done and updates anytime changes are made to their project. It helps them feel very hands on and involved from start to finish. This is a great way to eliminate any confrontations that may arise between the clients and myself, because they have quick references back to the content and all work leading up to the finished result.
Set Limits For Yourself
Yes, the client’s needs should always take first priority, but occasionally you will run into a client that expects you to take on something that is beyond your scope of work. It’s important to set limits for yourself and the projects you take on so that you don’t end up with more work than you can feasibly do in the amount of time given for the project. Always inform the client of these limitations before starting the work. For instance at this time I do not offer continued monthly support on my websites. If a client of mine ever needs maintenance or changes in the future I am more than happy to help, but I do not keep clients in retainer and check in on them each month. I know some designers that do, so if a client requests this I let them know that is not something I offer, nor will it be part of our contract but that I can point them to a number of designers that do offer such services. By no means do I see this as a let down for my business. In fact it allows me to be free to take on bigger client work and helps the client find a designer that best suits them. I decided this early on in my business and have found that I do not have the manpower or time to keep up with all of my clients websites as my portfolio grows. It better serves my needs and my clients needs to set these limitations.
Be as Professional and Polite as Possible
If there is a difficult client (and trust me, there will be) never EVER let it show that you are frustrated with them. This should kind of be a given since there is really no reason to lose your cool with a client, but I’ll state it anyway. This was must when I was working in retail, and it totally still applies even when you are not seeing them face-to-face and most of your conversations with clients are done over email. Of course you want to represent you business in it’s best light and you want clients to leave happy. So I have found that it’s better to either find a solution that makes you both happy even if it extends your deadline and budget (if you are willing to take those losses) OR point clients in a new direction (i.e. a different business). If you absolutely aren’t going to make them happy, it’s totally okay to admit you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and to help them find a business that will make them happy. These conversations are not always easy, but they are necessary if you want to keep your sanity at the end of the day.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
This can be especially hard when you are first starting out and you want to say yes to every client that inquires about your services. But not every client will be a good fit, even those that reach out to you first. And that’s TOTALLY OKAY. You as a business owner are allowed to say no to clients or projects that don’t fit the goals you have set for yourself. And I know firsthand that I don’t do my best work when either working on a project I don’t like, or am in a miserable working environment. You, and probably the client as well, will be much happier in the end if you pass on projects that you don’t want to take.
Confrontation with clients is probably the worst part about being a solo-preneur. But if it makes you feel any better, we all have to go through it. I usually bend over backwards for my clients, as I’m a people pleaser to the absurd degree, but that can actually be a set back especially when you are starting out and establishing your business because you start to seem like a pushover that will do anything for any amount of money. If you say Yes to everything, you’ll end up agreeing to projects that ultimately are not worth your time. It’s a scary thing to have to justify your work by saying “I know my work is worth X amount and I’m sticking to it!” but trust me, it gets easier and easier, and you’ll be so much happier with the projects you take on and the work you produce in the long run.