If you work with clients, let’s face it—client problems are inevitable. But with a little preparation, you can prevent (or greatly minimize) potential miscommunications and conflict before it happens. In this post, we’ll cover the 9 most common client problems and how to prevent them.
The 9 Most Common Client Problems
If you’ve ever felt like you’re the only one experiencing client problems, know you are not alone. Most freelancers face similar problems, and you’ll probably identify with every client problem on this list. Just remember—most of these issues simply arise out of human nature. We’re human and our clients are, too. This list is geared toward the work of freelance web developers and designers, but anyone working with clients will probably relate to these client problems.
1. Stalled on Content
At some point during a new project, you may find yourself waiting for some type of content. With web design projects especially, missing content can completely hold up a website launch.
Think of it this way: As a web designer, you’re an expert on the type of content a website needs, but you’ve probably struggled to write your own bio or articulate your service offerings for your website. Clients are no different—they can face even larger hurdles in writing or gathering website content.
Why Stalled Content Happens …
- The client is not a content expert, has no idea where to begin, and freezes up.
- The client is busy or avoids work.
How to Prevent Stalled Content …
- Produce a tool to extract content from the client. Make content production as easy as possible.
- Be proactive about asking questions; interview clients, record your notes.
- Consider subcontracting a freelance writer to complete content. Bundle the price into your total project cost.
- Start seeing content production as a new service you can offer clients to solve the stalled content problem.
2. The Angry Client
While you may do your best to avoid making clients unhappy, angry clients can happen. Angry clients usually happen for two reasons:
- You screwed something up.
- The client is being unreasonable.
How to Prevent Angry Clients …
- If you screwed something up, what you do next is what really matters. Apologize and be humble.
- It’s helpful to verbalize the issue from the client’s perspective. For example: “I realize this caused X problem for you. Let me explain what happened and what we’re doing to fix the issue.”
- Don’t justify. Don’t make excuses. Don’t get defensive if the client gets upset.
- Think of the Proverb, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Don’t escalate a conflict.
- Explain your plan to get back on track.
If the client is being unreasonable …
- Return to your project scope agreement and/or contract. (That’s why it’s important to actually have a contract).
- Don’t be afraid to hold clients accountable for what they agreed to at the beginning of the project. While this can be a difficult conversation, move away from emotion and focus on the facts.
- Sometimes you may have to fire the client. Do you have a termination clause in your contract? If you don’t, you could find yourself in some legal trouble.
3. Differing Expectations
You expect one thing; the client expects another. During a project, different expectations can arise from poor communication, assumptions, and lack of planning.
Why Differing Expectations Happen …
- Unfortunately, it’s usually our fault unless the client is just being unreasonable.
- We didn’t ask enough questions or communicate clearly. Clarity wasn’t established when the project began. Learning to ask the right questions is one of the best skills you can develop as a freelancer.
How to Prevent Differing Expectations …
- Have a checklist of questions to ask at the beginning of each new project or consultation. When you first sit down with a new client, you should have a checklist of questions you ask each and every time. Each question should ultimately clarify expectations. Check out this post for a thorough list: Client Consultations: 65 Questions to Ask
- Offer opportunities for the client to weigh in and sign off at appropriate intervals, especially during a web design project. Don’t proceed with a design or any development until the client has signed off.
4. Disappearing Clients
Have you ever encountered a “disappearing” client? This type of client may seem eager at the beginning of a project, but then correspondence drops off and emails go unanswered for weeks (or even months).
Why Disappearing Clients Happen …
- The client is busy and chasing other tasks.
- The website is not really a priority (at the moment.)
Things to Know About Disappearing Clients …
- These clients actually provide some flexibility if you are busy. If you’re working on multiple projects at once, you can be freed up to focus on other things while you wait on the client.
- Beware: Disappearing clients can reappear and make unreasonable demands.
- Disappearing clients ultimately disrupt your project pipeline, workflow, and cash flow, so it’s important to keep clients engaged with a project and on task.
How to Prevent Disappearing Clients …
- Over-communicate the “Pipeline Principle.” For example, you might say: “I have a very active queue of work. We’ll have to take your project out of our active pipeline and move it to the back if we don’t hear back from you within X days.” While that may sound harsh, if you communicate this principle clearly to your clients (add it into your contract!), most clients will understand and stay motivated to keep the project moving.
- Be sure your contract covers client delays—and enforce it! Explain the terms of project suspension. For example: “If 30 days pass without replying to this request, your project is considered suspended. Work cannot continue until 1) we have everything else we need to complete your project and 2) full payment for the remainder of the project.”
5. Your Attitude
Your own attitude can creep into your productivity and client communication, so it’s important to be mindful of feeling frustrated, angry, or resentful.
Why a Bad Attitude Happens …
- You’re having a bad day (week?). Personal matters can intrude on your work.
- Client frustration “bleed-over.” If you’ve just had a difficult call with client A, and then you get an email from client B, you can inadvertently fire off a snippy response to client B, who did not deserve it.
How to Prevent Bad Attitudes …
- Step away from your desk. Take a day off. Exercise the freedoms of freelancing—take a walk, watch a movie, do something you enjoy.
- Let “that” call go to voicemail. Perform an attitude adjustment on yourself and then get back to the client. You don’t have to respond immediately, so take the time to evaluate your attitude.
- Don’t hit send if you’re angry with the client. Wait.
- As tempting as it may be, don’t talk badly about your clients to others. It colors your interaction with the client in the future.
- Keep a balanced view of your client and yourself. Every client has issues because they’re human. They still deserve respect.
6. Too Much Work
As freelancers, we’re all guilty of agreeing to new projects, even if we’re already overloaded with work. Since freelance work can sometimes be unpredictable, it’s easy to take on too much work at one time to minimize the uncertainty of getting new clients down the road.
Why it Happens …
- You’re awesome. You can really do it all. But you can’t say no.
- You’re afraid not to take on a project so you get stressed or delayed.
How to Prevent Too Much Work …
- Don’t be afraid to set a future start date with a new client. Scarcity can be a strong influencer.
- Give new clients content tools immediately. Give them “homework” to complete while you work on other projects. From their perspective, the project is active, since they already have work to do.
7. Scope Creep
Scope creep can happen when a client sees a new idea or wants to add new functionality beyond the original project scope of a website.
How to Prevent Scope Creep …
- You may not want to prevent scope creep. An increase in scope creep = increase in price.
- Define the purpose of a project and the audience of the site upfront. Ask great questions at the beginning.
- Create a clear scope of work and explain the concept of scope creep to all new clients at the beginning of a project. Say something like, “At some point during your project, you may come up with a new idea, but realize those additional ideas are not going to be included in your original proposal and will add additional costs.”
- Have a thorough scope of work in your initial proposal and contract. Having a project scope agreement will weed out clients saying, “I thought it was included.” You don’t necessarily need to say no; you can say, “Sure, we can do that. It’s outside the scope of work of our original agreement, and will add X dollars to your project total.”
8. Time Wasters
Do you have a client that asks a million questions? Do they call you, email you at all hours of the day, and need a lot of attention?
Why Time Wasters Happen …
- The client works in a stream-of-consciousness manner, is naturally inquisitive or a control freak.
- We allow the client to monopolize our time. Almost always, if a client is wasting your time, it’s because you are allowing it.
- We’ve trained the client to waste our time. We need to untrain him/her.
How to Prevent Time Wasters …
- Let phone calls go to voicemail. Delay email responses. Make clients wait to show they cannot get immediate access to you or dominate your time. At first, it may feel good to answer client emails immediately or after hours, but you’re actually training the client that they can email you at any time of the day and get an immediate response. They’ll then expect that from now on. Set up healthy boundaries with your time. Some email clients/apps have settings to allow you to delay sends on emails.
- Schedule appointments with these clients rather than responding to their whims. Plan a time window for the call and stick to it.
9. Hero Syndrome
A lot of freelancers can develop something called “Hero Syndrome.” Freelancers solve problems and provide personalized solutions for clients, but we may overinflate our sense of identity as someone who “saves the day.”
Why Hero Syndrome Happens …
- You feel a need to come to the rescue of problem clients to the detriment of everything else in your life.
- An unhealthy need to be “liked” by the client.
- It comes from a lack of self-esteem that can be fed by “Imposter Syndrome.”
How to Prevent Hero Syndrome …
- Recognize it for what it is … A kind of codependency.
- You allow yourself to be mistreated because it makes you feel needed and important.
- Don’t let clients rob you of the priorities in your life that really matter.
- Keep workaholic tendencies in check.
- Do some work on yourself. Build a holistic self-image. Your “Hero Syndrome” is probably affecting other areas outside your business.
- Talk through these issues with someone like a good counselor.
Watch the Webinar: Preventing Client Problems Before They Happen
This post is based on the webinar Preventing Client Problems Before they Happen from iThemes Training. This entire post is covered in more detail in this hour-long webinar.
Nathan is the Host at iThemes Training where he teaches WordPress and business development topics via live webinar. He is a growth coach for WordPress business owners, helping them become more successful in their businesses individually and in groups. Nathan is also the creator of MonsterContracts, a service that provides contracts for WordPress client work. He has been working with clients to build websites since 1995.