Dealing with Problem Freelance Design Clients

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Most of your freelance clients, hopefully, will be wonderful. However, every now and again you’re going to end up dealing with a nightmare client. Here’s how you might want to structure your approach to dealing with clients like this:

Protect Yourself From the Outset of a Relationship


Author/Copyright holder: 24oranges.nl. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

The contract is your most important tool for establishing the tone of your relationship. Many first-time freelancers don’t have a contract. This is a big mistake. Your contract allows you to establish:

  • Fees and when they are due against delivery items.
  • Kill fees – if the client decides to walk away from the project.
  • Deliverables themselves – what you will do, and when you will do it.
  • Ongoing support –if something goes wrong; what will you do to fix it?
  • The number of revisions/edits you will supply – many clients assume that this number is set to “infinite” unless you disabuse them of the notion.
  • What action you will take if the client doesn’t meet their side of the contract and what fees that may incur (debt collection isn’t cheap).
  • When you are available and what response times a client can expect from you. (9 – 5 Monday to Friday by phone, 24 working hours for an e-mail, etc.).

Clients, in general, aren’t unreasonable people. They will find it easier to work with you if you are clear about your expectations of working with them. They aren’t psychic – so you really do have to spell this out. There is often an expectation that a freelancer who works from home will provide immediate 24 hour support, for example, and this isn’t a healthy expectation.

When A Client Steps Over the Boundaries

I am, in general, a people pleaser. I want my clients to be happy. All too often, in the past, that meant that I let clients lead the relationship beyond the boundaries I had set and didn’t mention it – until it had already become a habit and expectation in the client’s mind.



Author/Copyright holder: Riccardo Romano. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Don’t do this. If your client starts pushing you outside of the contract; it’s time to remind them of it. Don’t be hostile but be firm. “Dear Mrs. Client, I am sorry that I was unable to help today when you called at 1 a.m. but I would like to remind you that I am only able to provide support on the phone between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. as per our contract. If you would like support at other hours; I would be happy to provide a quotation for that.”

And don’t worry – your clients won’t ask you to work at 1 a.m. (particularly if it costs them money) but it will help them to respect your time.

Be firm and be polite but enforce your contracts.

The End of the Line


Author/Copyright holder: Wayne S. Grazio. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some clients simply won’t stop though. They become invasive and nightmarish. Their demands become ludicrous. In these instances; finish the project (or give your contractual notice on the project) and then fire them. Most people freelance to get away from tyrannical authority figures; no client is worth endless sleepless nights. Terminate the relationship, try to keep on good terms if possible and give it no further thought.

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: Unknown.Copyright terms and licence: Unknown. Img Source


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Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF. (2015, June 28). Dealing with Problem Freelance Design Clients. Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF.

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