What To Do With Difficult Freelancing Clients?

What To Do With Difficult Freelancing Clients?

It’s pretty easy to find articles, chats, and support if you’re a client wishing to kvetch about a freelancer. And I get it: I’ve been on that end of the transaction, too, waiting and wondering if someone is actually going to submit the deliverable or if they fell off the face of the earth. It is def frustrating to pay good money and then feel like the person either gave you subpar work or no work at all. But what about the difficult, unpleasable clients? What’s a freelancer or a consultant to do?

Key topics:

✔️ An ounce of prevention is worth about 20 lbs of cure in this case. Do what you can to filter out the bad apples ahead of time. Not all money is good money. Your sanity and mental health matter, too.
✔️ Have a game plan. If someone slides under the radar who seemed great but turned out to be a nightmare or some major change occurs and a good relationship goes sour, have a plan. Figure out how you could extricate yourself if you needed to hit the escape hatch.
✔️ Always set the rules of engagement from the beginning. In order to run your own business or run your own freelancing desk, you need to have a good backbone.
✔️ Know when to say “no.” If someone is trying to run you over and/or be rude and crass during the intake process, that is a major red flag. The dynamic won’t change once you are freelancing or consulting for them!

Link to article I discuss in this episode:

Need more? Email me: https://causeyconsultingllc.com/contact-causey/


Transcription by Otter.ai. Please forgive any typos!


Welcome to the Causey Consulting podcast. You can find us online anytime at CauseyConsultingLLC.com. And now, here’s your host, Sara Causey. Hello out there. And thanks for tuning in. Hard to believe it’s already July. I mean, I’m not sad, I kind of feel like 2020 was a year where we all went, alright, this one’s kind of just gonna be a throwaway year, we all are gonna remember it. But because of the pandemic, and stay at home orders and all of that, it’s like, Hmm, I don’t know of many people that are gonna look back and go, man, 2020 rad. I’m feeling a bit that way about 2021 I have to be honest, like for me, it got off to a strange start. My January was muddled by the beware of the rabbit in the pot situation where I just had to weird not a good fit clients that I got slammed with back to back. And so for me, the the year got off to a weird start. And then there’s been changes and things going on. You know, I’ve mentioned that I’m working with someone that I affectionately call a wartime con ciliary, trying to get some rather big financial and personal goals going, and those things are going but like it’s still very definitely a process and change can be scary. growth can be painful, getting pushed out of our comfort zone, like even when we know. And we know when we know, when we know that it needs to happen. It still can kind of suck because sometimes while it’s going on. And then in June, much like in January, I guess we got to the halfway point of the year and then I had another two weird experiences back to back. I have to be honest, they were not as bad as the weird experiences that I had back in January. But they were weird and off putting nonetheless. And I want to talk about this a little bit because sometimes articles get written about what to do if you’re a client and you have a freelancer or a consultant that you don’t like you don’t feel like things are going well. What do you do as a client and I do for the record, have compassion for that side of things. Because I myself am a client I engage with freelancers, I get people to do work for me that I outsource. To them, I have a virtual assistant who works for me freelance, my bookkeeper is freelance. So there’s things going on on that side of the transaction that I totally have sympathy with, you know, and sometimes I get people to do some research or data mining for me. And at times, it’s like, Hello, is this guy gonna turn in the deliverable? What’s going on? And this person says they work this many hours, but the output really doesn’t look like it. Well, you know, are they actually doing for that length of time? So I get, I don’t want to get a bunch of hate mail from people going well, let me tell you my horror story of where this Freelancer done me wrong. No, I’ve been through it myself. I have sympathy for it. But I feel like there’s not as much written about what do you do? If you’re a solopreneur? a freelancer, a consultant? Everything looked good at the beginning. And then it went sour. What do you do, because it’s a, it’s your finances, it’s your business. When you’re a small business owner or solopreneur, you’ve decided to leave corporate america and freelance and join the gig economy as how you put food on the table and how you provide for your family. It feels much more intimate. It’s like when you get shanked in the back or you get a cut. It’s like, Oh, you feel it more. You know, when you’re plugged in at a company. And the larger the company, the less impact it seems to have. If somebody calls in and they’re mad about Bob, your coworker did something or your Boston give them a discount or they didn’t get something they thought they were going to it’s kind of like, Oh, well, that’s the company’s problem, not me. It’s not personal. But yet when you’re freelancing, or you’re a solopreneur, or your name is on the door of the small business, it’s really hard sometimes not to take it personally if something doesn’t work out. One of the experiences was really just poop happens type of thing. had a pretty good dynamic going with a particular company that I did some part time freelancing for, on consulting projects, and their management changed. I had some pretty big internal shakeups it went, the situation went even deeper than I had realized. And it was almost like a regime change. And the people they brought in were like total hard asses that that had a chip on their shoulder had something to prove. So it went from being a pretty good, healthy dynamic to being tyrannical. And I thought no, no, no, no, do not want will not do. That’s one of the reasons why I was caution you guys about signing anything where you’re locked in for a prolonged period of time or you don’t have any Kind of emergency trap door like in case of emergency break glass, if there’s a management shakeup, if they want to drop what they’re paying you, if they want to cut your hours in half, all of a sudden, like you need to have some kind of way of protecting yourself and not painting yourself into a corner. So I was relieved that when they had this regime change, where all of a sudden people came in who were authoritarian and and frankly not good to deal with, I was able to just say, you know, I think this is not working out anymore, I’m not going to be able to help you in the way that you want to be helped now that the management has changed, so it’s just just going to have to pass this one by. The other experience was like the Genesis song, the land of confusion. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Today we want this, tomorrow we want that, we want Oh god, what is it Tony Stark rattles off genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist. We, we want that guy, we only want to pay him 50k. And then this person’s over here going, No, we’ll pay more than that. For a rockstar. No, it’s really not in our budget. And and I had an experience like that during the early days of my business. And I told myself never again, do I want to get myself into one of those deals where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. They can’t make up their mind what they want. Every day is a moving target it those types of scenarios make me crazy. It’s one of the reasons quite frankly, just gonna be straight up with you guys. Why I don’t work with very young startups, they there’s too much frenetic, crazy energy. Some people get off on that, you know, they get high on that rush of at 9am. I’m doing this and at 11. I’ve got to scrap all of it. And tomorrow I’ll do something else. And they think it’s appropriate to call it three in the morning and get butthurt if I don’t answer some people enjoy that. I do not. I’m past the point in my life where I want or need to live on the razor’s edge like that have a life. You don’t have other things that I’m working to do and to manifest I enjoy peace. At three in the morning, I’m asleep. So it’s like nah, nah, not for me. I was misled in the situation. I thought that the company was more established than it actually was. I thought that they had more clarity than they actually did. And so it just turned into one of those like, you know, we’re insert want wall horn here. It’s like, oh, oh, I want to use another Genesis reference. It was like, Oh, did I miss again, I think I missed again, ahhhh! So I was talking to a friend of mine about all this just blowing off steam and kvetching. And I think it’s important to do that. In order to move on to put something to bed, it’s good to feel what you need to feel instead of immediately rushing to get rid of that emotion like, oh, man, I feel disappointed. I feel upset, I feel frustrated. Now I’m gonna have to replace this income because the management changed and the new managers are hard asses. And that really sucks. Or, man, I know that this is gonna, this dynamic is not going to go well because I thought they were clearing what they wanted. They’re not, I’m not happy, they’re not going to be happy. This sucks. Like instead of trying to hurry up and run away from those uncomfortable feelings. Feel what you need to feel. Just go ahead and let it out. express what you need to say about it. complained to a friend write about it in your journal, punch a punching bag, do something to get that stuff out of you so that it doesn’t just fester and boil. It’s like I talked about the love and light people. Now my conciliatory said yeah, and those people are typically seething with rage. Like you don’t want to do that. You’ve got to have an outlet to let that stuff out. So I was talking to my friend. And I said, you know, I’m probably going to record a podcast episode around this because it sucks when you do consulting work or freelancing, and you feel like all the articles are written about what to do if you’re a client who gets screwed over. But what if you’re the freelancer, and you get screwed over? You know, what if you’re that person that’s sitting there going, Oh, crap, I thought this client understood the rules of engagement. I thought that they were going to comply with the program. They’re not I want to make a tough decision here and it sucks. Like I want to be able to help those people. And this is a funny little aside, I asked him you do you want me to use your real name in the episode or do you want to pick out a nom de plume? And he thought about it. He was like, You know what? Call me Jade. I was like, You’re You’re sure? Then you want 1000s of people to hear you over the airwaves being called Jade and yeah, yeah, that’ll be cool. And if that’s my fake name on the podcast, then I’ll always know when you’re talking about me and I’m like, Well, okay, Jade, it is that is definitely different than john doe or john q public. I will give him that. So Jay and I are talking about this and I’m telling him all about like, This is so frustrating. I you know, I had this this experience in January, I guess it was just due for Six months ago, prod with a hot poker. And he said, You know, I think one of the things you have to ask, you know, after you bring your emotions out, you get out the frustration, one of the questions you have to ask is, is this even going to matter? Like, six months from now, when it’s January of 2022? Are you even going to remember these people’s names? You know, is it when the situation is not so raw? And it’s not fresh? Like, is any of this going to matter to you? And that’s been helpful advice for me, not just in these types of business situations, but for any kind of hiccup or upset in life in general. Like, is this even gonna matter? You know, and it’s funny how these synchronicities play out in our lives, because in the same way that Jay and I are, we’re talking about this Mike constantly area, and I talked about this too, you know, like, if when and one of the things he said is if I can get over something, if I realized that I’m annoyed, or irritated, but it’s not the end of the world, it’s, it’s unpleasant, and I can get over it. That’s the best thing for everyone. But if I really need to go to war with somebody, if we really need to have it out, then it’s on. And I have a lot of respect for that. Because there are times in life when we do need to go to war, we do need to stand up for ourselves, we do need to have that backbone. And there are other times when it’s like, you know what, it’s not worth it. Yo Jaden, I talked about that, too. There are times in life where some minor slight, some minor irritation is just not worth the amount of dark energy that you have to conjure up the amount of mental and physical and potentially even spiritual turmoil that you have to put yourself through to feel the bitterness, the hate the desire for revenge, or, you know, with your teeth bared and your claws out, sometimes it’s just not freakin worth it. And there’s really something to be said for picking your battles and being artful about when is it time to go to war. And when is it time to just lay your sword down in the name of peace, it truly as I get older, and I have more and more life experiences more and more business experiences. as a consultant, I realized like sometimes it’s just not freakin worth it. It’s better to say you know what this is not working out. And then part ways as peacefully as you can, and move on. Now, I am going to record an episode dealing with what happens in the times when you can’t move on. There was a story that a friend of mine told me years ago that has always stuck with me about what happens when you can’t move on what happens when you can’t let it go. And I really feel like that would bring a lot of value to people. So I am going to record an episode about that. But suffice it to say there are some situations in life where letting it go. It’s like the the analogy about forgiveness is a gift you give yourself it’s not about saying that what the other person did to you that harmed you or hurt you doesn’t matter. It’s about you not continuing to carry that with you like you’ve got a hot coal in your hand waiting to throw it at them. Sometimes the most healing thing that you can do is to just set that hot coal down and move on. There’s an article I read on And.co. In fairness, just disclaimer here, I don’t know much about this company. I have not used them. This is not an endorsement of their company. One way or the other. I’m just repeating some information that I found on one of their articles that I thought was really, really helpful and insightful. And I will drop a link to this article in the post for this podcast episode so that you can find it yourself and read it if you want to. The title of the article is how to spot and successfully manage a difficult freelance client. And they give some analogies of stories from people that have been through it, which I get. And I I’m very happy that they’re able to provide us with some good solid knowledge here. And I want to talk about some of the things that they mentioned. One of them is always set ground rules, always. And I love that because that’s something that I tell you guys all the time in these episodes, you need to set the rules of engagement. Don’t pussyfoot around, don’t get scared, just say it. Here’s what I do. Here’s what I don’t do be very clear. So that hopefully, you know at least in a perfect world, you’re trying to avoid isunderstandings. You’re trying to avoid somebody thinki g that it’s X when really t’s Y. is it perfect? Hell no. There are still times when I a super clear about what I’m goin to do and what I’m not going to do what the deliverable is going to be. And the client is still like, Oh, well, I thought ou were gonna do this. And it’s like, no, I why, oh, there’s othing in the scope of work tha says anything about that. It s sometimes I think they jus don’t listen. And sometime I think it’s more like happy ea s. They think they can manipula e you into doing somethin by going up Well, I thought ou were gonna do this. And it’s like no, that we literall didn’t talk about that at all. o to give a concrete example f that, one thing that I don’t o is pre screen or pre intervie , or do first round intervie s of candidates in my HR consu ting work, I just don’t do it. A d I’m very clear and telling lients and prospects about th t upfront. So that at least th oretically, there shouldn’ be any surprises, but I still et a few strays here and ther that will say, Well, I thought ou were going to intervie this person ahead of time. An it’s like, no, I thought thought that I was clear, I thought we understood. And ther ‘s a reason for that there’s method behind the madness. So in the early days of the busi ess, when I was testing in beta esting, I did interview I did ha e those times where I would pr screen or I go through some que tionnaire, often it felt kin of inane. Because your clients on’t always know good intervie tactics. So you kind of have o counterbalance that out some imes. But candidates would te l me, I don’t understa d why I have to go through preliminary pre screen with you And then I have to go through preliminary pre screen with the client. I actually had a guy on time in a very, like highly c mpetitive it field that told me ll the same questions that you asked and wrote up and sent to he client, they turned right ar und and asked me the same que tions again. And I really f lt like it was a waste of my ti e to have to go through the same interview twice. And, you know some people might go like, I as arrogant, or it was awfully heeky of him to say that. I isagree. That’s a man who know the value of his time, and it’s a man who understands redundan y is silly. There’s no reason f r two people to do the exact sa e prescreen I cannot agree mo e. So as I refined my business model, I just started telling lients, I’m not going to do th t it’s repetitive. It’s redundan , it wastes the candidat s time. And candidates will fre uently have questions that I c n’t answer because I’m an outsi e consultant, you know, is your atch on your 401k projecte to go up? Is there is PTO nego iable? I mean, these are thin s that I can’t answer for all y various and sundry clients. So what do I do? I hunt heads. I am an old school talent sourcer lash headhunter? I find people t at make absolute sense for your requirements. There’s no like, Whoa, what the hell is this guy doing in the stack of resumes nd there’s, there’s no weird an malies, there’s no stuff fr m left field. It’s a very sur ical, insightful way of passing he data on to the client s that the client can ultimate y make the decision. If you talk you stole, you know, the stil yet there are times when som body’s like, what, you’re g nna pre screen this guy for me? o, no. So even though sometime we set ground rules, doesn’t lways mean that people are list ning. And you may have to go ba k and repeat them. I know, I’ e told you guys before, my tacti is no, we talked about this, re ember, and then I go back and reference the initial conversa ion. If they continue trying t push the boundaries or to run o er the top of me past that rem nder, then it’s time to take a l ok at whether or not the rela ionship even needs to continue So further down in this article, they go over their list of difficult clients. it’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives us some good fodder. One is the demanders. So these are the people that expect a lot from you. And they they want the world sometimes and then some another is the reluctance. Now a reluctant is somebody that I might label as more of an you’re the first line they have under the reluctance is I’ve hired freelancers before but they just didn’t work out. bom, bom you can almost hear somebody on the phone with body language like this, like your heart freelancers before but they just didn’t work out. One piece of advice I would give you on that is, do you think, okay, think about this in advance. I’m not going to tell you one way or the other. It’s your business. But I just want you to contemplate this in advance. Do you want to hitch your wagon to e? Or do you want to saddle up and take this ride for your project work with somebody who’s starting off the conversation by saying of hard Freelancer before but it just didn’t work out? It’s food for thought. Now, the next type of difficult client on their list is my absolute least favorite. It’s the most triggering for me, and it’s the one where I’ll just be like, nope, nope, nope. Them micromanagers and here’s their write up for that. micromanagers want to control every minute detail. Everything you decide to do has to have there okay? These types of clients are especially difficult for creative freelancers, designers, musicians, writers in the like without room to act. exercise your creativity, the project can get very confining and draining. Now for me from an HR staffing and recruiting consulting perspective, I’m the subject matter expert. I’m the one that spent time in the trenches, I’ve made a lot of money, and I’ve lost a lot of money. And I’ve had to go and make it back again, I know the strategies that work and I know the strategies that don’t, I’ve also invested a lot of time and money in continuing education so that I can stay aware of changing trends, best practices, what’s going on out in the marketplace, strategies that work strategies that don’t, and I feel very comfortable very at home in that Smee role. I don’t have any imposter syndrome, I don’t sit around and go, am I really qualified, I have the blood, sweat and tears, the scars that tell me I’m qualified for it. It frustrates me because it’s like you are hiring an expert to do this work for you. I am not your employee. If you want to hire a contract employee, you can do that. You can call up any temp agency and say I want a contractor to get funneled through your company that will do X, Y and Z. I want them to show up at the office every day and be button seat or I will allow them I will allow them to work remotely. But they’re going to have to have a company provided laptop so that I could turn on the webcam secretly and surveil them at any point in time. It’s just not for me, that’s that’s not the world that I live in. That’s not something that I want to welcome into my practice. So if I get any whiff at all during the intake call, or any of the preceding emails, that the person is going to be a micromanager. And they’re going to need to know every tiny detail, they’re gonna be calling me at three o’clock in the morning, they’re going to be a bugaboo. They’re going to want me to be on zoom calls every five minutes, I just say no, to me that that is a huge turnoff. The next on the list is the miaa. And then right up, says ever had a client go incommunicado, a few days into the project, you send email, after email, follow up with calls, but you just can’t reach them. And you find yourself stuck with no feedback, no idea on how to proceed further and no payments reaching your bank account. That’s also super frustrating. And sometimes you don’t always know if somebody is going to go missing an action on you. Or maybe they really do have an emergency. I mean, especially during not and not to be morbid, I hate to say this, but like during the time of COVID when there were so many COVID cases and the pandemic was at a high point like you didn’t know there were times when somebody would disappear. And you’re like, could they be sick with COVID? Could they have had a death in the family? like are they in the hospital? So I do understand that there was this period of time in in 2020, where somebody might have gone missing and then you found out they had been deathly ill? Is that always What has happened? No, it isn’t. Some people are just flaky. And I think it’s important to try to weed the flakes out at the beginning. The final type of person that they put on their list is the unreliable, unreliable clients or the one category of difficult we would classify as bad. I’m gonna make a slight interjection and say like, I think that they’re kinder than I would be. These are the partners who make a habit out of paying late or not at all. While one of the gambles you take as a self mployed person is chasing down ew business and making ends eet and unconventional ways. ou should never accept a client ho refuses to pay you your fair hake, as established in a igned agreement. I completely gree with this too. I mean, and nd it’s another reason why I on’t get into the contingency nly or commission only see it acks up, the syllabus became xplicit, the it Jacks up the ash flow of your business. And t also becomes very frustrating hen you’re throwing all of this nergy into nothing. It’s like he analogy I use before that ary sobble told me if most of hat you’re working on vaporates into space dust, hat’s your life. I like making oney. I like knowing that if I ut forth effort, I’m going to et paid for that effort. And t’s also a safeguard against ome of the other types of flaky eople that are on this list. So hat way, if you get into a ituation and you realize, Oh, his person is not going to be atisfied, no matter what I do, r, oh crap, this client was reat. But now the management as changed and it’s terrible. f you find yourself in a ituation like that, you’re not s likely to get hung out to dry nd not paid. At the very least ou can sort of lick your wounds y saying all right, well, I’m onna have to let this client o. The dynamic has changed. t’s not healthy. It’s a toxic ituation now, but at least I’m oing to get that final payment nd I can move on with my life. hereas you know when you’re oing contingency based work, if ou find find yourself in a oxic situation. You’re all tressed out emotionally. But hen you’re also going to be tressed out financially. It’s ike a terrible double whammy. nd as my final thought on this, do want to take a different ack with something that they ay right here toward the end of he art the article, excuse me, klahoma allergies, folks. So hey write while one of the ambles you take as a self e ployed person is chasing down n w business and making ends m et in unconventional ways. You s ould never accept a client who r fuses to pay you your fair s ake as established in the sign a reement. Yeah, of course, you s ould never accept abuse you s ould never accept clients are j st going to refuse to pay you. T at’s never something that you s ould take lying down. As I s id, earlier, in this episode, t ere’s a time to just set your s ord down in the name of peace a d there’s a time to go to war. Y u know, the The larger the b ll, that person has run up on y u and they’re refusing to pay i . That might be an area where y u’re going to have to go to w r. At the very least you might w nt to call your attorney and s y what are my options here? B t I want to I want to pick a art this, this phrase here. W ll, one of the gambles that yo take as a self employed pe son is chasing down new bu iness. How much does it suck to be in a chasing space, one of th things that I absolutely de ested. In my first iteration of self employment was chasing, it made me feel horrible. And th re were times when I felt li e a glorified telemarketer or so e kind of email, email more gl rified email marketer, I was ju t all the time, sending out em ils and making phone calls an chasing people down. And ev n when I would have a client wh signed a fee agreement and ga e me a search assignment, th re’ll be times where they wo ld just be like one of the mi a clients that’s mentioned on th s list, they would just ghost me They didn’t have any skin in th game. Yeah, sure, they si ned a fee agreement saying th y would pay me there’s no gu rantee they’re going to hire an body from me or that they’re no going to try to go around th back door and hire that pe son surreptitiously without me knowing about it, so they co ld try to avoid paying a fee. Th re’s all kinds of sneaky be avior that can happen when yo ‘re not getting paid for the ti e that you’re working when yo ‘re just giving everything aw y upfront for free and then ho ing it works out. But I I wa t to caution you against from a indset perspective, seeing se f employment as a giant ga ble. I want to steer you away fr m feeling like you need to ch se you need to always be pu suing you need to always be hu tling. Part of that is just th this hustle porn culture we ha e now like I’m always on the gr nd. Oh, a always, b be, C. C osing, always be closing. It’s ike, Look, real life is not lec Baldwin screaming at you in lengarry Glen Ross. I know a ot of people like to think hat’s cool. And yes, as a scene n a movie, where he’s yelling t people in a real estate ffice, it makes for great inema. In real life living that ay. It sucks. So from a mindset erspective, the more that you an channel in energy of being onfident, feeling safe, knowing hat, you know, insert your elief system here, God will lways provide for you. The Lord s my provider, God is my ource. My job is not my source. he gig economy is not my ource, God is my source, or the niverse or my higher self, I’ll igure it out, like the book, eel the fear and do it anyway. n the event that the nuclear ption happens, and I wake up ne day, and I have no clients, ‘ll handle it, I will figure ut a way to handle it. Or that ust means that God or the niverse is clearing out space or something even better to ome along. If these clients eave, they the little birdies ly out of the nest, it just eans that something even igger, something even better, s coming along. But I think hen we look at self employment s this big, scary gamble. Like ho I’m going to have to always e chasing people down, I’m oing to always have to feel ike I’m feast or famine. I’m alking on a tightrope here, we ind of unknowingly make that a elf fulfilling prophecy. And as omeone who has lived that efore, and went into a suicidal epression, a dark night of the oul after it ended, I would not ish that on anybody. So I eally do not want you to go nto this thinking. It’s a big amble. It’s big and scary. It’s ig and ugly. The more that we ell ourselves that the more ikely that is to manifest. And also want to caution you gainst chasing, you know if ou’ve ever been approached by a alesperson who was very begi ery desperate, it didn’t make ou want to do business with hem. Like it or not. I know ome people might bristle when I ay this, but like it or not uman beings are bandwidth. reatures and people would ather jump on the bandwagon ith a winner than jump on the andwagon with someone who’s esperate and beggy. So, parting ords here, Don’t be that guy. We hope you enjoyed today’s episode. If you haven’t already, please take a quick second to subscribe to this podcast and share it with your friends. Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next time.

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