If you’ve been living the indy life for quite some time, chances are you have a few entertaining tales to share. Hopefully those stories are more good than bad, but who doesn’t love to hear a bad client account every now and then? I caught up with a few indys and asked them about their own worst freelance client stories, and more importantly, the lessons we can learn from them.
Tales From Other Freelancers
1. Aaron Zakowski, Facebook Ads Expert
The Story: “A number of years ago, I was helping a large client with an ‘important’ project that they said had a tight deadline. Unfortunately, they asked me to do it the week that I was scheduled to go away to Barcelona with my wife to celebrate our tenth anniversary. I wanted to keep the client happy, so every few hours I would take a break from site-seeing with my wife, jump into Starbucks for an hour or two and make sure the project was going smoothly with the other people involved. In the end, we still had a nice vacation, but the client ended up postponing the project for a few more weeks. All that time I took away from my special vacation didn’t matter at all.”
The Lesson: “This story taught me the important lesson to make sure that I always prioritize important family time first. Looking back, I made a mistake by not discussing the time schedule and my personal plans with the client. I almost ruined a special vacation with my wife (which we don’t get to take often). And, in the long run, that client didn’t have any impact on my long-term career. If the same thing happened today, I would probably tell the client that I’m out of office that week, and that the project will need to wait until I return.”
2. Maddy Osman, SEO Content Strategist
The Story: “At the time, I’d made a point of getting ahead on work for a client who had assigned me various content creation projects for at least half a year. One of my current projects was [creating] copy for a saltwater fish store. He told me that I wrote ‘saltwater’ wrong, so I went in and changed it to two words, but then he got frustrated and told me to change it back (perhaps realizing his own error). I was super confused by what the actual issue was, and he started calling me several times in a row. Eventually I picked up, trying to figure out what was wrong. Somehow the call turned into a yelling match, with the client calling me stupid. He ‘fired’ me, which was fine, since this wasn’t the first time he had berated me in a way that really wasn’t professional.”
The Lesson: “I really should’ve listened to my gut and cut off the business relationship with him before this point. Even though I wanted the money, I learned that money isn’t the end-all-be-all. It’s equally important to work with clients who bring out the best in you, and who allow you the creative freedom to do the things you’re best at.”
My Own Bad Client Experience
The Story: I had just moved to Tel Aviv and was eager to get my feet wet in the local economy. Within a few weeks, I was referred to a newer restaurant, and began working with the owner to improve their digital presence. After a month of work, I sent my first invoice, and heard nothing but crickets. The restaurant went out of business a few months later, and I never received a dime (or should I say, a shekel) for the time and effort I invested on behalf of this business.
The Lesson: Before you start any work for a client, always ask for a deposit up-front — and be sure to include this type of clause in your contracts. Also, be sure not to start any work for the client until you actually receive the deposit. I typically ask for 50 percent of the total amount up-front, but if I’m working on an hourly basis, I’ll estimate the total amount of hours I need to devote to the client, and then ask for 50 percent of this amount up-front.
We’ve all been there, and you likely have some bad freelance client stories of your own. Sure, it can be difficult to tackle these challenging situations in the moment — and, of course, there are lots of less-than-desirable clients out there. But, as is the case in any relationship, communication and trust are integral to long-term success. Building these two pillars at the start will help you create an important foundation with any client.