Leaving Work Behind

3 Signs You’re Dealing With a Problematic Freelance Client (And What to Do About It!)

Written by Alexander Cordova on September 5, 2017. 0 Comments

A man holding his head in his hands.Every job is a good job (or so the saying goes!), but experienced freelancers know that’s not always the case. There are some clients that, to put it kindly, can be a source of constant headaches. They may help pay the bills on time – assuming they’ve paid at all – but that doesn’t mean they’re any less troublesome.

If you want to succeed as a freelancer, you’ll need to recognize troublesome clients and deal with them accordingly. In some cases, this may mean opting to cut the relationship entirely. On the flip side, it can also pay off to approach them with a bit more diplomacy when the relationship is worth salvaging.

In this article, I’ll walk you through three signs you’re dealing with a problematic freelance client. For each one, we’ll talk about how they can affect your business and then I’ll teach you what to do about them. Let’s get down to business!

1. They Don’t Want to Use a Contract

An example of a freelance contract.

A solid freelance contract is key to protecting your interests.

Contracts are one of your most valuable weapons as a freelancer. They protect you from getting taken advantage of, and they set the terms for your work relationships from the get go. In short, they’re non-negotiable.

So far in my career, I’ve run into very few serious clients that were reluctant to use contracts. In fact, they provided them in most cases! Here’s why not using one is a bad omen:

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it took me a long time to start using contracts for my freelance work. In most cases, I just did the work and trusted in the kindness of my clients. As you can imagine, that attitude got me burned a few times.

These days, if a customer doesn’t provide their own contract, I supply one for them. You don’t even need a lawyer, simply look for a tried-and-true template and customize it for each project. Once you’re armed with the customized contract, get an agreement over email or via digital signature. Then you’re set.

If you run into a client that absolutely refuses to use contracts, the smart things to do is move on. Any good businessman knows the importance of a solid contract, after all. However, that doesn’t mean you need to go in guns blazing if a client is reluctant to use one. It may be they don’t see the need for it, and in that case, it’s up to you to explain how it helps you both.

2. Payments Are Constantly Delayed

An example of a PayPal payment.

The best kinds of payments are those that arrive on time!

It doesn’t matter if you’re working for a large international business or a lone customer – they need to respect the payment dates you set.

I’m willing to bet that if you’ve been freelancing for a while, you’ve run into a client that always pays late. Here’s why you should run from them:

In my days, I’ve run into everything from clients that always have an excuse not to pay on time to those that disappear altogether. It’s incredibly frustrating when that happens.

Nowadays, I always make it a point to include clear payment terms in my contracts (whether the client or I supplied them). Another great idea is to add a late payment fee that kicks if your customer misses the deadline. Keep in mind – this fee isn’t meant to be exorbitant, just a gentle reminder to be on time.

Naturally, you’ll also want to include ‘pay-by dates’ in your invoices as well as ask for deposits up front to protect you. The latter only makes sense for project-based payments though, instead of ongoing work.

In any case, if you’re struggling to find clients that respect your business, you may be looking in the wrong places. If you’re a freelance writer, you’ll have more luck using professional job boards, such as Paid to Blog.

3. A Lack of Communication

An example of a follow-up email.

Lack of communication is a serious issue that can hurt your projects.

Communication is essential for any relationship to prosper. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a budding romance or your newest freelance client: if you don’t talk, things will often turn ugly. That goes double for remote workers, since we need constant communication to know whether a project is going well. It doesn’t matter if you use email, Slack, Skype, carrier pigeons, or phone calls; so long as your clients are responsive when necessary.

As a freelancer, a lack of communication with your customers can cripple your work. Let’s talk about why:

I’ve personally run into every type of client – from those that email you every five minutes to those that take days to get back to you. Personally, I’d rather stick with the former, even if they can be a pain as well. At least you never have to send them polite reminders to answer previous emails.

If you run into that scenario, your contract can save you here as well. Aside from sending reminders, you can also include communication clauses. For example, I have a client that requires I get back to them within 24 hours during weekdays in case a problem arises. It sounds strict, but I get it since it keeps things moving. As a freelancer, such a clause can benefit you as well.


If you’re new to freelancing, chances are you’re going to want to sign up as many clients as you can. After all, it doesn’t matter if they’re easy to deal with or not as long as you get paid, right? Personally, I beg to differ. The fact is some freelance clients are more trouble than they’re worth. There are ways to deal with problem customers, but you also need to value your peace of mind.

Here are three ways to spot if you’re dealing with one of these problematic freelance clients:

  1. They’re unwilling to use a contract. To fix this, you can try and supply one before walking away.
  2. Payments are consistently late. Address this by enacting late fees.
  3. There’s a lack of communication. Ensure the blame doesn’t rest on you with a communication clause.

What questions do you have about dealing with problematic freelance clients? Ask away in the comments section below.

Image credit: Pixabay.

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