In a perfect world, all employees would be respected by their bosses and coworkers and there wouldn’t be a need for company policies to remind people how they should treat others. But, as we all know, the world’s not perfect so measures are put into place to make sure that companies do not exploit or abuse their employees.
When you’re a freelancer, you don’t have a team of people who can support you if a client is treating you unfairly. You are not an employee and often don’t have the same rights that one has. You may be forced to deal with difficult and disrespectful clients.
My experiences with disrespectful and difficult clients
Earlier this year, I made a mistake. To me, this mistake was not life or death. It is something that happens regularly to all kinds of people including major brands and companies. However, the mistake was entirely my fault.
My client decided that this mistake was a very big deal. She emailed and texted me repeatedly telling me that it was a “stupid error” and reflected poorly on my professional reputation. Although I immediately acknowledged my mistake, offered a solution, and told her it wouldn’t happen again, she felt the need to continue telling me how unacceptable it was. She then threatened to fire me if I made another mistake.
A different client refused to respect my working hours or our agreed upon time package. He would text or call at all hours and expected prompt replies to his emails on the weekends. No matter how many times I told him that I didn’t work on weekends and I wasn’t a 24/7 on-call assistant, he wouldn’t accept my boundaries. He would regularly tell me that I wasn’t meeting his expectations and that I was in jeopardy of losing my job.
Thankfully, both of these clients are no longer in my life.
There’s no justifiable reason for disrespect
There are people who, no matter what you say to them, will keep going on a tirade until they’ve worn themselves out or feel that their point has been made. To these people, apologies mean nothing and can even be construed as arguing or covering your ass.
This level of disrespect is not something that anyone should have to put up with. Everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you’re an intern or a CEO. Anyone can make simple mistakes or “stupid errors”. Sometimes we look at something and it looks correct, but it isn’t. Sometimes we’re distracted when we do a piece of work and it turns out wrong. Sometimes technology malfunctions and it’s no one’s fault at all. It’s not possible to catch every error every time. No matter how vigilant you are, at some point, an error will slip through.
Making a mistake doesn’t give someone the right to berate you or make you feel like you’re an idiot. In addition, a mistake doesn’t need to be brought up repeatedly. Once the mistake is apologized for and addressed, it should be dropped. Difficult clients will often continue to harp on a mistake long after the dust has settled.
How to view client/freelancer relationships
Sometimes, it can be very difficult to be a freelancer. Instead of having one boss, you have multiple bosses. Each client that you deal with expects you to report to them. Many clients don’t care if there are other people or obligations that need your attention. They only care about what you do for them.
As a freelancer, clients often feel that you work for them instead of with them. I prefer to see my relationship with clients as a partnership. When a freelancer and client are able to see each other as partners, the relationship works best for everyone involved. There tends to be a higher level of respect for a partner or collaborator than there is for an employee.
Freelancing is still a bit of a wild west situation. Clients can up and quit on you without any notice, they can refuse to pay for services rendered, and they can make ridiculous demands on your time and energy without any consequence. As an employee of a company, all of these actions would be grounds for pursuing legal action. In the freelance world, it often isn’t worth it and the laws aren’t always on the freelancer’s side.
Some of the worst treatment I received was from other small business owners refusing to pay for services. One was a woman who was doing the same type of work that I was doing. She refused to pay me a minimal sum for work completed and then chose to completely ignore my requests for payment. Another was a long-time client who had some personal and business issues and decided not to pay me for my last month of work. This was a large sum of money that made things very tight for my household.
People who run small business should understand how disruptive or devastating it can be to not receive payment for work completed. Unfortunately, when the tables are turned some people feel that the golden rule doesn’t apply to them.
The most important lessons I’ve learned about client and freelancer relationships are:
- Treat others how you’d like to be treated
- Believe someone when they show you who they are
- Once you’ve been disrespected or disrespected someone else, the relationship is damaged and it’s hard to go back
What to do when you have a disrespectful and difficult client
My number one piece of advice for dealing with these types of clients is…don’t.
Cut them loose. There are enough good clients out there that you don’t have to deal with the bad. It’s unlikely that you will change someone’s core personality so it’s best to find someone who has the same beliefs that you do. If you think that you can change someone or you don’t want to lose the client then make sure you set firm boundaries and stick to them. I would still recommend getting your ducks in a row so that you can replace the disrespectful client with someone else in the near future.
Respect is something that is essential for all relationships. If it does not exist then the relationship is one-sided and destined to fail. Only keep clients that you can build a great relationship with that is built on mutual trust and respect. Cut loose the people that make you feel badly. One major perk of being a freelancer is that you get to choose who you work with! Make a policy of zero tolerance for disrespect and stick to it.