The Best Way to Avoid Awkward Client Situations

I have a confession to make: I used to have a habit of letting clients run the show in my business.

When I was first getting started as a freelance designer, I just wanted to be helpful and make people happy. I thought that the best way to do that was by saying “yes” to helping everyone -- and then helping them on their terms.

It’s something I know a lot of freelancers and creative entrepreneurs do. And it’s a big mistake.

When a client wants to do business with you, you need to operate like a business.  Because when you don’t, well... that’s when things get awkward.


While letting other people tell you how to help them might work when it comes to the way you operate just as a friend or with your family, it’s not a good way to build a business.

When a client wants to do business with you, you need to operate like a business.

Because when you don’t, well... that’s when things get awkward.

You look desperate

Imagine you went to see a movie with your significant other and the two of you are standing in line to buy tickets.

If the people in front of you said, “We’d like to buy 3 tickets... and we brought our french horns because we’d also like to practice for an upcoming holiday performance while the movie is playing,” do you think the theatre would brush it off so they could still sell 3 tickets?

No! Because in the end, it wouldn’t be worth it for them. Everyone else watching the movie would walk out annoyed, angry, and demand a refund.

And it’s not worth it for you to deal with clients causing you more chaos and/or stress than enjoyment. It’s going to negatively impact your ability to do a lot of other things.

Act like a business by letting them know that the working relationship isn’t a good fit and let them go. Not everyone will be the right client to do business with you, and that's completely fine. (If you realize you won't be a good fit when they inquire, don't feel obligated to say yes to the project.) Some examples of what you could say:

  • "Hi Jan! Based on your needs, I don't think I would be the best fit for this job to get you the results you want. Here are two other copywriters that might be able to help you."
  • "Hi Kelly! We've finished your Home page copy, but because I want you to be 100% happy with all of your copy, I think it'd be best if we ended our time together here. I have two other copywriting colleagues that I can refer you to finish out this project."

YOU DON'T VALUE YOUR WORK

Let’s say that after the movie you stopped for dinner at your favorite restaurant and decided to order your go-to sandwich. On the menu, it’s $12.99. But when the waitress comes around to take your order, you say, “I’d like the sandwich, but I’d only like to pay $5 for it today since I could get a sandwich at Subway for that price.”

Would the waitress agree and give you what you asked for, at the price you requested?

Heck no. And you shouldn’t do that with clients either.

Act like a business by setting your prices and sticking to them. Do this by assessing your budget so you know how much you need or want to make. Then, research industry prices for similar quality offers and decide how much you’re going to charge for specific work. Communicate clear expectations in a contract with your clients prior to starting a project and then stick with them.

"But, people never want to pay my prices!"

So, here's what you can do:

  • Always focus on the value or results you provide, not just what you specifically do
  • Take a hard look at your website and brand, and make sure they represent you well and also communicate your value
  • If their budget is $500, and your package is $700, try to take something out of your package to bring the price down, while still meeting their needs

If a client is always asking for more work than they’re paying for, start replying to their requests with, “I’d love to do [insert their request]! It’s going to cost [insert your price for the additional work]. Will that still fit your budget?”

YOU'RE DISORGANIZED

I talk a lot about contracts, timelines, welcome packets, and other boundary-setting essentials that will safeguard you from most potential client-induced headaches. And that’s because these things are so important -- especially if you’re a service-oriented entrepreneur like me, who just wants to help people.

Act like a business by establishing systems and processes that you follow with every single client. It makes you look more professional and it protects the work you do.

The best way to avoid awkward client situations is to act like a business by establishing:

  • Client expectations

  • Prices and payment guidelines

  • And clear systems and processes for onboarding and managing clients

Outline these items in your welcome packets and your contracts. If a client starts to scope creep, it's easy (and non-confrontational) to say, "As our contract stated..." and get everyone on the same page quickly.

At the end of the day, remember that you – not your clients – are in charge of your business.

Which awkward situation do you want to make sure you never experience? Let me know which tips you’re implementing to avoid the awkwardness by sharing them in the comments.

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