10 clients you’ll meet as a freelancer

The good, the bad, and the slightly annoying.

Jeff Cardello
October 31, 2017
Freelancing

The clients you work with can be the greatest part of freelancing. Those relationships will be as different as the projects you work on. And even the most difficult clients can be easier to manage with a shift in your approach. Here’s a list of 10 clients you may encounter along the way.

1. The Shatner

The Shatner tends to be overdramatic, reacting emphatically to all feedback and suggested changes. Little things get big reactions from The Shatner.

A conversation with The Shatner may go as follows:

You: So this page is getting a little busy. I’m thinking we get rid of these two images.

The Shatner: Must. Keep. Images. All ... will be … lost.

You: Are ... you okay?

What to do:

Set your phasers to “chill.” Accept The Shatner’s overwrought performances and, with time, you may even find them endearing. Don’t let someone else’s emotional state affect your wellbeing. Let them get it out of their system and they’ll often emerge more reasonable.

2. The Microscopist

The Microscopist questions almost every element of your design. Whether it’s a font choice, placement of a button, or the organization of navigational menu, the Microscopist always needs to know why. They’ll email throughout the day to check in and offer endless feedback.

What to do:

  • Clearly define the goals of the project
  • Map content and create detailed wireframes
  • Make sure the client understands the plan and your approach
  • Answer questions about functionality and visual elements before you start designing
  • Schedule weekly check-ins to discuss progress, next steps, and possible roadblocks

By preparing the client ahead of time and communicating along the way, you’ll minimize major changes, unsolicited feedback, and constant interruptions. Be proactive about helping the client have confidence in you and your process — eliminate their need to put you and your work under the microscope.

3. The Tommy Wiseau

The Room has been termed “the Citizen Kane of bad films.” Tommy Wiseau funded, starred in, wrote, and directed this laughable piece of cinema. It’s the kind of terrible you can’t turn away from, and because of this, it has become a cult classic.

The Tommy Wiseau will put on many hats and wear each one badly. Whether it’s taking low-quality photos, writing copy with its own invented grammar, or trying his hand at graphic design, The Tommy Wiseau will provide abominable content. And much like the famous words of his lead character, you may find yourself yelling “You’re tearing me apart!” while dealing with his lackluster work.

What to do:

You need to give The Tommy Wiseau props for trying. Let him know you admire his commitment, and help him understand that no one person can do everything well. Show him how poor content has a negative impact on an otherwise solid design.

We do wish you the best in trying to be the voice of reason, because much like the real Tommy Wiseau, they tend to ignore well intentioned advice. Reader, there was a theatrical release of The Room.

4. The Dictator

Every idea The Dictator has is brilliant and should not be questioned. Ever. They talk over you and all communication is one-sided. The Dictator surrounds themself with people too afraid to disagree with their supreme leadership.

A “conversation” with The Dictator generally goes something like this:

The Dictator: Everything on this page needs to be bigger! Headlines! Images! This page must have an impact.

You: But if we do that ...

The Dictator: I know what needs to be done.

You: But if you would just stop and consider …

The Dictator: Silence!

What to do:

It’s best not to join The Dictator’s regime. But if you do find yourself under their rule, appeal to their inner desire to be the victor. Show them what the competition is doing and explain how your strategies will defeat their enemy. A superior website can be a powerful weapon in the battle of marketing.

5. The Charity Case

Maybe it’s a friend who needs a website for their small business, or a family member who wants help making a newsletter for their neighborhood organization? These projects almost always end up taking more time and effort than you planned. And for minimum or nonexistent pay.

What to do:

Here’s the hard truth, my friend: you agreed to do this project. Bitterness and resentment will only make the experience worse and zap your energy. It’s time to summon your generosity and grit — push through and deliver on your promise. At the very least, you’ll have something new for your portfolio. And let this be a hard-won lesson for future you: be selective about the projects you fill your time with.

6. The Ted Talks Too Much

The Ted Talks Too Much goes on and on describing their grand vision for a project. They sprinkle their speech with the latest buzzwords and references to trendy technologies. It all sounds good in a general sense, but at a certain point you start to wonder if they understand what they’re saying or know what they need.

What to do:

Amidst their lengthy monologues, there are hidden grains of truth. Listen for these truths and use them to help your client define and reach their goals.

7. The Heartbroken Client

For every tiresome client, there’s a problematic freelancer. The Heartbroken Client has worked with at least a few of them. Their trust has been eroded by people who’ve handed over shoddy work, have poor communication skills, or disappeared in the middle of a project. And now you have a nervous client who has cheerless tales of freelancers past and a tendency to micromanage.

What to do:

You have work ahead to regain the client’s trust. Be clear and consistent with your communication. Never miss a deadline. Produce quality work and avoid being a flake. Show your client they can fall in love with freelancers again.

8. The Unstable Element

The Unstable Element is known for their unpredictable highs and lows. One moment you’re the best freelancer they’ve ever worked with — the next, everything you’ve done is completely wrong and needs to be redone.

The Unstable Element loves sending emails at 1 am with changes for a site that’s scheduled to launch the next morning. They’ll follow up at 7 am if they haven’t heard back. At some point, you’ll fool yourself into thinking you’ve figured out The Unstable Element, but they’ll always find new ways to surprise you with their erratic behavior.

What to do:

Set boundaries early on and stick to them. The Unstable Element exists because other freelancers have refused to push back and say no to unacceptable behavior. Have a well-defined timeline and check in to make sure the client understands what changes are within scope. If it’s an especially turbulent experience, there’s no shame in walking away.

9. The Blair Witch Client

You start out with the best of intentions. You’ve set goals and have a map you need to follow. But as you get deeper into the project, the less and less things make sense. There’s being “in the weeds,” but you find yourself lost deep in the forest. The client tossed the map on day one and you have no idea how to get back on track. You’re initial optimism has been replaced with despair and the realization that all may be lost.

What to do:

Keep good communication with the client throughout the project. Never be afraid to ask questions if you’re unclear about anything. Be the keeper of the map. And if you meet up with your client and they’re standing motionless in the corner — run!

10. The Best Client

The Best Client knows exactly what they want and have complete faith in your abilities. They give you meaningful feedback and are open and respectful towards your ideas. They’re always in a good mood, provide steady work, and have a vacation home in Hawaii you’re free to use any time you visit.

What to do:

Give yourself a pinch — you might be dreaming. Just to be sure, see if you can will yourself to take flight or pass through solid objects — like a wall. If you are indeed dreaming, enjoy it!

If if turns out you’re actually awake (sorry about the wall), do everything you can to keep this client. And start researching the cheapest flights to Hawaii.

Have you come across any of these clients? Or maybe you have an 11th and 12th to share? See you in the comments!

Jeff Cardello

Writer, improviser, and reformed music snob. Check me out @JCardello.

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