The 3 Rules of Dealing With a Difficult Client as a Freelancer.

DIFFICULT! There are many issues that may arise when conducting business with a client as a freelancer but what makes a client difficult?

Maybe it is not being on the same page or sharing the same vision up to, maybe its a money dispute, or maybe something much worse like abusiveness or malicious behavior.

Unfortunately with most of today’s freelancing platforms showing a huge amount of bias and favoritism towards clients these kind of issues are becoming all too common.

If you are a freelancer chances are you will deal with a difficult client at some point.

How do you go about dealing with clients like these? Clients that you can not please not matter what, clients that try to demean you, or plain malicious behavior.

What is the correct course of action when dealing with a difficult client as a freelancer?

Rule 1: Stay professional

Maintain Your Reputation

When future prospective clients take a look at your previous history and reviews what will they see? Will they professionalism exemplified and maybe an example of 1 or 2 difficult clients OR will they see you sinking to the same level as those difficult clients?

It is important to maintain your professional image at all costs no matter what the client says or does. Always take the high road. From an outside perspective you will typically come across as the more rational and professional person in the scenario.

Allow the Client to Dig His Own Grave

Give the client a shovel so that he can burry himself. What do we mean by this? Again, it is all about taking the high road and maintaining a high level of professionalism.

Leave your emotions at the door and allow the client to do and say things that destroy his own professional image.

For example lets say a client leaves you a malicious review attacking you, your character, and your ability publicly. A lot of people’s first reaction will be to get combative or defensive.

Do NOT do this.

Instead, acknowledge the clients concerns, apologize for client feeling the way he does, offer an apology for any short comings that occurred within the project, offer a solution, wish the client well, and offer your services should the client need anything else in the future.

This will do 2 things. 1st, it will probably catch the client off guard as he probably expects you to be defensive. 2nd, this will show future clients that it was most likely the client that was the issue  and not the freelancer.

Never Work for Free

This is an easy one. You should never work for free unless of course it is a part of some kind of promotion that you are offering. If a client asks for free work your answer is always “NO”.

If you are using a platform be sure to contact support as this is typical of violation of terms and services for all major freelancing platforms. Flag the client profile and report.

Only Offer a Refund If the Situation Calls for It

If you’ve been freelancing for a while you’ve undoubtedly ran into this scenario before. You’ve put in hours of work completed the job but the client still isn’t satisfied.

You can and should offer to continue to work on the project until it is up to standard.

You should NOT offer a refund or oblige a client’s refund request.

So when do you give a refund? There mainly 2 scenarios that come to mind.

  1. When you legitimately made a mistake and it cost your client time and money
  2. When you don’t perform part or all of the projected duties but still get paid for it

Offer an Explanation to New Clients Only If Asked

New clients may not even ask about situations with a tough client or two. However, if they do go ahead and explain the situation fully and honestly.

As long as you are following the 1st rule the client should still see you in a good light if he is interested in hiring you.

It may also be a good idea to leave an explanation in your response to the review in question for future clients. Leave your response and then at the bottom you could write something like “Attention Prospective Clients” then offer a short concise explanation.

Rule 2: Offer a solution

Don’t Be Difficult Yourself

I know this article is all about dealing with difficult clients but you yourself shouldn’t be either. There are some things as a freelancer you just don’t do. You don’t work for free or offer a refund unless your dealing with those scenarios outlined above.


Another thing you don’t do is avoid or deny simple requests from your client. You want to try to be as supportive of the clients project as you possibly can while still operating your business.

Offer to Work With the Client on a Reasonable Solution

If the client is upset or unsatisfied try to come up with a solution.

Consult the client and get a feel for the why exactly the client isn’t happy. Offer to fix the issues if possible. If this issue is something outside your professional scope offer to refer the client to someone who can resolve the issue.

Stick to Your Principles

Let’s go over those again:

  • be professional at all times
  • maintain your reputation
  • don’t come across as defensive or combative
  • acknowledge the clients concerns
  • offer solutions within reason
  • do NOT work for free
  • offer a refund only under specific circumstances
  • offer an honest explanation if new client brings up situation

As long as you stick to the outline above you should be able to deal with difficult clients, keep your money, and earn new clients without issue.

Offer a Small or Partial Refund

Ok, I am going to be a bit of a hypocrite here. I know that I’ve been stating over and over again DO not offer a refund.

However, there is a time when you can do this only if you absolutely have to. If it is some kind of review that is just going destroy you perhaps from a long term client and it will destroy your chances of earning new clients then it might be time to play “lets make a deal”.

At that point you’ll have to weigh the risks of going this route.

Go Your Separate Ways

If all else fails sometimes it is just best to end the engagement.

When going this route it is important to use some tact.

Again, acknowledge the clients concerns and offer an apology.

Refer someone else to the client and wish the client much success on his project. Sometimes it is better to just get out of the project as soon as you can if you realize you’re dealing a difficult client and in my opinion the best way to soften the blow to the client is to offload the client to someone else who is maybe willing to take on the project.

Rule 3: Use a mediator

Sometimes when dealing with difficult clients a scenario comes up where you just can’t reach a solution with a client. In this case it is a good idea to use a mediator of some kind. By doing this you are bringing in someone with an outside perspective that help bridge the gap between you and your client.

We will explore some mediator options below.

Platform Support

If you are using a freelancing platform you can reach out to the support team to mediate. They’ll get involved with your dispute and they will try to help reach a solution.

However, keep in mind that platform support will typically heavily favor the client. So, as a freelancer this isn’t always the best move.


So, if you don’t know what an arbitrator is it is an independent person or body officially appointed to settle a dispute. Freelancing platforms can refer you to independent arbitrators if they can not resolve your situation or you can reach out to one on your own.

However, keep in mind the fees for arbitration can sometimes be costly.

Get a 3rd Party Perspective

Outside of arbitrators there are plenty of 3rd parties you can through to help you settle a dispute with a client.

If you go this route be sure to check out the trustworthiness of your 3rd party source.

Know Your Rights

Arm yourself with knowledge. Know your rights as a freelance as defined by law.

If you use a platform make sure you read up on the platfrom’s rules and policies.

You should be using some kind of time tracker in order to defend yourself in these disputes.

Contact a Lawyer

If everything else has failed but the client is still seeking to take money from you or if the client is trying to defame you then a lawyer maybe your only route. The odds are you won’t have a case but you never know. This should only be used as a last resort.

a final note

The vast majority of clients you run into on platform or off-platform are usually good people just looking for help in building their projects.

It is not common to run into the clients we discussed on this post.

However, if you do run into a bad client hopefully this post will serve as guide on how to go about handling the situation so that you are still in good standing with future prospective clients.

Stick to The 3 Rules of Dealing With a Difficult Client as a Freelancer and you will successfully handle any freelance dispute that comes your way.

The 3 Rules of Dealing With a Difficult Client as a Freelancer.

– Lance Ulin

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