How To Work With a Tough Client

Whether you work at a fast food restaurant, in a corporate environment, or in your own business, there are always going to be difficult clients.  As a photographer with my own business since 2007 and a former corporate (now freelance) graphic designer, I have crossed paths with some people that weren’t always the easiest to work with. While most of my clients have been a joy, I’ve had plenty of experience navigating quick tempers, the overbearing, and the hard to please.

I feel like I need to establish that someone changing their mind once or twice doesn’t make them a bad client. It takes time and collaboration to provide them with a design that fits their brand and the purpose. It’s important to realize that and be flexible. But every once in awhile, I get a doozy. There was one time where I had someone ask me to put a link on a print document. (Hint – you can’t click a link on a piece of paper, technology hasn’t caught up yet lol). When you feel like starting an anonymous twitter account so you can share all of the ridiculous things they’ve said – you just MIGHT have a difficult client. So besides starting an anonymous Twitter account (HA) what are you supposed to do? Today I’ll be sharing a few key ways that I smooth things over with difficult people.

When you feel like starting an anonymous twitter account so you can share all of the ridiculous things they’ve said – you just MIGHT have a difficult client.


Be patient

It’s important to be patient. It’s easy to bristle with indignation when a client yells at you for refusing to edit them to look thinner (true story) or is mad that you won’t use Papyrus for a corporate document, but you don’t know what’s going on in their life. Maybe they’re under a lot of pressure from their boss, feeling insecure, having a rough time at home...or maybe they’re just a jerk. That scenario is very possible as well. Either way, be patient and flexible. Proverbs says "A kind answer turns away wrath..." - that has totally rang true for me when dealing with people in business.


Keep them informed

Set a timeline of how long things will take like how long photos will take to edit, how long it will take to get a first revision, etc. It’s always a good practice to overestimate the timing in case something comes up - like getting sick and being unable work for a couple days. Also, it's great to be able to deliver a little early.

Let them know in detail what they can expect such as what file formats you’ll be providing, how many files, how you’ll send them, etc. Be detail oriented and then stick to it. Your client will likely feel more comfortable as you start meeting the established deadlines.

Additionally, if you can’t or won’t do something, kindly educate them. You’d be surprised to know that many people don’t realize Google images are not available for public use. Instead of just saying “uh, no.” when someone asks you to use an image from Google, explain that

1 | Most images from Google are copyrighted and using them without permission could get them into legal trouble.

2 | Images from the Internet are also low resolution and would be very pixelated in their print document.

After explaining why you won’t do something, suggest something better. It’s important for your client to know that there is a good reason you say no, and that you aren’t just refusing something to spite them.


Set limits

Limit the amount of revisions. This may sound detrimental but it will force your client to be thorough when looking at what you’ve given them. When I worked as a corporate designer, I’d often have people send a revision with a word or two changed. I’d change it and send it back, then they would continue to send markups with only a couple things changed at a time and it was frustrating. Finally, I ended up setting a limit on how many revisions they could send for a specific project. It really forced my clients to carefully evaluate what I’d sent – then I could do them all at one time. Too many revisions are a waste of time. The limit you set should be based on what service you’re offering, but it will help with clients that email you 50 different changes in 50 different documents.


Let them go

This is the last resort that thankfully, I haven't had to do but sometimes there are just personality clashes. They may benefit from working with someone else – there’s only so much a person can take.


No matter what kind of work you do, you're going to face people that aren't always pleasant to work with. How do you handle difficult situations with customers/clients?