Freelancer Mistakes: 5 Things You’re Saying to Make Your Client Hate You

Daniel Schwarz
Daniel Schwarz

Empathizing with the client

Generally speaking, clients tend to have a bad reputation that stems from the fact that they don’t understand the amount of effort, time and skill that goes into the work they’ve hired you to do. However, many freelancers don’t realize that they must share some of the blame when the communication breaks down as a result of this. My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and there’s a quote that’s always resonated with me.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” — Atticus Finch.

Resolving conflicts by empathizing with the other person, by seeing things from their perspective, is a core theme in the book, and it’s a technique that has always worked for me whenever I’ve come head-to-head with somebody in life.

Especially when disagreeing with a client!

1. “I’ll Let You Know When It’s Finished”

Not involving the client along the way is a recipe for total disaster. If you make all of the decisions by yourself you’ll feel the clients’ fiery wrath when they receive the fully-furnished (but not what they expected) end result. You’ll wind up either making a horrendous amount of changes at your own expense, or forcing the client to pay for more of your time. You could end up in a payment dispute and lose the client as well.

It doesn’t end well for anybody involved.

Working with the client can be hugely rewarding for two reasons. First of all, you’ll establish a friendly relationship with the client, increasing the odds of them hiring you again. Second of all, they’ll see more sense in your concepts. Because, if they don’t see your process, they won’t apprehend your value.

2. “I’m Not Going to Do That Because [Fancy Jargon]”

Showing off your knowledge with fancy buzzwords doesn’t communicate your value, it only confuses the client. You can totally explain why an idea isn’t viable without using fancy terms, but you’ll need to find that sweet spot between speaking full-on nerd and “Sorry that won’t work, end of story.” Even though the client might suggest/request some frustrating or even completely nonsensical things sometimes, you have to come to terms with the fact that they’re not an expert like you (much like how you’re not an expert at what they do).

Quick tip: ask the client about what they do — it makes you subconsciously aware of the fact that you’re actually both intellectual equals specializing in different fields. The client is educating you as much as you’re educating them. We all have a bit of an ego to uphold and there’s nothing wrong with that.

3. “Remember I’m Doing This for Only [X] Dollars”

We’ve all been there. We’ve all reached that awkward stage where boundaries have been crossed and it can be very tempting to remind the client of the fact that they’ve already received a huge discount in your services, but this is a huge mistake.

Remember, the client doesn’t understand the time and technical skill that goes into the work that you do, so you do need to “dumb it down” a little (without being condescending) and communicate this beforehand — the client needs to know what he or she can expect with their limited budget. If you feel that their budget won’t facilitate their expectations, either renegotiate something more realistic or walk away. You should never complain that they’re not paying you enough after the fact. If the client asks for something “extra,” politely remind them that the extra is outside of the agreed scope of work.

Working for low pay

4. “Well, I’m the Designer, So…”

(Just using “designer” as an example here).

You might be the designer, but you’re not the decision maker. Even if your idea is the most sensible one (as an experienced or educated designer), the client is always going to have the final say and your suggestion can only ever be that — a suggestion. Of course it’s natural as a creative to want every design to be beautiful and portfolio-worthy, but you shouldn’t let perfectionism stand between you and the client. At the end of the day, all you can do is hold the client accountable for their decisions to save yourself from an angry “It all went wrong and you’re to blame because you designed it” response.

For real, this happens a lot!

5. “I’d Rather Use My Own Apps and Tools”

It’s actually totally fine to want to use your own apps and tools, but sometimes if the scope of the work requires you to work in teams, the client has to insist so he or she doesn’t inconvenience the rest of the guys. If you can’t/don’t want to use the tools required, there really is no option but to forfeit the client. You have to ask yourself these questions:

Is it worth…

  1. … using the tools you hate for the fee offered?
  2. … your time convincing the client their toolset is “wrong”?
  3. … sacrificing your reputation to “prove” that you’re right?


“Is your ego so big that you have to prove you’re right?” — this one applies to all contractor-client communications. People that work in client-facing roles tend to have a delicate ego (I’m a freelancer myself so I don’t judge), but if I’ve learnt anything in my decade-long freelancing career it’s that you have to choose your battles. Fight for the things that matter and learn when to throw in the towel, for your own sanity if nothing else.

I’d love to learn about some of the things that you do to make your client feel special. Let me know in the comments below!