In a creative field like freelance photography, it’s not uncommon to encounter difficult clients and have to deal with their strange requests. Don’t start pulling your hair out. Instead, consider the following when a challenge arises.
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Yes, that’s right. The first thing you should do is smile. Whether it’s in person or on the phone, start on a positive note and don’t get emotional. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. This will only make the situation worse. This alone is likely to make them like you, and consider the situation handled without even knowing why. If they feel positive about you, they’re less likely to be difficult.
Listen to what they say, repeat it back to them, offer a solution, and then ask them how their son’s graduation was. Becoming genuinely interested in people and talking in terms of their interests is important with any client, difficult or not. Showing that you’re listening to them is crucial here, even if you disagree. Proving your points about how wrong they are will not get you anywhere good. Tell them that their issues will be taken care of and take care of them. After doing this, encourage them to talk about another subject like something personal you know they care about. Their kids, an article they posted on Facebook, or simply ask them how everything else is going. This is likely to clear the air and leave them feeling happy.
Difficult clients are known to be creatures that harass you all day long with their requests. Consider that if you engage in this, you are using valuable time (typically unpaid) that you could instead allocate towards finishing the job or working on something else. Selectively ignoring your clients can be useful here. If your client tends to write you lengthy emails about what they want, do not reply to them with the same level of detail. If you understand what needs to be fixed, replying with “will do” is enough. I very often write emails using only the subject line. Putting “Updated images are in Dropbox” in the subject line and clicking send will take a few seconds, instead of writing a novel about your thoughts. If they interrupt you with many emails throughout the day, consider waiting until the end of the day to go over and reply to all of them at once. If they like to get on the phone and play personal therapy session for an hour, let them leave a message and let them know you have received their notes.
Don’t get immersed in the drama of it all. If you get frustrated, focus on finishing the job. Even if there are many disagreements, consider that it could be best to put money and creative differences aside, and just do what they ask. You can always introduce new terms for the next job you do for them. Doing this will show that you provide excellent customer service, something that may be seen as more valuable than getting an extra dollar or providing your best creative work.
If things get really frustrating, it’s important to consider whether you want to work with your client again. In the Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferris explains that in any trade, 20% of the work equals 80% of the income. This means that 80% of what your time could be spent on things that are not efficient or effective for you and your business. Instead, it is better to focus on the 20% that you know brings you income. If this client is taking up a lot of emotional space and time, maybe they are not in your 20%. Consider saying goodbye and instead of generating new leads and focusing on jobs from other clients who are a better fit for you.
Suggested Readings:How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
20/80 Rule explained by Matt Bodnar