Friday, 23 January 2015

Five Rules for Handling Tricky Clients

How do you deal with a tricky client?  Difficult clients are so common that there are websites such as are, dedicated entirely to horror stories written by freelancers about having to deal with hard-to-please clients. So, if you are starting off on your career, how do you handle a difficult client? Below are our five rules for success

Rule Number One: find out early on what the client really wants
Often clients don't know what they want.  Or they may know what they want, but be unable to express it.  Do they have a script? If not, you may have to write one yourself.  If it’s a film, you will need to do a storyboard animatic.

You may have to do a style guide, so the client knows exactly what they’re going to get.  Show them samples of other films and agree a style for their project. Once you start animation it will too late to change this, so make sure you are agreed in advance.

Should clients know in advance what they want? In a perfect world, yes they should. In the real world - you may have to do it for them.

All good freelancers deliver on time. Photo: Wikipedia
Rule Number Two: Set a schedule and stick to it
It goes without saying that you must deliver the job on time and on budget. Clients don't care how busy you are with other things - they want their work done on time, when you promised it, for the price that was agreed. They don't care if other clients are keeping you busy, or your dog is ill, or your broadband went down, or your hard drive died.

Most importantly, you must create a schedule in Excel so everyone on the project knows how long they have to do their job, and when it must be delivered. Get friendly with Excel as soon as possible.

If you run out of time, work through the night to get it done. Do what it takes to deliver on time and be reliable. The best clients are repeat clients - they will come back for more work because they trust you.

Rule Number Three: Don't complain.
One of the hardest things about client projects is learning how to handle the client.  Do so with good grace, and a positive attitude.  On every job, clients will drive you crazy.  They will give you notes which you don’t agree with, or notes that contradict their previous notes. 

Try not to disagree openly with the client. The best response to a dumb idea is to say "that's a great idea, why don't we try this..." and try to steer them in a less silly direction.

A turd can be polished. Photo: Wikipedia
Sometimes though you just have to do what you are told and make the best of it. Make it look as good as you can. Contrary to popular belief, you can polish a turd.

Rule Number Four - Be Positive
Be positive. Clients want to feel that you are excited about the project. Even if you've just done an all-nighter and you feel like screaming at their latest ridiculous changes that they should have told you about weeks ago, be upbeat and optimistic. Make them feel good about working with you - remember that they are taking a risk by using your services for the first time.

Rule Number Five: End up with something you are proud of.
Try to end up with a result that you can be proud of. After all, it's your work, and you want it on your demo reel. Do a professional job and you will create a body of work that will be glad to show future clients, that bring in more work, and better work.


For more practical advice on freelance careers, check out this post on your first client project, read out our post on Portfolio Careers, and read this piece on Survival as a Freelancer. Learn the nuts and bolts of freelance life by reading our guide to invoicing clients, and our guide to freelancers and taxesFor more on careers in general, check out our guide to animation careers here, and also take a look at this map of digital studios - a great place to start your search for work in the business. Finally see our article on the jobs page at

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