#123: Bryce Bladon on How to Avoid Clients from Hell!

“It’s not quite right,” says your client…

After your twelfth set of edits.

Or, “We’re finally ready to get started … but we need the first draft tomorrow. Oh, and can you lower your fee a little? You’re a lot higher than what we paid our last writer.”

Have you ever worked with clients like these?

Most of us have. They’re not fun.

In fact, they will sometimes make you wish you were back at your old day job!

In this week’s episode we’re going to talk about crappy clients — or “clients from hell,” as my guest calls them. 😉

Yes, we’ll vent a little. But we’ll also talk about how you can identify these “problem children” before they unleash hell. More specifically, how to handle these difficult situations with grace and professionalism.

My guest is Bryce Bladon. Bryce is an award-winning writer, creative consultant and strategist, and editor-in-chief of Clients From Hell, a blog that collects anonymously contributed client horror stories from the front lines of the freelancing industry. He also hosts a podcast of the same name.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Bryce Bladon runs the website Clients from Hell. The site collects anonymously contributed stories from the frontlines of freelancing.

Bryce has also worked as a freelance writer for 10 years. More recently, he’s been consulting on creative and content strategies.

What does a client from hell look like?

Clients from hell have a few things in common:

1. Ambiguous expectations

It’s okay for clients to be ambiguous in the early days of a project. But they should have a goal in mind.

If clients aren’t clear on what they want, expect the project scope to grow. Inevitably, your blind attempts to meet their needs will miss      the mark and they’ll be unhappy.

2. Unappreciative

Clients from hell expect your time and pricing discounts. They feel they deserve it. If you give them what they want, it reinforces their belief that you live to work for them.

3. Disrespectful

The best freelancer-client relationships are when you work with clients, not for clients. Clients from hell don’t see you as equal.

4. Devalue good work

Clients from hell devalue your work and bully you to get lower rates.

Are bad clients on the rise?

Both clients and freelancers are contributing to the growth of clients from hell. More people are working for themselves. New freelancers haven’t learned how to spot bad clients yet. They haven’t honed their gut.

At the same time, there are many inexperienced clients. When both the client and the freelancer have little experience, the odds of having a bad experience are high.

Over the past 10 years, clients have been pushed to do more with less. Internal expectations are warped, and those warped expectations roll downhill to freelancers.

Freelance job boards also play into expectations. In a global marketplace, inexperienced clients see freelancers advertising rates of $5 an hour. So they balk when you charge them $50.

How can we identify these potential clients before they unleash hell?

The simplest method of identifying clients from hell is to listen to your gut.

If you’re meeting a client for the first time, and something seems off, trust your instincts.

Start with the BANT method of qualifying clients:

Budget: Can the client afford your services?

Authority: Does the person have the authority to hire you and get you what you need to do the job?

Need: Does the client have a genuine need for your services? Can you provide real value? Do they have a problem you can solve?

Timeline: Does the timeline work for you and your client?

You can also ask the following questions:

1. What inspired you to seek a writer? What was the catalyst?

If they’re reaching to you (and you alone) to get more sales, then they’ll probably be disappointed.

2. Why did you reach to me specifically? Or what is/was your process for choosing a writer?

This question clarifies expectations of you and your role.

3. What was your experience with your last writer?

How the client talks about previous writers is revealing. Are they fair? Do they own their mistakes?  Or do they blame the previous writer for everything?

What if the prospect wants to talk price right out of the gate?

If you’re fully booked, you can let them know that your rates vary based on the scope of work, length of engagement and other factors. Then quote a rate that’s twice your usual hourly rate. Make clear that your rates are usually less—but you can’t commit to anything until you know more details.

If you’re truly interested in landing the business, request a meeting to get more details.

If a prospect won’t meet to discuss project details for your quote, that’s a red flag.

A reasonable client will understand that you need information before providing a quote.

Why do you like to use contracts?

A good contract helps to align expectations. It’s an early road mapping opportunity. Walk through the contract with your client.

Some clients are scared by contracts. But contracts protect both you and your client.

If a client says, “I don’t sign contracts,” then be wary. They’re giving themselves an easy exit strategy.

If you sign up for the Clients from Hell newsletter, you’ll receive four contract examples.

Bonsai is another excellent resource for freelancers. If you sign up for an account, they’ll give you free contract samples.

What elements do you include?

Contracts can include:

  • Terms of estimate
  • A description of your service or product
  • Down payment information
  • Invoicing schedule
  • Rush fees, taxes, cost of being late on payment
  • Expiration date on estimate
  • Additional resources included
  • Timeline, deadlines, milestones
  • Expected turnaround time
  • Number of revisions
  • Feedback and approvals, point of contact, signoffs
  • Rights of use
  • Confidentiality
  • Guarantees and warranties
  • Terms of client-freelancer relationship
  • Termination terms
  • Dispute mechanisms.

It’s never been easier to work with contracts. You can do it all via email with digital signatures.

When things do go wrong, how do you prevent them from escalating?

It’s easier to get out of relationships earlier than later. The more you’re into it, the stickier and more unpleasant it will be to get out of it.

Start by clarifying what is left to be done. Make sure the scope is defined and you know exactly what you’re responsible for. Keep communications polite, clear and to the point.

Don’t communicate with the client when you’re angry. Do what you can to resolve things amicably.

How can listeners learn more about you?

Bryce Bladon’s website:

Clients from Hell

Bryce’s courses:

Clients from Hell School

Bryce’s podcast:

Clients from Hell Podcast