How to Get Your Clients to Change


Ever had those clients who demand so much of your time? How about those who keep asking you questions with incredibly obvious answers? All web workers have had difficult clients, at least once in their career. Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow change their behavior?

If you think you can magically make difficult clients behave better, then either you have a wild imagination or you’re approaching the problem in the wrong way. After all, a client’s unpleasant behavior might have more to do with the dynamics of your relationship than it has to do with them per se.

When thinking about your client’s behavior, it’s best to start with yourself. Have you done everything you could to make communication timely, efficient, and clear?

Most misunderstandings stem from a lack of proper communication. If you don’t reply to their concerns as soon as possible, this tends to make clients more stressed – and I know this from experience when I was starting out as a web content writer. Your clients can’t see you working in front of them, so they need some extra convincing that you’re getting the job done. As long as you keep communication channels open and reply as soon as possible (even just to notify your client that you’ll give a more comprehensive response at a later time), your client should feel more at ease.

The problem is, some clients demand excessive amounts of time. At worst, they’ll want hours of daily real-time support along with your written progress reports. Unless you have customer service staff to deal with these types of clients, you’ll just have to make it clear to your client that the more time you spend explaining the details of your work to them, the less you’ll get done. Give your client a limited number of real-time reporting and support each week. Define your limits and let them know about it. But you have to be clear about how this benefits them – or else it’s going to come off as if you don’t want to justify how their money is being spent.

Sometimes, the cause of a client’s difficult behavior is because of their unfamiliarity with your field of work. If you sense that this is the cause of their frustration, offer to show them a few resources that could increase their understanding. Preferably, these resources should be in a visual form such as video or a slideshow presentation. These are generally easier to grasp than lengthy articles.

Also, they could be unaware as to what the scope of your work is. They might be expecting some things from you that you weren’t prepared to deliver. This is why preparing written proposals and contracts is essential – they clearly define what your job is. Let your client know that you’re open to changes in your scope of work, should anything come up, but that such a move would require further discussion and an additional document.

Most people have trouble adapting to a new workflow, especially if they’re not hip to the whole Web 2.0 way of collaboration. If this is what makes your client hard to work with, either collaborate with them the way they want or work out a compromise.

But what do you do if the problem is money? It’s possible that you’ve encountered clients who always pay past the overdue date on your invoice. In this case, talk to your client about alternative payment schedules she might prefer. The source of the problem could just be a simple difference between when her income arrives and your invoice overdue date. Or, if it’s forgetfulness on your client’s part, a casual reminder a few days before the deadline might help.

Overall, you can’t expect your clients to change without first making some changes yourself. Although your client might seem completely unreasonable to you, they might be seeing you in the same way. There’s no denying that there are some toxic clients that mean nothing but trouble, but I’ve found that most difficult clients can actually be great clients if you discover the best way to deal with them.

How do you define a problematic client? What do you do when you encounter one?


Minneapolis Web Design

The only way I have ever been able to deal with this is to define everything up-front as best as possible. Having a dedicated producer to a project is also very helpful to keep production and the client on target.

Great article! Thanks!

Alana Post

The worst situation is when the client is a friend or otherwise personal-associate type, whose terribleness to work with was invisible until one undertook a project with them. I felt like I needed couples therapy after my last go-round in that arena.

J Lane

Another “problem situation” (that luckily I haven’t run into lately), is the client that wants to micromanage the project. You know you’re in trouble when you walk into that first meeting, and they hand you a printout of some other web site and ask you how long it would take to “copy that”.

Alternatively, they’ll make a few “suggestions” about the design that you/your designer has produced (could we use a more “fun” font here — and then they ask for Comic Sans).

It’s one of those cases of “why exactly did you hire me?”

I ran into one of these clients early on, and didn’t have the confidence, at that point, to try to educate/persuade them about what was best. The project got done, but I really wasn’t happy with the outcome, and I don’t think they were thrilled either (despite the fact that it was exactly what they asked for).

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