Can Nightmare Clients Make You a Better Freelancer?

Just about every freelancer has at least one horror story to tell about nightmare clients, unrealistic expectations, ever-changing demands, terrible pay, or maybe even no payment at all. Sometimes bad clients happen to good freelancers.

Don’t be afraid. There are ways to weed out the causes of nightmares and make these scenarios much less likely.

Nightmare #1 Nonpayment

You took on a website design from a well-established business. You agreed over the phone on a fee for the project, but not a payment schedule.

You emailed back and forth for weeks, making sure everything was perfect. Like many freelance designers, you don’t have room for constant meetings in your budget, but you touched base often, providing updates on progress and getting answers to any of your questions. In the end, you met your deadline comfortably.

Once the website was completed, you heard nothing from the client. You presumed that everything was fine because they hadn’t asked for any further revisions. So you sent your invoice, but still heard nothing.

You eventually sought legal advice to see what would be involved in going to court to collect payment, but with no signed contract could you really get paid?

What to Do

It’s not enough to agree that you will get paid at the end of a project. To protect yourself completely, start with a project proposal. Moonlighting makes it easy to send a quick proposal for every project. Ask for a deposit upfront, ideally 50 percent of the overall fee, then draw up a comprehensive contract that sets out a schedule for payment and defines the scope and length of the job.

Nightmare #2: Left without work

You get offered an interior design project you can’t turn down. It would require you to spend 3 weeks planning, drafting, purchasing, and installing. It seemed like the perfect client had suddenly come along and delivered the perfect project.

They give you a very vague, open brief, simply asking you to work your magic.

During the first in-house meeting, you show the client your initial concepts. They don’t get it. But you agree to a set of revisions with the client. You would create a second design, fixing the issues they had with the original. After completing the agreed changes, you went back for another meeting. Again more change requests. Two additional meetings followed, and in each meeting the client specified a larger amount of work than you had previously expected.

By the penultimate meeting, you had become reasonably comfortable with the idea that you were going to be very busy and for much longer than the original 3-week timeframe. You refrained from taking on any new clients or projects so that you would have no problem completing this one.

Fast-forward to a month of unreturned phone calls and ignored emails, after which you received a message from the client saying, “We are unsure if we want to move forward with this project. We’ll get in contact after we decide.”

What to Do

Don’t be blinded by the prospect of an exciting new project. If you get carried away and clear your schedule for work that hasn’t actually been confirmed by the client with a written contract, you could end up out of work—with an empty pipeline and a gap in your earnings—if the project falls through.

Instead, always save a few hours every week for prospecting and marketing. Keep your service promotions active on freelance sites like Moonlighting and share frequently to your professional social media accounts. Don’t forget to check in on job boards and with prospective clients so you always have your next project lined up.

Nightmare #3: Not really freelancing

You finally took the leap to freelancing full-time. Excited and anxious to build your client base and establish your freelance writing career, you joined all the big name online job platforms out there.

Within a few days, you receive your first “job offer”. After a while you’re doing quite well. These freelance sites have become one of your main income streams and ways to generate leads. You’re pumping out orders like a machine. Your clients are happy, you’re making decent money.

Well, you’re only taking home 80% of your rates charged. The other 20% goes to the job sites’ commission fees. And because it takes 14 days for payments to clear, you get paid slowly. But all-and-all, you accept that this is just the price of freelancing.

Until, you get busy and have to decline a few job offers. The platform penalizes you for not accepting at least 85% of the jobs presented. Then you receive a bad review that you can’t appeal and you’re facing the potential of getting kicked off the platform.

You only didn’t meet the client’s specific expectations because you weren’t allowed to contact the customer outside of the platform. How could you get everything right, every time when you’ve not had a real discussion or direct conversation to set expectations? And then you realize, how can you be your own boss when you’re not really in control of your own work?

What to Do

Choose your platform carefully. Consider how much you are willing to pay to bid on work or lose in commission fees when completing work. Additionally, question working for platforms with rules that prohibit directly communicating with employers, viewing all open job opportunities, or even choosing your own rates, availability, and deadlines.

That’s what makes Moonlighting different. Moonlighting puts your freelance career in your hands—set your own rates, communicate directly with instant chat (or via email, phone, or text, your choice), keep 100% of your earnings, and never pay to bid on jobs—we’ll never penalize you for growing and succeeding.

Save your screams for the haunted house

No matter what industry you work in, you’re bound to eventually come up against your own freelance nightmares.

While this may be scary to do, you can’t be afraid to fire a nightmare client, find better ones, and grow your freelance business on your terms.

And if you just want to feel better about your freelance clients, check out the collection of anonymously contributed client horror stories from the Clients From Hell blog. There are some real gems.

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