Freelancers: Handle These 9 Client Types like a Pro

Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Jordan Driediger, an entrepreneur, public speaker, and writer from Toronto, Canada. He is the CEO of his own company DM2 Studios LLC. He and his company are dedicated to support the creativity and inspiration in others.

The freelancer-to-client relationship is a tricky thing to deal with. Your ability to work with the various types of clients can make or break your freelancing career. To help you deal with this problematic area, here is a breakdown of the most common client characteristics that may curse your creative career.

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Every client is different. Although we can find faults with each client we work with, we as freelancers need to overlook their strange tendencies, and learn how to interact effectively with them. I hope this guide will help you identify your client’s needs, and increase your success as a freelancer.

1. The Curious

The Curious client can be a frustrating one. When you first meet them, you are thrilled that someone can be so interested in your work! They are generally hyperactive, very friendly, and very talkative.

When you begin work on a project, you may be inclined to share the ins and outs of what you do with this client. Teaching a client is fine, especially if the work you are doing for them requires ongoing maintenance. However, as time passes you may find they take up too much of your time, and can be to be a hindrance to your productivity.

How to Handle Them

They want information. This type of client doesn’t just want to know what you’ve done but also how you did it. They will request meetings on a regular basis and guides on how you performed specific tasks. Once you start feeding them, they only get hungrier. With the Curious client, it is always beneficial to address the issue directly:

Say you’re busy. Let them know bluntly that your time is limited, and that you want to focus on the work they’ve assigned – they will usually understand and respect your time.

Set time limits. You should set end times for every meeting and every phone call you have with this person. This will force both of you to focus on the work at hand.

Become a consultant. When they start asking too many questions, offer them your services as a paid consultant. This way, even if you do talk for a few hours, you will get paid for your time.

2. The Oblivious

The Oblivious client never cease to amaze you with their lack of knowledge about your work. In their defense, they are usually part of an older generation. While they can be kind and patient, they bring with them a unique set of challenges. You cannot message the Oblivious on Facebook, because they don’t have an account. You cannot use your favorite movie scene as an example, because they haven’t seen it. Don’t try to show the Oblivious how to do something on the Internet, because you’ll get a 15-minute tale about how great their nephew is with computers.

(Image Source: Brad Colbow)

How to Handle Them

They want to be reassured that they are being treated fairly. This client unfortunately has been abused in the past for their lack of knowledge, and is concerned that you will do the same. Be patient with the Oblivious. It may take extra time to communicate with them, but they can be an absolute joy to work for.

The extreme alternative is to exploit them and overcharge for your work – if you value your reputation, don’t do this. Do however:

Use terms and examples that they can relate to. Don’t bother with the long acronyms or technical terms that will only leave you with a confused and concerned client.

Use pictures and visual aids to illustrate your points. This is incredibly useful because it reinforces the authenticity of what you are saying, and promotes trust.

Write it all down. Work out a comprehensive contract with them to help them feel secure. They may not understand the details of your work, but they do understand a fair deal.

3. The Know-It-All

You can easily recognize a Know-It-All client because you will hate them shortly after meeting them. They are the ones who apparently know exactly how to do your job, yet for some reason hired you. They will interrupt you during your presentations, and not budge from a decision once it is made.

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How to Handle Them

The Know-It-All’s desires are clear: they want control, and they want respect. Their need for control is usually a reflection on insecurity within them. You can easily win their trust with some basic psychology. If your client wants control, and demands respect, then let them have it. This client can be an absolute nightmare if they don’t get their way, so use these simple tactics to win their trust:

Give them an occasional compliment. A Know-It-All will be much more inclined to accept your proposals if their input and ideas are appreciated.

Pick your battles. Don’t fight on every little issue; save your strength for when the critical moments occur.

Don’t work for them. Sometimes the best way to win is to not participate. If a client doesn’t respect you or your work, I recommend looking around for someone who does.

4. The Cheapskate

Many clients today fall under this category. The Cheapskate is on a budget, and is willing to sacrifice time and quality in exchange for a lower price. They will always chose the cheaper option, which makes it easy for you decide what tools to use for their projects.

How to Handle Them

The Cheapskate just wants the product to work. Talk to them about quality and durability all you want – they just want the job complete with the lowest total cost to them. If you want to make them happy, let them know you saved them some money. This client can actually be great to work for if you are looking for a quick payday. The trick is to make sure the product reflects the price.

Do the work quickly. Time is your most valuable asset as a freelancer. This client just wants the job done, so that’s exactly what you need to do.

Get it in writing. Some Cheapskates are so cheap that they won’t even pay you. Be sure to sign a contract with them before beginning any work.

Start the estimates high. It doesn’t matter if your prices are fair or not, this client will want a lower price. By beginning your estimates with a higher-end price, you can haggle with a Cheapskate and come to a win-win compromise.

5. The Dreamer

The Dreamer doesn’t quite live on planet Earth. Their heads are filled with crazy ideas and big plans. Whether it is in style or in function, the Dreamer envisions his or her final product as being the best thing available.

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How to Handle Them

Dreamers want their dreams to come true. This can be difficult if you are unable to live up to their high expectations. However, if you impress a Dreamer – they will absolutely adore you. Without discouraging their passion, you must bring the Dreamer back into reality. Letting them visualize and interact with your work can help them:

Ask them to show you examples. You may be hit with the line, "it is so awesome it doesn’t exist yet!" but be persistent until they are able to think rationally.

Be straightforward with prices and timeframes. Sometimes what the Dreamer wants isn’t impossible, it’s just difficult. If this is the case, give them a solid price and timeframe to do the work in.

Ask them about the details. Dreamers rarely fill in the blanks. While their end goals are usually incredible, sitting down with them and discussing the details can help both you and them get a good grasp on the scope of the project.

6. The Helper

The Helper can be sweet at first, but can get in your way if not handled correctly. They are very hands-on people, who need to interact personally with your work. A Helper can be fantastic client to work for, provided you can keep them busy.

How to Handle Them

The Helper wants to be involved in the work. They carry with them a lot of enthusiasm that needs to be released in a constructive and practical way. If a Helper wants to assist you, then give them that opportunity. This gives you a great chance to practice your skills as a delegator and team player, as well as help expedite your work for this client. When working with a Helper:

Give them tasks. Letting them assist you with some of the simpler tasks of your job can save you time and money. Be sure to identify your client’s skillsets before asking them to preform a complicated task.

Ask them to research. Whether you use the information they find or not, research tasks can keep a Helper out of your way for a long stretches of time, leaving you the freedom to focus on your job.

Make noise. As unusual as this may seem: the Helper can be easily scared off by loud noises. If they won’t leave you alone, taking a phone call or turning on a power tool will most often cause them to give you some space.

7. The Sprinter

Some clients are born Sprinters, and some are just forced to run to meet a deadline. The Sprinter always has time on their minds. They are serious when it comes to deadlines, and are often very busy people. They frequently think if a project can get done in one month; you should be able to get it done in three weeks.

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How to Handle Them

For a Sprinter – time is of the essence. Their goal is to get projects done fast. This type of client is generally hardworking, so they expect the people around them to be the same way. When dealing with a Sprinter:

Proceed with caution. Sometimes it only takes an hour to negotiate your workload for the next month. Don’t get caught in a deal that leaves you stuck with an over demanding assignment.

Guard your deadlines. You will be held accountable to the timeframes mentioned on your contract, so be realistic and flexible with them. The Sprinter may want you to complete work ahead of schedule, but don’t move from those deadlines unless you are comfortable doing so.

Pace yourself. When working for a Sprinter, follow the basic rules of productivity: stay focused, cut out distractions, take breaks, and stay organized.

8. The Underling

The Underling is not allowed to make any decisions. They are clients who work under a strict chain of command, meaning they need approval before making most decisions. They usually have no clue what is going on, and are rarely prepared for the questions you have to ask.

How to Handle Them

What the Underling wants doesn’t really matter – what matters is what their superiors want. Ultimately, if the work you give the Underling pleases the ‘guys upstairs’, you will have a very happy client. They key to dealing with an Underling is to think like an employee. Strategically plan ahead for the "let me get back to you" mentality. When working for an Underling:

Ask questions in bulk. Individual questions get lost in emails and sticky notes. The best way to save yourself time and stress is to compile a sizeable list of questions you will need answered and submit them all at once.

Prepare for the lag. You know how news reporters always take a minute to respond to questions? This is exactly what you will have with an Underling. Ask questions ahead of time so you are properly equipped for the next phase of your work.

Don’t bother explaining. If you are working for an Underling there is a good chance their boss is the next type of client on our list. This means that the Underling just needs to know the highlights of the work you’ve done, because that’s all their boss wants to hear.

9. The Delegator

The Delegator is personally my favorite client. The Delegator hired you because they know what you’re doing, and expect you do complete your work with skill and professionalism. They won’t want to be bothered with the details or bogged down by long meetings; their credo is: "you do it".

How to Handle Them

They simply want a solid finished product completed within a reasonable amount of time. The work you are doing for them is usually just a small piece in a much bigger plan. Your work will have to speak on your behalf, because the Delegator isn’t available to meet for the next two months. When working with a Delegator:

Respect their time. Delegators guard their time like they guard their very lives. When interacting with them, come prepared and keep it short.

Be direct and honest. Delegators loathe excuses. They are not interested in what tools used on a project, how long it took you, or what went wrong along the way; they want to know if the job is done, and if the product works.

Give them a document. This type of client can handle paperwork much better than they can handle human interaction (unless of course they have delegated the paperwork to someone else). By giving them a written report, you are able to keep them informed without taking up too much of their time.

Related posts:

  1. Freelancers: Collecting Comprehensive Creative Brief from Your Client
  2. Freelancing: 7 Signs It’s Time to Let Your Client Go
  3. Freelancers: How to Work Better with Your Clients
  4. Freelancers: 10 Things Clients Don’t Like Hearing