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The Secret to Avoiding Pain In The Ass Clients

In: Client Nightmares

If you've never had a Brazilian wax, I'm pretty sure you should try it. Not only will you feel supremely sexy, but you'll also never complain again about stubbing your toe, jamming a finger, getting a paper cut, or getting violently smashed in the face with a crowbar. Compared to the pain of a Brazilian, those things? Child's play.

Speaking of savagely ripping out hundreds of delicate hairs using piping hot insect excretions, I'd like to mention something else that seems to be just as excruciatingly painful for many: managing client expectations. (What? You didn't think I was going to write an entire post about vaginas, did you? Actually, never mind. You're right. That's so something I would do.)

As a freelancer you deal with clients a lot. A lot. And clients can be a godsend, or they can be a nausea-inducing nightmare. Sometimes, when they cross over into monster mode, it's a function of their personality, but more often, it has to do with something else: expectations.

Had any of these?

“So sorry it took me weeks to get back to you. Here's my feedback. Now, how fast can I get the edits??!?!”

“Hi! Remember me? I canceled our scheduled meeting from last month and haven't followed up since–but actually, was wondering if you'd be able to do, oh, TOMORROW as early as possible?!”

“Why haven't I heard from you? Why is this taking so long?”

“Wait, I thought you were going to include unicorns, magic honeysuckles and a private dance party from the Chip N' Dales with the final product–this is such a disappointment.”

“Hey–can we hop on Skype call #19,387?”

“Hi! Just checking your progress!”

“Hi! I'm just actually here to jam up your inbox!”

“Hi! HI! HI!!! CAN YOU HEAR ME?? HI!!!!”

Clients, when left to their own devices, can get unruly—fast. And as annoyed as you may get, there's something really important here to remember: it's actually not their fault. It's yours. (And it's definitely been mine!)

The reason it's your fault is because you didn't tell them, up front, what, exactly, they can expect in terms of your process, your preferred methods of contact, your methodology, the best way to interact about a project, or the fact that you had a dedicated timeline carved out for their project. (And, fuck, they totally abused it.) End result? You get a pain in the ass client who doesn't follow the rules. You know, the rules you made up in your head that you just assume they should know. Isn't it common sense that you don't email someone 5 times in one day?!?! It's weirdly not. Anytime anyone is paying you to do anything, they feel entitled to do whatever they want. And here's where the importance of managing client expectations really comes into play. You must communicate to them, right up front, exactly how you prefer to work, and how they can help you to work best—BEFORE the project has started. The trick, however, is making sure you always frame it in a positive way, shaping your language so it comes off as beneficial to them (and not just selfish on your part), so they feel like a valued client–and not a child being scolded or talked down to.

The Wrong Way:

Please note that I am very busy, and do not have time to check my email regularly. Therefore, I ask that you please post all project communications to our Basecamp site.

A Better Way:

I'm a big fan of staying organized, because I believe every detail counts! I don't want to risk missing any important correspondence from you–especially if you have questions or feedback. In an effort to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible and we're always on the same page, I'd like to kindly request that any and all project communications are posted to our private Basecamp site. That way, I can stay as responsive as possible for you, and we can knock this project out of the park–hopefully ahead of schedule. Thanks so much for your help on this!

The Wrong Way

I hadn't heard back from you, so now you'll need to reschedule another date and time. Unfortunately, I don't have any openings for another two weeks.

 A Better Way

So good to hear from you! I was worried I had scared you off. 😉  Looks like our project timeline got a little skewed, doesn't it? If you'd like, I'm happy to take the week of time I had originally blocked off for your project, and reschedule it for two weeks from now–that way, I can make sure I give your project the attention it deserves. If you're willing to commit to that week (I'll need to keep you on lock down for any time I have questions or need feedback), let me know as soon as possible before someone else snatches up that time frame, and it's all yours!

The Wrong Way

Great! Can't wait to get started. Be back in touch soon with your first draft/mock up/proposal/etc.!

The Right Way

Great! Typically it takes me about a week to compile initial drafts/mock ups/proposals/etc.–during that time period I'll be working diligently on your project, and it's quite possible I'll fall off the face of the earth for a bit as I get into the zone. That said, you can expect to hear back from me on Monday, (date), with our first round of _____–unless, of course, I have a bright burst of inspiration, in which case, I'll be back in touch even earlier. Here's to blowing the roof off your ___

See the difference?

No matter what your reasoning, always, always lay out the expectations ahead of time, and position them to be in your clients' best interest. You aren't being selfish; you're doing them a favor. You aren't being tyrant-ey; you're honoring their project the best way you know how. You aren't being unresponsive; you're giving them everything you've GOT.

A sexy, radical, feel-good client relationship isn't just about what they expect from you—it's about learning how to communicate your expectations of them, too. Once you do, it's a near-guarantee they'll try to live up to them.

After all, they're hiring you for a reason. And that reason is because they like you. And if they like you, they'll try to please you, too. As long as you tell them how.*

*Also applies to men and orgasms. Aren't you glad you read this blog?

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