When you're in the earlier stages of launching your business, all is bliss and fun. But later, you will come across more difficult clientele that will expect too much from you for too little pay. Here's how you can gracefully handle client conflict when it does arise.
BE EXPLICIT IN YOUR CONTRACT
The best way to avoid this sort of situation is to explicitly state your boundaries within your contract as you are forming it. After a couple blunders, I learned the language to place in my contracts. One client expected too many meeting hours - I started to allot a certain amount of meeting hours (based on pay) in my contracts moving forward. Another client expected a one hour phone call every time they wanted to make changes to a project - I started to write in what expected methods of communication I have (primarily email + text, like most contractors).
With a variety of clients, I can't be meeting for hours and hours every month, or speaking to clients for hours and hours on the phone every week, unless they'd like to pay and therefore allow me the stability to deny other client opportunities. It's common for clients to forget they do not have your undivided attention, or that you aren't just working for them. The good ones won't forget; trust me. But in the event that one does, you must be prepared to set boundaries.
After the fact, you need to refer back to your contract when you feel like it's being broken. Refer to it in a fashion that doesn't make them out to look stupid, as if they hadn't read the contract, but that is more so a gentle reminder to them. Maybe they just got too carried away!
PROVIDE A PAPER TRAIL
Secondary to a contract, writing out your agreements in email is a great way to keep a paper trail going (another reason I like to use email as my primary method of communication with clients).
Once you finish a meeting in-person or over the phone, type up what you agreed upon and send them either a document or a quick email clarifying said items. This way, there won't be any twisting of words or miscommunication in the future months.
KILL 'EM WITH KINDNESS
Definitely smile the whole way through! The quickest way to lose a client is to be shitty to them, to put it frankly. Be kind and don't write your emails using aggressive language. Be firm, but kind.
COLLABORATE TO FIND A SOLUTION
A recent incident I experienced involved an issue that for a moment I thought I didn't have the skills or bandwidth to fix, let alone identify. I was troubleshooting the ways I knew best and still didn't find the solution no matter how many ideas I came up with. After 5 minutes of sitting down with my client, we found the culprit and fixed the problem with the single click of a button.
If this story doesn't teach you anything else, let it teach you this: it is vital to collaborate to find a solution. This was a huge learning moment for me and I was on the verge of complete overwhelm. While this project took me much longer than timeline expectancies, it was so worth it.
If your client is having a pressing issue that wasn't expected, but is now taking up a good chunk of your time, it is important to be realistic about the budget as well as do your best to help resolve it. Sometimes, a little give is necessary (within reason).
SUGGEST OTHER OPTIONS / REFER OUT
Say that the problem I mentioned above didn't get fixed in the click of a button: what would I have done? I was already at the point of suggesting additional hours to the contract and I gave a list of possible issues that myself and tech gurus had suggested as to why the glitch was occurring, but was incredibly transparent about my lack of specialty in tech programming support. Suggesting the other options that your client should feel empowered to utilize is key, especially having a few professionals in your arsenal that you can refer out to.
Honesty is the best policy. It's not your fault if you can't solve the problem, no matter how much you may want to and your clients will appreciate you for your candidness!
REQUEST A RENEGOTIATION
It's really important to request a higher pay if you feel as though you are being taken advantage of. More often than not, if you've vetted your clients well, it's not as though they are malicious individuals intentionally scamming you - especially in the case of my client mentioned in this post. They simply have an issue they need resolved; they are not mean-spirited.
Don't feel bad about renegotiating your contract terms if your client needs additional help that wasn't initially included. It's awkward, it's difficult, but it's so important to set those boundaries.
Overall, the takeaway is this: be honest, be transparent and be real. Your client will thank you!
Are you in a sticky client situation? How do you handle conflict?
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BLOGGER: KATHRYN COFFMAN
Kathryn is the lead contributor + founder at FashionablyFrank.com. Obsessed with leading a life of balance, she started the blog in 2013. Since graduating from The Evergreen State College (Washington) in 2016, she is now a digital marketing specialist through her business, Fashionably Frank Marketing. She believes a cup of coffee is the answer to all of life's problems + that all women should strive to embrace a #girlboss mantra.