Cultivating Healthy Client Relationships

When starting out, the pressure to get any revenue coming in can be huge.  Depending on your situation, you could either be scrambling for money to pay your bills after a sudden job loss or you could just be in a hurry to spread your wings and leave your office gig.   In either event, it’s understandable to have laxer client policies starting out, but it’s important to be mindful that not all clients are created equal.  It’s possible that if you lower your standards too low, you could be busying yourself with lackluster clients who are distracting you from being able to work with better-paying, easier-going, and generally all-around better clients.  To maximize your earnings, it’s necessary to cultivate healthy client relationships by weeding out bad clients, managing expectations, and setting boundaries.

Weeding Out Bad Clients

Before taking on a job, you should make sure that understand the requirements AND who it is that you’re working with.  It’s important to do your research on a potential organization before working with them to verify that it’s a real organization.  If you’re using a service like Upwork, check their client reviews.  It’s also important to be on the look out for any unprofessional behavior early on.  If the potential client is cussing out the last freelancer they worked with, it does not bode well for future communication with them.  Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid anyone asking for “RUSH” or “ASAP” work or who is asking you to go below an hourly rate that you feel comfortable with.  If they don’t value your time while you’re a stranger, they’re not going to value your time going forward.

Managing Expectations

The work you do may be absolutely fantastic, and the client may have given you so little to work with that the feat that you accomplished was nearly impossible, however, if you don’t manage their expectations, they may still be unsatisfied.  Your client may not know the limitations of the situation or what can be done.  It’s your job to communicate that to them.  When it comes to this, the best bet is to under-promise and over-deliver.   Never tell the client that something can be done if you’re unsure.  The client will be a lot more pleased if you let them know in the beginning that something may not be possible but you’re able to pull it off anyways.

Setting Boundaries

It’s good to establish normal business hours with your client or to let them know that you may not be available all the time (especially if you’re working with other clients and diversifying your practice).  Most people will be OK with this setup, but it’s important to mention it in the beginning.

There’s nothing worse than having a needy client texting you an “ABSOLUTE EMERGENCY” at 10 o’clock at night, only to find out it was something that wasn’t critical to their business that should have waited until the next business day.  Some situations require you to remain ‘on-call’, for instance, I host some clients web sites and maintain their servers.  If something goes down at night, that impacts their business and they can lose revenue so I make sure to have monitoring in place and I respond to those types of emergencies, but every client knows that if it’s not truly an emergency, they can expect a response the next day.

Maintaining Healthy Client Relationships

Any work that you do has an associated opportunity cost.  Like all relationships, a good client relationship is founded on trust.  A good client will trust your professional opinion and you can trust a good client to have reasonable expectations and to pay you on time.

Once trust is removed, dysfunction creeps into the relationship.  Bad clients will often micromanage, and dictate exactly how things should be done.  They may also be slow to pay or dispute charges on their invoice.

Having to explain an invoice or hound a client for collections takes away from time that could have been better spent working on a more productive client, but cultivating healthy client relationships early on you



Jonathon Klem

I'm an entrepreneur and tech-enthusiast. I have provided front-end development for numerous award winning websites and an advocate of AGILE development practices. I've also given talks at conferences such as Ohio Linux Fest. In my spare time I am a licensed Ham Radio operator and enjoy disc golfing.


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