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Making the Best of a Difficult Client

Creative Market March 31, 2021 · 4 min read

Every Web designer hopes for a great client relationship. You’d like to be able to meet, find you have a shared vision for what the project should look like, and create that, without delays or fuss. Then, ideally, you would be able to come back and work with that same client again when it wanted to freshen up the look of it site or had additional work planned.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen like that in real life. You’re going to run into clients who aren’t easy to work with. Maybe they insist on your ability to meet impossible deadlines. Maybe they make a hobby out of staring over your shoulder and critiquing everything you do. Maybe they simply don’t want to pay you what you feel your work is worth. Whatever the circumstances, no designer is going to land a dream client with every job. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn some important lessons to takeaway from working with them. Here’s how to best manage a challenging client.


No matter how annoyed you are by a client, ignoring their emails or phone calls won’t help. Unless they’ve gone to ground on you, most clients want to stay in touch. If they like to reach out via email, though, remember to edit yourself before hitting send. It’s easy for emails to look unprofessional.

It’s also worth your time to figure out how you best communicate. Some challenging clients are easier to work with via phone, for example, where you can exchange ideas in real-time without having to write them down, or over a video conference system where you can meet “in-person” no matter where you’re both located.

Get the Job Details in Writing

Certain clients are difficult because they change their minds or forget their earlier instructions. It pays to write details out before you get to work. Also make sure you have a written contract that clearly outlines the scope of the job, the pay rate and the deadline. If the client requests any major changes to that agreement, make sure you get those in writing as well. If your client is especially difficult about budgeting or time management, consider taking screenshots of your work so that you have proof of your hours.

Embrace the Experience

The upside of working with a challenging customers is that it can help you create strategies to use in the future. Think of it as a case study. Take notes on which ideas make working with the client easier. Does it help to break down your cost estimates? Can you ease tension by sending frequent updates? You might even consider keeping a real or virtual notebook for future reference on what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

Even if you don’t like a client at first, resist the urge to label them as awful. Some clients really are just picky or overly specific on certain facets of the job. If you do what they ask on that front, though, you’ll find that your can easily work together. So, make a note of any special requests and be sure to follow them if possible. If the client is still unsatisfied, then you might be more tempted to label them as difficult. But, reserve judgment.

Keep a Cool Head

All in all, even if every job isn’t a dream job, there is a lot you can do to make each experience bearable. Don’t forget the basics. Always stay calm and professional. Don’t let yourself get drawn into negative behaviors. When issues come up, try to be as specific as possible about what the problem is and how you plan to resolve it. Doing that will leave you with a clear conscience, and in the future, your client may realize they made some mistakes.

Header image created using Little cactus, Brite Script, and Ranger.

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