You know the feeling. You open your email and there are 8 messages from your client, with the last one having a subject of ‘One other thing…’. It’s going to take an hour of your morning just to respond to them all. You open the first and it’s yet another change to the layout - the eighth one this week.
You ask yourself: Why do they have to be so unreasonable/difficult/demanding?
Looking at freelancing forums and blogs, it seems that this is a very common response. The ability to jump on a site and bash out your frustrations anonymously is altogether too tempting - especially when so many others are doing it.
I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong - especially when some of the creative outcomes of this frustration are so hilarious - because it can get frustrating when things change constantly. But this is the nature of the work and, personally, I never want to be Ungrateful Moany Internet Guy.
As soon as I start to blame someone for something, I stop taking responsibility for my part in it. I stop being able to see that the situation was as much of my own creation as it was anything else and that there were many, many things that I could have done along the way to prevent this feeling I’m now having. As soon as I stop seeing that and focus solely on who else to blame, I’m no longer learning.
This isn’t to say that say clients can’t be unreasonable or awkward at times—they, like all of us, are human—but focusing on their shortcomings prevents me from seeing my own. And, goodness knows, I have plenty.
In the 9 months that I’ve been freelancing, I’ve dealt with my fair share of disasters - for example I’ve had my hourly rate go below minimum wage having stayed up all night trying to get the new features they just asked for in before the launch - but every single time I’ve been able to pinpoint where I went wrong with the process and improve it as a result.
If hourly rate drops below minimum wage, it’s because I didn’t charge enough. If I’m adding new features for free, it’s because I wasn’t clear about what was included and what wasn’t. If I’m sweating because they’re slow to pay, it’s because I didn’t ask for a deposit up front. None of these were the client’s fault - they, rightly, want what they were promised.
Since starting up, my proposals have changed massively. I now ask for a deposit up front and I host everything on my server until the fees are paid in full.
I also provide incredibly detailed lists of exactly what I will do and have a warning that anything not covered therein will be subject to an additional charge (in reality, I’ll usually let small additional requests slide in the interests of good relations). My fees now include administration and contingency time - I am awful at estimation and everything always takes longer than I think it will - and I am very conservative with my deadlines.
For the client’s part, they get what I hope to be an impeccable service. I deliver on time and on budget, communicate regularly and run a password-protected testing server with regular updates so that they can track the progress of the site from day 1. Not only do they feel more involved and can actually see the return on their investment grow over time, but we also get to nip niggles in the bud before they become major bugs.
With these safeguards in place, I can focus on doing the very best work that I can and respond positively to their requests without feeling like they’re taking advantage of me or that they don’t understand my ‘art’.
Perhaps I’ve been very lucky. Not only do I love the work I’m doing, but I’ve enjoyed working with every single one of my clients and, according to some of the lovely testimonials they’ve provided, it seems they’ve been happy with what I’ve done.
I don’t think that it’s coincidence that each one has come back for additional work and that I have never felt the need to jump online and join the mass whinging session.
I’m not saying that clients are perfect and we as designers or developers are always in the wrong, but when things head South it’s our reaction that will define us not only as professionals, but as individuals.
If we choose to see the situation as a curse or a challenge, we’re probably right.