Where’s The Fire? Calming A Panicky Client

Everyone has had the kind of clients that you wish you could strangle – the scope creepers, the micromanagers, the non-payers. It’s very aggravating, but it is a long-established part of being a freelancer. But there’s a certain kind of client in particular who is as much a danger to him or herself as they are to you.

I’m talking, of course, about the panicky clients; the clients who see everything as the most urgent emergency ever. The ones who call you 20 times at 2 AM with “urgent” messages and tasks that for some mysterious reason can’t wait until a decent hour. We’re going to address these panickers and go over some ways to deal with them that will not only de-escalate their panic, but even bring them around to your point of view and make them more respectful clients for the next designer they work with. I know it seems impossible, but with a little bit of work on your part, it’s totally doable.

The Root Of The Panic

When dealing with freelancers, it’s natural to be a bit nervous. If you’re dealing with an excessively panicky client, however, there’s usually something else going on. Get in their heads and figure out what’s really bothering them. It’s rarely the work itself – usually the client has some reason to fear that they’re not getting the full value from you that they’re paying for. Alleviate their fears by providing regular status updates.


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If a client is persistent in contacting you about trivial things, you can subtly give them a clue that they’re being obnoxious. How? Simply direct the client to a Google doc containing your most recent updates every time they bug you. If you do this enough times, with no harsh words or complaints, most people will eventually get the hint and stop bothering you.

Is It Really An Emergency?

Everything can’t be an emergency. Your client has to understand that there must be a hierarchy maintained of most important to least important tasks if you are to get any work done. If it seems like everything is an “emergency” or “urgent” to your client, don’t be afraid to pull out your schedule and directly ask them what they want you to knock off your priority list. No client is going to say ‘oh, this really important thing isn’t as important as this silly thing I came up with just now.’


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If something truly is that important to your client, he or she will likely give you enough of a warning beforehand and send the signal that it’s definitely something you need to take seriously. And if there is no time for a warning, you can use your best judgement to determine whether the task will directly impact the deadline for your work and advise your client on the best course to take.

Time Is Money

Let your client know there is a real cost to micromanagement and false alarms. Give them hard data as to how much their overzealousness is costing them. If, for example, I spend X amount of time doing status updates for a client, you can be sure I’m going to point that out to them. Many people don’t realize how much time it takes for you to respond to their requests, either because they forget they’re paying by the hour or because they’re simply caught up with other things.


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Avoid Pointless Busy Work

Sometimes, especially with a long-term project, clients get a bit unfocused and start seeing you as everything from a butler to a personal assistant to a grade school arts and crafts instructor. They’ll ask you to fetch their dog from the vet, or glue rhinestones on the wedding invitations you received from the printer, or some other silly task that isn’t remotely in your job description.

You can gently remind them that you are there to do serious work that requires the use of your unique, high-level skills by subtly listing your “rates” for these little requests. If the price is disproportionate enough (“sure, I’ll walk your pet guinea pig – it’ll only cost you $500″), they’ll slowly get the hint that you probably aren’t the person who should be doing those kinds of things.

Always Keep A Record

When dealing with clients who want to waste your time with trivial, unimportant work, it’s important to be ultra detailed in your communication records. Why? Because these clients can get so caught up in their own neurotic freak-outs that they conveniently forget that every silly thing they ask you to do is going to be tacked onto their bill. This can end badly when it’s time to send that invoice. Get sign-offs on a regular basis – make sure the client is well aware that these little diversions are costing them real money.


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If you have to, ask your client to confirm that they received your emails warning them whenever they swerved too far into the crazy lane. Then, when there’s a dispute (and there usually is), you can simply pull out your notes – with their responses displayed prominently – and remind them that they signed off on it earlier. If you want to be extra smug, you can ask them if they have any concerns about your records, or if they’ve noticed a discrepancy. Of course there won’t be any discrepancies. You meanie.

In Conclusion

I’m in no way suggesting that you should avoid clients who worry about the finished product they receive from you. This is usually preferable to having a client who simply doesn’t care either way, as at least you know that your work will be appreciated and looked over with a critical eye. By following the above tips, you can help keep most clients from fluctuating too widely and turning simple concern into full-blown panic.

What Do You Think?

Have any tips on how you’ve dealt with panicked, micromanaging clients? What do you say that alleviates their fears and gets them excited to work with you?

Author: (73 Posts)

Addison Duvall is the author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, art, and culture. She’s written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.

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