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What to Do When a Client Tries Your Patience

on Freelance Design

When working with clients, patience is both a must-have quality and a delicate balance. Of course, you’ll want to calmly train clients to use a CMS or explain the specifics of a project. That’s just a display of good manners.

But there are situations when you can be a little too patient. There can be points in a relationship where patience acts as an enabler for poor behavior. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to balance your good intentions with the potential for being taken for a ride.

Today, we’ll look at some scenarios where patience is called for and when it’s time to say “enough”.

Why Forced Patience Is Dangerous

I’ll admit that I’m generally a very impatient person. It’s something that has been a constant struggle. I often have to tell myself to be patient, even when I really don’t want to. While that’s great for keeping clients happy, it also opens the door to being taken advantage of (which I have been).

This mindset can allow certain types of clients to get away with things. For instance, it may lead you to forever excuse a client who is excessively late in paying an invoice. Or you might resign yourself to providing free “favors” that cost you time and money. All the while, you’re acting against your own better judgement.

The result is a seriously negative impact on your business. Not only do you lose money, but you can also be stressed to the point of dreading your work. It’s probably not what you signed up for.

Man typing while handcuffed

Where to Draw the Line

Don’t get me wrong, a little bit of patience can be a good thing. When a client sees that you are patient, it means that you are approachable. They can feel free to ask questions without fear of being snapped at. Because of that, your projects will have better outcomes.

But designers still have to set healthy limits on what can and can’t be tolerated. So, when is it time to assert yourself?

When a Client Won’t Hold Up Their End of the Bargain
Entering into a work agreement with a client isn’t a one-sided affair. It’s more than just a laundry list of your duties as a designer. Clients also have their own set of responsibilities. Things such as paying invoices, sticking to deadlines and providing you with a clear understanding of requirements are all a part of the deal.

It’s important to understand that we’re all human. We make mistakes and aren’t always able to come through without some failures along the way. But when a client displays a chronic inability (or lack of interest) in doing their part, we can’t let it slide.

When They Don’t Respect You
There are any number of ways to feel disrespected by a client. Maybe they never respond to your questions. Or they don’t seem to value your opinion on anything related to the project. You might even get yelled at or talked down to.

In this case, showing patience is simply allowing someone to treat you poorly. That can get old rather quickly and threatens the long-term viability of your relationship.

Whatever the issue, it’s not worth maintaining the status quo. In order to see a change, you need to act.

A barbed wire fence

How to Handle the Situation

When you’ve decided that enough is enough, it’s time to get the issue resolved. Keep in mind that it’s still important to maintain a professional tone (even if you’d prefer otherwise). The goal is to fix what’s broken and attempt to carry on the relationship, if possible.

Each situation is unique. But there are some general guidelines that can help:

Choose Your Words Carefully
Communication is the first step towards resolution. Think ahead about what you want to communicate to your client. To better explain the issue, include any relevant examples of behavior that support your claim. You don’t need to be accusatory – just stay calm and factual. In some cases, your client may not even realize what they’re doing until you bring it to their attention.

Impose Deadlines
Leaving a situation as open-ended ensures that your issues will drag on indefinitely. Instead, set deadlines for clients to take the necessary action. This creates a sense of urgency to get things done. Also state what the consequences of inaction will be. Most importantly, hold your bottom line! Otherwise, your words are just that.

Get Promises in Writing
There are times when you’ll want to get a signed document that clearly states what your client has promised to do. This is especially important when dealing with people who habitually fail to deliver on their word. Again, this enforces the idea of being accountable.

Don’t Offer Any Special Deals
If being overly patient helped to enable the problem, offering more of the same isn’t the answer. Any attempt at concessions on your part will keep the vicious cycle going around. Be friendly, but don’t be a doormat.

Person balanced high above a city street

A Virtue…with Limits

You might be under the impression that having patience leads to clients taking advantage of your kind nature. Despite the examples above, that’s really not the case. The overwhelming majority of those you’ll work with make being in business a great experience.

But the reality is that there are people out there who require more patience than others. Sooner or later, we will run into someone who habitually doesn’t pay bills or constantly makes our jobs more difficult.

That’s why it is imperative to set proper boundaries. Most clients will never cross them. But when one does, you won’t find yourself in a never-ending cycle of problems. You’ll have the necessary skills to correct little issues before they get out of control.