Things My Clients Hate. What about Yours?


I have been a freelancer for almost a decade now and in the course of these years, I have had dozens of clients and hundreds of projects. While no two clients are the same, I have noticed some common things many of my clients hate.

For truth’s sake, I try to avoid these things, especially when I really value the client but sometimes the items on the list below are unavoidable.

Here are the Top 5 of things (my) clients hate:

1. Missed Deadlines

I am not quite sure if this is the thing my clients hate the most, especially having in mind that I relatively rarely miss deadlines simply because I have already learned not to leave a project to become urgent and very often we don’t even set a fixed deadline at all (i.e. it is more “You will have it done sometimes next week” rather than “You will have it done next Friday by 5 p.m.”), which gives me more flexibility to arrange my schedule, but based on what I know from other freelancers (and my own experiences on a couple of projects where I did miss the deadline), clients really hate it.

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I guess clients hate missed deadlines more when it is crucial. For instance, if you have to finish a design by a particular date because this date is set in stone as the beginning of a huge promotion campaign for the site, then it is really obvious while the client will get mad, if you miss the deadline. Fortunately, I have already learned that even when such projects pay more, these fixed deadlines are too much for me to take – not because I am not serious but simply because things happen and I might miss the deadline because of a something unpredictable, so I do take such projects only when I absolutely have to. After all, clients also need to learn to plan in advance and start a project early rather than in the last minute and make the freelancer’s life a real hell because the project is so urgent, urgent, urgent, and the world will end, if we miss the deadline.

2. Price Increase Mid-project

I understand a client (usually) has a budget for a project and he or she is not happy to go over it but it is quite common a project to get more complex or larger in size than what we initially estimated and in this case the price can’t stay the same. I know that some freelancers use this cheap trick to get clients – i.e. they quote a lower price and after the client is hooked, somewhere in the middle of the project, they announce additional charges and this makes clients cautious but not every freelancer plays that low.

Besides, if you fix the price (and above all – what it includes) in the contract, very often this solves the problem. Just make it clear to the client that the volume of work has changed and this is why you are increasing the price. Still, I am perfectly aware that this isn’t always possible and because of this I try to make the initial estimate as precise as possible, or break down a large project into smaller chunks and put prices for each of them.

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I really hate it when a client says to give him or her a final price without knowing exactly what the volume of work is. If the client is very pushy and shows no understanding to the fact that I can’t quote a final price when I don’t know how much work there is, we sometimes just part ways. I sometimes explain that his or her question about the final price sounds like, “How much does it cost to fill my basket with fruit?” It is the same basket but the price is different – it just depends on what fruit you put in it.

3. Poor Communication or Lack of It at All

I have rarely had clients who are mad at me because of poor communication (more, it is the other way round – I get mad at clients who answer weeks after I asked them something) simply because I know how vital good communication is but from what I have heard from clients and other freelancers, this is something clients really hate. Of course, I am not expected to answer real time and I did have some cases when clients were irritated for not getting an answer immediately but this is more an exception than a rule.

The case I am referring to was with an Australian client who probably didn’t know what time difference is. While she was bombarding me with emails, I was sleeping because in Europe it was still night. Am I expected to answer emails while I sleep?

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This is why, when I land a new client, I very often tell him or her that I usually respond to emails in 24 hours or less. Also, when I know (i.e. when it is planned ahead), I do tell in advance when I am not available (like, “I will be away for the weekend and will come home on Monday in the afternoon”), so that they don’t expect an answer from me. In all other cases, if I am late with the answer, presume an emergency has stricken or I have simply forgotten, so please shoot me another email to check if I am alive or not.

4. Unavailability

I don’t know why but I think clients presume a freelancer is available all the time. This is why when a freelancer is offered a project, he or she must gladly jump on it right away. Every now and then I do get such clients and I notice their irritation when I tell them I can’t be theirs, at least not right away. It’s very funny when I get approved for projects I have applied for months ago and get an enthusiastic message from the client, who probably expects I have spent all these months waiting for his or her approval and is very disappointed I am not interested anymore.

The clients I have been working for for years already know that I do have a schedule, very often a tight one at that, and it isn’t very likely to be available right away (though this happens, too but don’t presume this is very likely). I taught them they need to contact me at least a week in advance for a small project and two weeks or more, if the project will require more than 10 hours a week, so that I can adapt my schedule. Still, if my schedule is filled for weeks ahead, I might not be able to accommodate a large project and in this case I am fine if they find somebody else for the project.

5. “This Can’t Be Done!”

I know how it feels when you want something badly but you can’t have it and because of this I understand why my clients are unhappy, when something they want badly can’t be done. With clients, who are technically savvy, it is easier to explain that there are technical limitations and not everything they dream of can come true.

For instance, once I was designing a small site (6 or 7 pages, static HTML) for a client of mine, who was a one-man show in electronics retail. He had seen the site of a competitor of his (a huge multinational company) and wanted much of its functionality. I did manage to communicate that the competitor’s site uses much more complex technologies and in theory we could switch to them, if he really wanted to but this will increase the price 7 or 8 times.

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He was disappointed but at least he didn’t make a fuss about it, unlike another client of mine a couple of years ago who responded something like “You can’t do it?! But I thought you were a pro!” when he wanted something very complex and I told him that I doubted it could be done at all and for sure I couldn’t do it.

What about you?

There are clients and there are clients. Not everybody is irritated by the same things. However, I presume it is not only my clients, who hate these things and it will be interesting to hear what other fellow freelancers have to say about what their clients hate. Care to share your experience? What do YOUR clients hate?

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