How to not let clients take advantage of you

Every designer will run into difficult clients from time to time, but as a new business owner, you’ll probably run into them more often than not. You may have a client or two that doesn’t respect your boundaries, puts incredibly unrealistic expectations on you, or creeps on the scope of the project like crazy.

What are some of the warning signs that a client may not take you and your business seriously? Here are 6 ways that clients may try to take advantage of you and how you should handle the situation so that doesn’t happen:

They’re being increasingly difficult

Not all of your clients will be the dream client you’ve been waiting your whole career for. If your client seems perfect at first and then starts to ask for revision after revision in a short period of time, unfortunately, your client may not be so perfect after all.

Difficult clients may need to get proofs and artwork signed off by at least 5 people, 4 of which you’ve never met before. Not to mention, you may have to deal with a whole heap of last-minute changes without much, if any, warning at all. If the word “difficult” could be personified, you’re pretty sure it would be an accurate embodiment of this client. If your designs are going back and forth more than you ever originally anticipated or agreed upon, you may be the victim of what we call scope creep. (Cue graphic design horror movie music.)

What can you do?

At the very least, you’ll want to set up a meeting with your client to discuss these issues. You need to remind them what they agreed to at the start of the contract and let them know what they’re doing that’s contrary to their original agreement.

You want the design process to be as easy stress free as possible, so putting additional strain on you just isn’t fair and may result in you not doing the best job that you can do. Remember, you set the rules in your proposal that your client signed. It’s their job to abide by those rules.

They disregard your advice

There’s a reason you’ve been hired as an expert for this project, but sadly, you can’t control all of your client’s decisions. If your client does something undermining and demeaning by completely disregarding the advice you’ve given, don’t feel bad. Unfortunately, sometimes clients end up changing your designs without consulting you to something that’s not even close to your original design.

What can you do?

Clients need to let you just do your thing, but sometimes, you’ll need to do a bit of coaxing to convince them you know exactly what you’re doing. After all, they hired you for a reason! Try to provide reassurance that you have an expertise in your field and that they should trust you by politely taking command of the situation.

Sometimes you just have to let them know that you know what you’re doing! Don’t be afraid to communicate your concerns about trust to your clients.

Scope creep

Sometimes clients think that they can squeeze in additional needs and wants during your project work even though you already sent a proposal and a contract to your client letting them know exactly what you’ll do. All of the time, that’s just not okay.

Scope creep is where designers are truly tested and where they’ll learn to stand their ground. Scope creep plagues new designers, especially when they’re afraid of possibly losing a new client. What’s written in the contract is what you need to stick to; if your client wants you to do something that’s not in the contract, you have every right to say “no”.

What can you do?

You should send a copy of the contract to your client and nicely point out that what they are asking for was not part of the agreement. If they insist on you doing work not included in the contract, you should tell them that you’ll send over a new proposal that broadens the scope of your work.

You should let your client know that they’re asking for something not included in your contract the first time they ask. If you do something that’s not included in the contract even once, that opens the door for your client to ask for more and more that’s not included.

They don’t respect your boundaries

As a freelancer, you absolutely have to set boundaries with your clients. This includes boundaries with your hours, availability, scope of work, payment terms, time, etc. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of having a client take advantage of you. You also run the risk of working 24/7 if your clients expect you to be free all of the time. Trust me, you don’t want either of those things to happen!

If you do have set boundaries and your clients are still pushing them by creeping on the scope of work or by expecting you to accommodate them in every possible way, it may be time to drop them and find another client.

What can you do?

You should remind your clients of the boundaries that you abide by. If a doctor is only open from 9-5, no one expects them to stay open until 9 pm to take care of extraordinary cases. You’re a business owner now, and you shouldn’t be expected to do anything different.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes you’ll have clients that aren’t able to work during your normal working hours. If this happens, they should tell you this fact at the start of the project so you can determine if you’d like to take them on as a client under those circumstances. If they tell you they need special accommodations after you’ve taken them on, you have the right to decide from there if you’d like to continue working with them.

Having unrealistic expectations

Another sign that a client is taking advantage of you is when they start putting more and more on your plate without consulting you first. If your expectation of what you’ll deliver and their expectation of what they’ll receive are too different, tensions are sure to rise.

If your client expects you to make a major change to their project and they give you 4 hours notice before they have to present the design at a meeting, you have the right to tell them that you can try to help, but it might not be complete. They needed to give you more notice if they wanted it by this specific time, so it’s not your fault if they’re not prepared for their meeting!

What can you do?

Keep an eye out for this kind of behavior and be sure to be as transparent with your client as possible. Politely remind them that you’re only human and that you’re only able to do so much. If they keep asking for more without wanting to pay or keep needing last minute changes and expect you to drop everything to make them, it may be time to drop them as a client.

Not paying you

At times, it’s hard to predict whether or not clients will pay you for your services. When starting a new business, you, unfortunately, need to build up a reputation before some people may take you and your services seriously. You can sign as many contracts as you want, but if your client decides that they don’t want to pay you for your work, it’s time to take legal action.

What can you do?

There are streamlining tools for your business such as AND CO that also have the capability to send a demand letter on your behalf. You just need to pay a very minimal fee to use this feature. You can email your client to have them pay you, but if they still refuse to pay up, definitely use AND CO. Most of the time when a client sees a demand letter in the mail, they’ll pay since they know you mean business.


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