How to be Annoyed with Your Clients

How to be Annoyed with Your Clients

Everyone knows we should all keep a calm head in business, but that’s often easier said than done. Many situations can lead to annoyance – often innocent ones caused by cultural differences, miscommunications, misunderstandings and imagined tones.

So when Tim came along and offered a post on how to be annoyed with your clients, I wasn’t sure what to do – until I read it. Enjoy, and feel free to drop your favorite annoyance tips in the comment section!

If you’ve never been annoyed with your clients, then either you don’t have any yet or you possess a degree of luck that could win you the lottery a thousand times over.

Having disagreements with clients can be a little unnerving, but the situation is commonplace in business. Over the years, I’ve found there is a right and wrong way to be annoyed with clients – and if handled the right way, disagreements help forge a stronger, better relationship with your clients.

There are two key elements to handling disagreements successfully: moderation and tact – and there are two reasons why this is so.

1. Think then act

Before I started my own business – and I was considerably wetter behind the ears than I am now – I had the privilege of working for an incredibly mild–tempered boss. We worked on a project for a particularly antagonistic individual.

My boss received a number of heated and abusive telephone calls, but he never raised his voice or reciprocated the abuse. If he got a shirty email, he would leave it until the next day and then compose a polite, balanced reply.

He told me that people struggle to keep up their scorn when someone is being nice to them. He also said that if you wait before replying to abusive emails, you never say anything in the heat of the moment.

How right he was.

I’ve come close to returning evil for evil over email so many times – but I didn’t. And often, after the client has calmed down, he eventually expresses gratitude that you maintained your professional decorum through the project.

Thus the business relationship has been maintained – and been made stronger.

2. Protect your reputation

Sometimes your working relationship with a client comes to an end. For whatever reason. Does this mean you gain the satisfaction of telling them what’s really been on your mind?

Absolutely not!

Try to leave the client with an impression of, ‘Well, it didn’t work out but [s]he’s a nice person’. Remember, even if you never do business with the client again, that person might have friends, family and business associates who might.

Protect your reputatation. Just one person talking ill of your services is the bad apple that could spoil the rest of the bunch.

So how can you express your annoyance in moderation? It really depends on the circumstances. I believe you can group them via the following three scenarios:

A) Late payment

The unpleasant matter of the invoice going unpaid is probably the most likely reason you’ll get contention between you and the client.

I find clients tend to be one extreme or the other: either they pay pretty much straight away or they’ll leave it until you’ve chased it up two or three times. And if clients are tardy with payment, a rude email expressing your annoyance won’t help.

On the contrary, it’ll only further delay payment.

I get round this by always keeping some collateral on my side should clients show signs of defaulting payment. For example, my standard contract states that until I receive full payment, I can take any site that relates to overdue invoices offline. I’ve only ever had to exercise this right once but it worked a treat.

You don’t have to take such extreme measures. Find a way that helps you keep a little collateral on your side so that you always have a way to protect yourself should the invoice go unpaid.

B) Questioning your pricing structure/time spent

‘It shouldn’t cost that much’ or, ‘You surely didn’t spend that much time on it’ are pretty insulting if you’re honest to a fault (like most of us are). It’s tantamount to calling you a fraud.

So how do you deal with comments like that using tact and moderation? Normally the culprit is just ignorance – clients don’t really think you’re a charlatan. Respond with a detailed breakdown of the individual tasks that went into the job and show them how you arrived at your final numbers.

If clients still take issue with you, you can always say that you’re unable to do the job any cheaper without compromising on quality.

C) Changing their mind

When a client changes their mind partway through a project, it can be quite frustrating. There exists a rare breed of client that offers to pay for your extra time, but most won’t.

What should you do when a client changes his mind? Fall back on your contract – and you need a good one. For example, I cap the number of amends and the amount of time that can be spent on amends in my contract. If the work exceeds this marginally, I don’t say anything – I don’t believe it’s worth rocking the boat for a couple of minutes or dollars.

However, if it’s a major change beyond the original scope of the project, then it needs to be addressed.

Politely refer the client to your contract and state that the project doesn’t accurately represent the original quote. You’ll need to revise the price. If the client contests a price revision, simply ask them, ‘Would you work for free?’ That’s effectively what you’d be doing.

Sometimes all it takes is helping clients to see it from your side.

Separate It Out

Despite what they may have said or done to you, remember you should never, ever, ever get personal or abusive with clients. Even if you no longer want them as a client. Remember that if you part company and leave them with a sour taste in their mouth, they could damage your reputation.

You can – and at times you should – be annoyed with clients. The key to success is going about handling the situation in the right way. Eating a good wedge of humble pie might taste bitter at first, but trust me – it’ll pay off.

Post by Tim Bennett

Tim Bennett has worked in designing, building and marketing websites for the best part of a decade. He now works for himself under his company Texelate, offering web design in Leeds—and all over the UK.

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  1. I really enjoyed this post, Tim! I read a LOT of blog posts and haven’t read one quite like this before, so thanks!

    I have had a few somewhat negative comments on my blog recently. No, my commenters are not *technically* clients, but they are in pretty much every respect. I did what you said and just let the fury subside a bit, and then punched out a brilliant and very level-headed reply… as far as I’m concerned, anyway 🙂

    I’m just starting to get into the whole working-with-clients thing, so I particularly liked the part about what you include in your contracts.

    Thanks again, Tim.

    • One way I like to handle negative comments (even though we rarely get them around here) is to opt for one of two replies:

      1. Convey understanding and sympathy to the angry guy. There’s a reason he’s angry, and it’s not about you. If needs be, send a gentle, friendly, “What’s up?” email. You may be surprised at the results.

      2. Use humor. There’s no better way to handle a bad situation than to use humor in your replies.

  2. Loved this. My biggest client pet peeve is when folks pay me buckets (ha!) of money to advise them on using social media, only to turn around and do the exact opposite.

    Essentially, they know enough to hire someone to tell them what to do, but at the end of the day we all think we know better. It just drives me APE SHIT when a client I spent tons of time on not only doesn’t do what I tell them to do, but then whines that social media “must not work for them.” I know once they’ve paid and I’ve done my job it’s not really my problem, but I love having clients as case studies or examples of how good I am at what I do. But it’s impossible to show off your mad skills or just be proud of yourself when they completely ignore your hard work.

    Anybody else experience this?

    • Oh yes. Very, very frustrating.

      Very good article, but tell me how does a copywriter keep collateral on his side? It’s not like you can ask for the copy back. You’re lucky in that as a website builder you can take it down again. Maybe I need a different career. Then again, I’ve never had payment issues so far.

      • I heard a suggestion about incorporating a clause in the contract that the copyright of your supplied copy would transfer to the client only after full payment has been made. True, it’s not as enforceable as Tim’s example but it’s a start nevertheless.

    • Good point, Marian. In many cases, people feel like actually paying money will make their problems go away. So they plunk it down, you do the work, and they say “Thanks!” and never do anything with it… they weren’t looking for “what you have to do” – that’s work. They were looking for, “Spending this $500 will make all my problems go away like a miracle.” When you see things that way, makes it a lot easier to say, “That’s too bad for them. Maybe one day they’ll use the good advice!”

  3. Lots of reality coming through. This has to be the hardest part of freelancing or having your own business.

    The only thing I can think to add would be to have several support strategies in place for yourself: good friends, a colleague or online Forum in the same field, some stress busters…

    One of my best strategies is to remember the times I was on the other side and people thought I was unreasonable. Of course, they were wrong 🙂 But just maybe, I could have done things differently and this is my payback. This helps me gain balance and perspective.

  4. One of the hardest things to wrap your head around in these situations is to remember to not take anything personally.

    It’s your business–your livelihood–so when someone doesn’t pay on time, or questions your skills or fees, it can be pretty hard to take.

    The thing that’s kept the edge off for me (for the most part) is to remind myself that people are funny creatures, and that there’s almost always a way to work around client hiccups. Like you say, taking a deep breath and not getting caught up in the heat of the moment is critical.

    Nicely done, Tim. Lots of people will benefit from this great advice.

    • You are so right Stacey – I find the hardest part is always to not take it personally. It’s so easy to ask – why are they doing this to me? Cooler heads and some distance/humor as you suggested is a great approach!

      @Jodi – also a great point. My brother/partner does that all the time. He writes an email response that we don’t send just to “get it out!”

      Awesome article Tim – You hit this right on the head and I’m sure many of your readers have been in this same situation.

    • That’s KEY. Business IS business. It’s never personal. (And if someone attacks you personally, then you give them the boot right there!)

      There’s always a solution, too, just as you said. Presenting solutions to clients right away versus explaining anything is always a good way to get things back on track. “Sorry you feel that way, and here’s what I can do to help resolve this.”

  5. Another trick: write an angry email – but do it in textedit, notepad, or even a piece of paper. Don’t write it in an email program and don’tsend it! Just get it out of your system.

    Like Martin, I’m wondering how a copywriter holds back collateral.

    • For you and for Martin, it’s difficult to hold collateral on copy, at least tangibly… you have to show them the text, after all, and it’s easy to rip text online. Comment coming soon on that.

      • That’s one I can’t wait for….

      • Ha. Reminds me of college. A business set up shop, paid students to take notes in class, and sold these notes to other students…on red paper with slightly darker red text. You could not make copies. Perhaps send the clients the docs in jpg format. At least that way if they want to use it and not pay, they have to retype it.

        • Your comment about college reminds me of something. During exam time, my alma mater used to sponsor “primal screams.” We’d all stand in front of the library (nice, big, flat cement facade) and yell our heads off. You could here it from one end of campus to the other.

    • That’s a great idea Jodi — and one I’ve not tried. I do find going for a run or to the gym helps vent some frustration though!

      Regarding being a copywriter…that’s a tricky one. What’s the norm for payment? Do you get anything up front? Obviously, the more payments you get before the job is complete the safer it is. Although he wasn’t a copywriter I once spoke to a guy who took 100% up front for all his jobs. He must have some reputation to be able to get away with that.

      Thanks for the great feedback everyone.

  6. I count myself fortunate that I have a long-time client who is also one of those clients who *wants* to see me succeed. When I’m in a rough patch it’s nice to know I can call him to talk about the next phase of his project and get a boost from how much he loves everything we’ve done so far. He gets to feel like he’s getting amazing personal service, and I get free therapy. Everyone wins!

  7. Hi Tim,

    Lots of great ways to keep your cool in this piece! Your boss was right on with his delayed email response. Sometimes I’ve read an email and seen something that’s not even there, something I’ve actually projected because of my own issues. Given a break, it doesn’t feel as inflammatory because I’m not feeling as inflammatory.

    Pricing concerns tends to follow a pattern. If they’re obsessed with the price from the beginning it tends to keep reoccurring because it’s not really about the price, it’s about some other underlying issue. I now pass on those folks.

    Enjoyed this! thx, G.

    • I’ve found that those concerned about price aren’t really interested in getting results. Kind of sad, really.

    • Hi Giulietta,

      The other thing is a lot of correspondence in our line of work is via email, not phone or in person. So you don’t have the luxury of knowing their tone of voice. What could be a fairly harmless email could be read in a more negative manner.

      I’m the same as you on pricing too. If they seem to be a penny-pincher or price is all they talk about I just tell them I’m too busy.

  8. Is a friendly reminder that I still own the copyright to the e-book–and will until they make their final payment–an appropriate response? I might have mentioned that I still had the option of marketing the book myself if payment didn’t come through. This client had been looking for excuses not to pay for a few months, and it’s a big chunk of money that I NEED. I really am trying to keep my temper, but this has been going on for so LONG!

    Anyway, the only collateral I have in this case is the copyright and the right to market the book myself and get the money. It doesn’t seem to be motivating the client. Maybe that’s what he actually wants…

  9. Thanks for this! I fortunately haven’t had to resolve a dispute with a client yet, but if and when I do I hope to keep this advice in mind.

  10. Patrick Vuleta says:

    Coming from the perspective of an annoying client myself, sometimes clients can be annoying but rational.

    If they disagree with you, don’t try to present an argument to them from your side, simply ask them “why?”.

    Then let them speak.

    Just recently I was dealing with a consultant that shall be nameless and argued my position was superior. Then I proceeded to argue myself out of my position and into theirs when presented with the opportunity.

  11. I can identify with at least one of these situations- Changing their mind.

    When we first started the project my client wanted a specific marketing message. After I was nearly through with it he added new features to the product and now wanted to target another market. Copy had to be changed and of course, there was the question of extra payment.

    When I broached the topic he hesitated. Actually he sounded surprised. After I hit him with the “working for free” argument he saw the light and agreed to pay the extra cash.

    Another thing I learned from this- you got to ask your client. They don’t expect to pay extra for copywriting changes like they would expect to pay extra for modifying or reworking a physical object. For most of them the labour and time involvement in modifications is just not visible.

  12. Call me crazy, but sometimes I’m perfectly happy losing a customer. Hey, I’m with you, I don’t want to tarnish my reputation on the way out… but call me crazy; some people that want their bare butts kissed with wet lips, can take a rod in it and find someone else to work with.

  13. You know ive done a bit of webdesign in my time and the number one problem ive had is getting my invoices paid…I am just way too passive.. thank you for the intelligent post! it helped a lot!!!


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