Freelancers: Do Clients Suck?

This one is for those of us who are freelancers, service providers, or who have ongoing relationships where we work with clients.

Gary Halbert – one of the greatest copywriters to ever work in the field – used to wear a hat that had two works embroidered on it: “Clients Suck”.

Do they?

A lot of people say they do.

For a long time I bought into that idea. I had good reasons. Most of my clients seemed to be too demanding, too unwilling to follow my advice, and too determined to carry out some weird idea even though it was clearly not in  their best interest. Some of my clients were even abusive, taking advantage of me in ways I don't want to go into here (it wouldn't help anybody to do so).

The one day I realized I was making a contribution to each of those relationships that helped create that situation. My contribution was three-fold, and it directly contributed to making those relationships miserable for me (though they were, in fact, great for my clients). One lesson for you: if the relationship is only great on one side… it's not great. It's dysfunctional, and somebody is getting hurt.

Here are the three things I was doing that made it seem as though “clients suck”:

  1. Not carefully selecting clients from the beginning, screening out those with whom I was not a good match.
  2. Not setting boundaries for the relationship so that both parties know what those boundaries are, and teh reasons tehy are in place.
  3. Not realizing that I was free to “fire” clients who were “problem children”.

Once I finally figured those three things out, and changed the way I selected clients, how I set boundaries with them, and how I communicated with them when those boundaries were crossed, I was completely freed from the notion that “clients suck”.

Because mine don't … now.

And that's the lesson: you too can quickly reach a place where you love and appreciate your clients, where they don't trample on your schedule or your value, and where you can easily resolve any conflicts that might arise.

All you have to do is:

  1. Develop criteria that describe your ideal client and use those criteria to screen out any clients who don't meet them.
  2. Carefully and respectfully set the boundaries in your relationship from the beginning – and stick to them.
  3. Communicate immediately with the client when those boundaries are crossed – and when you suspect that you need to “fire” a client, do it sooner rather than later. Trust me, you'll know when it is time.

If you will do those three things, then when someone says to you that “clients suck”, you'll be able to give them the same response I do: “Mine don't.”

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at

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  • Great comments, and great advice. Question: Should you allow a down economy to stretch the description of who is a good match? And if so, in what areas should you stretch? There in lies the rub. But thanks again for reminders to help us run sound businesses.

    • As long as “stretch” doesn't mean “accept clients that are a poor match” – I'd say that's fine.

      Of course, sometimes clients become a “better match” when we simply change our attitude, yes?

  • Ray,

    Excellent post and one that is helpful for both freelancers just starting out and those of us with a little more experience.

    Genius though Gary Halbert was, that comment of his has never sat well with me. After all, we're in a service business and if you adopt that attitude it's likely to become a self fulfilling prophecy. The ideal situation, I'd suggest, is a partnership with the client, where everyone is aligned with the same interests.

    Appreciate that it's hard for a lot of people when they are just starting out and anxious where the next dollar is going to come from. But your comments will get people started in the right way and save a lot of heartache.

    One suggestion. Most of my clients are people that I've met personally, usually at a seminar or other live event and my experience has been that the relationship goes a lot smoother when you've actually had the chance to sit down face to face. Having said that, one of my best clients is someone I've never met and they are a real pleasure to work with.

    Final point, good relationships don't just happen and they need some work to maintain them and strengthen them.

    Thanks again for a great post (and hey, you've been blogging up a storm lately!…notice I missed a whole heap of posts over the holiday period).

    • Good thoughts Kevin – and thanks for noticing that I've been spending a bit more time on the blog lately. I appreciate… being appreciated. 🙂

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  • Quillforhire

    It’s much easier to work in this field when you are willing to stick up for yourself! Sure you might lose the occasional client and paycheck, but the fact is that one of the biggest perks of freelancing is that you can demand respect and decent behavior and Get It! No dealing with an abusive or difficult boss (unless you’re mean to yourself, lol) because it’s your only source of income. But a lot of people think that they have to put up with crap from clients and they really don’t. We are necessary to businesses and that entails a certain amount of respect.

    My clients don’t suck; they can be a bit flaky, I might argue with them on occasion (and win!), but that’s just people (and everyone has a bad day) 😀 I got rid of my sucky clients.

    Thank you for your awesome post; I think all freelancers starting out should read it!

    • Yes, having good boundaries is a must. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Artistic Designer

    I’m new to freelancing – I’m 24 years old with a degree in fine arts and began design over a year ago professionally. I started my network with volunteer projects for some charities in my city with great success and have worked with several companies since then. Recently I had to ‘cancel’ my first client however it was the right decision – I had been dragged on by an indecisive team and conflicting ideas and despite my best efforts, I came to the decision that it would be better if we went our separate ways. A good lesson to learn.

    Now I have encountered my first turn down on project completion because it didn’t meet the ideas for the marketing – however, I have taken it as an ego blow rather than a professional one. Perhaps it is my arts background and my emotional attachment or my newness to the industry, but I would love to overcome this since I’m sure it is part of the territory and may happen again. I guess I’ll have to adopt the attitude that what is done is done, but it is nagging at me! I’d love to hear some feedback from someone with more experience in this field than I. Thanks 🙂