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Being a freelancer – How to deal with customer conflicts

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When you finally decided to quit your day job and take the path of freelancing, you have a lot of things going on like where to start from, how to land your first clients, how to be productive and respect the deadlines and so on. The last thing you need on your mind is having a conflict with your precious customer who, of course, you don’t want to lose. In fact, you want him to come back to you with new projects and even recommend you to his friends and partners.

Let me share with you my experience and try to help you with some tips and tricks in order to have a smooth collaboration with your clients and assure you get future work to do.

Lately, I have seen a lot of posts on some FB groups I am part of, with many freelancers sharing their negative experience or conflicts they are having with their customers and asking for advice. The most common conflict reasons are late payment, asking for free changes to the project or shortening the deadline. Yes, freelancing is challenging from many points of view and one of them if being forced to deal with everything by yourself, not having that big multinational business environment to have your back.

In order to avoid having client conflicts, you should have all the information on the table during your first meeting. First, discuss what his expectations about the project are, what does he want to achieve, what are his long-term plans for his business. Get to know your customer better than he knows himself, interview him as much as possible so you get a clear overview of his vision and think how you can use that information to differentiate your services from your competition. But think fast as you need to offer him a rough proposal on the spot if you want to win your pitch. After you both discussed needs and solutions, it is time to discuss the payment and delivery details. Explain to him your working process, make sure he understood what your and his obligations are and create a project timeline which fits both of you.

Establish clear expectations about the job you have to do, ask a lot of questions and get your precious informative boost for satisfying your customer.

Take some time to think about if it’s worth fighting for or you can both make a compromise, have a win-win situation and continue with your work. You have to remember that you are fighting for the same goal which is actually a success of both parties: your customer gets what he needs for his business and you get a happy client who will come back for more and most important he will recommend you to others and pen for you other profitable doors. Create that feeling of respect and cooperation by having open discussions with your customer, make sure you both are on the same page. The better you communicate, the most likely your collaboration will be a success.

When things go nasty, try to keep your calm, be polite and professional and don’t take it personally. If you cannot separate your personal feelings and an objective thinking is hard to get, then you should take a step back, let things settle down while you digest the conflict you are having with your customer. For example, don’t reply to that “special” e-mail right after you read it. Or if you are having a live conversation, think twice before you answer. Allow your blood pressure to decrease back to normal, let your nerves calm down and then, using a polite language, be the grown up and approach the problem in a professional way. Avoid saying something while you are angry because for sure you’ll regret it later. Fighting back will not solve the problem, it will make it worse and you risk losing your customers and get some negative mouth-to-mouth publicity.

You have to show your customer that you are willing to change, that you are open to learning and improving and that you are ready to listen and understand what is bothering him. If you have a positive attitude your customer will feel respected and appreciated and he will be giving you the same treatment.

Most of the conflicts don’t have to become a big issue unless you are insisting on making a real deal about it.

When you are trying to turn your hobby into a business, first you have to think about all those moments when you appreciated the great services or products you have been offered by others or the situations when you really wished to get out of there ASAP and never come back to those businesses again! I suggest you make a list of positive and negative experiences and then think about how you can improve the positive ones and how to avoid making the same mistakes like others. Why? Because you want your customers to come back and ask for more of your kind business!

I think it is impossible to have no conflicts in your freelancing career, but there are ways to reduce those chances to the minimum. So what if your customer wants something which you haven’t done before and doesn’t sound so good for you? Maybe it will grow on you and you’ll get to learn new things which will come in handy for your future projects! Communicate a lot, have a great plan, trust yourself and your skills and do your best to be the best. Be honest and open-minded.

If you would like to go deeper into details regarding how to solve any kind of everyday conflicts, I totally recommend you this awesome book Resolving Everyday Conflict (affiliate link)!

 How do you handle customer conflicts? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

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