Freelance: Is the Client Always Right & How to Deal With It

By Jamie McSloy / September 24, 2017
freelance client always right featured image

Is The Client Always Right?

No… the client is not always right.

Now, what I will say is that the client has the final say. They’re paying you to do a job and if they want the job done in a specific way, then they’re the one who is paying.

However, most jobs are undertaken with the idea in mind that you, the freelancer, will do the best job you can. Moreover, if you’re looking to build your referrals or testimonials list, you’ll want the project to be as successful as possible for the ongoing effects.

Plus there’s a morality issue there, but that’s a whatever kind of deal.

So the issue comes when a client says, “Do it like this” and you know that the results are going to be worse than if you did it in another way.

What do you do then?

It’s a good and common question.

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I’d split it into two categories:

  1. Are you getting paid well or otherwise have a vested interest in the success of the project?
  2. Are you getting paid poorly with a low-quality client and with no vested interest in the future?

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t think this way. You would do the best you could for everyone. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t tend to work that way. Let’s talk about why.

“Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”

The genesis of this article was a forum thread I read the other day. In it, some guy who labelled himself as an “independent roleplaying game developer” was arguing with a marketing guy about the value of freelancers.

Speaking of which: someone remind me to come back to the “RPG development” thing. You can cheaply and easily build RPGs and outsource the whole thing. Ironic, given this guy’s opinions and what I’m about to say.

So, the RPG Maker said, “I could do anything a freelancer does, I’m just hiring them because I don’t have time to do it all myself.”

For the new freelancers among the readers, that’s a red flag for a potential bad client. It’s sadly an all-too common one, too. Many people who hire you will think, “This guy is a freelance writer and anyone can be a writer.” Or they’ll look at Upwork and say, “Hey… some Indian dude can write me a blog post for $3 why are you trying to screw me out of $100!”

A client who thinks like that is not worth helping. They underappreciate your input and if they can’t tell the difference between a $3 article and a long-form sales page, then they probably won’t understand why you’re doing the specific things you’re doing within the page.

You can try and argue with them… but it’s a waste of time. (Trust me.)

This is very different to a client who says, “Hey, freelancer… I’m really not sure I think this sales page might be too salesy. Are you sure it’ll work?”

With that client, you say, “This is why it’ll work.”

Let’s look into what to do more.

How To Deal With It

Split your client in to one of two groups. In reality, this is more of a spectrum, but for simplicity’s sake:

  1. Low paid and otherwise not a fruitful long term thing
  2. High paid or otherwise a good idea for you to get on their good side and stay there

We’ll be professional in any case. But if the client is in the first group and says, “Hey you might be the freelance copywriter here but I know best!” you’re going to say something like:

“Well… based on my experience and testing, what you’re suggesting is less effective than what I’ve created. However, if you’d prefer your way, then we can do that too. I’ll amend and send you the updated version.”

If you’re getting paid $100 to write a blog post and it’s going to take you an hour and the client is difficult, this is the easiest route to take. Take the money, do the job, and spend more time on better clients.

If you’re getting paid a lot, want to retain the client long term or otherwise hope the company do well, then you should try and convince them as such.

“Hey, Freelancer, I am really worried that this sales page is too long and people won’t scroll to the end. We should change it.”

Now, let’s say you’re a relatively good direct response copywriter and you’re making a few thousand per letter plus royalties.

Are you just going to say “Bye, bye” to thousands in royalties down the line because your client – who isn’t a copywriter – is worried about what you know will work?

I’ll tell you I don’t.

How To Convince A Client What’s Good For Them

If a client comes to me and says, “Hey, Jamie… I’m not sure this is going to work.”

Firstly, I’ll say the usual disclaimers… “Well, no campaign is guaranteed to work, but we’re drawing on a hundred years of advertising science plus all the data we’ve both accumulated about the target market” or something similar.

Then, “Studies show that long-form sales letters outperform short-form by X%. Here’s why:”

Then write up a couple of hundred words based on whatever their fear is.

Most of the time, the person on the other end will agree. If they don’t, politely just use your own reasoning.

For instance, if I’m getting royalties for a project, I can easily say, “look… as you know, royalties are part of the deal, and whilst you’re the client and the final decision is yours, I’d prefer that both your returns are higher and thus my royalties are higher. I strongly suggest you don’t replace “Buy now” with “pretty please like me and give me some money if that’s not too much of a problem.””

Not in as many words as that obviously, but just reiterate that you want the project to succeed as much as they do.

Final Thoughts

Most clients know what they’re doing, know what they want you to do and if you do the job well, aren’t a problem.

Some clients are going to be micromanagers and people who think they know it all, and there’s little you can do about it except smile and nod. Oh, and eventually replace them with better clients. (Added bonus: better clients pay better anyway.)

Most of the remaining clients are apprehensive. When it comes to high expense purchases (which high end freelance work is,) you have to understand that people are giving you a lot of money that they need to make a return on.

Providing you’ve determined the client is in this latter category and not the former, then all you need to do is explain to them why you’re doing what you’re doing.

At a certain point, you have to stop thinking “the customer is always right” and take responsibility as a subject matter expert in your field and tell them why you do the things the way you do.

Think of it like this; you wouldn’t tell your heart surgeon how to go about the job. You’d defer to his knowledge after tallying your options. You, the high end freelancer, are the surgeon in this metaphor.