7 Types of Challenging Freelance Clients and How to Deal With Them


It would be great if every client you had was a dream client. They assign the work, fund the escrow, you deliver, they approve and pay. Done and done! Unfortunately, we don’t live in a dreamland of perfect clients. Most of them are pretty great, even though each of them has their own quirks and ways of communicating and doing things.

However, after working as a freelancer writer for over 13 years, I can tell you there are some clients who are just plain difficult. So, I thought I’d categorize them here. Obviously, these are still generalizations and you can have overlap. But these are the types of difficult clients I have encountered over the years, the types you too might have to deal with in your own freelance work:

1. The “Micro-manager” Client

You start a project and within an hour the client is messaging and asking how it is going. And the messages just don’t stop. This is the type of client to whom you want to say, “Back off and let me do my job!” In reality, you might have to grin and bear it as best as you can.

This might mean you finish that project and decide never work with that client again and that is fine. But if the communication is positive and helpful overall, the pay is good and prompt, and the work plenty, you might decide to grin and bear it.

2. The “Non-communicator” Clientbullhorn-2026013_640

This client is the opposite of the micro-manager. They take a long time to answer questions or give feedback on work you’ve done. This is particularly annoying when the client has been clear they are on a tight deadline. They expect you to deliver good work quickly, but are not at your disposal to answer questions and deal with any issues that arise. This has happened to me many times. In fact, this has been more of an issue than the micro-manager.

Sometimes, clients simply don’t say a whole lot. They respond with partial sentences or very short sentences, which really don’t give you the warm and fuzzies or a lot of necessary information. There have even been a few occasions in which the client hasn’t even told me his or her name.

3. The “Expert” Client

This is the client who is an expert in their field. Maybe they can’t write well or don’t have the time so they are asking you to write their article, paper, or book for them. Perhaps they don’t do graphic or web design, but they know precisely what they want and they’ll know it when they see it.

This kind of client is great to work with (and they often pay well), as long as they understand there will be some back and forth between the two of you. It is unreasonable for any client to be upset or frustrated when a freelancer doesn’t get something just the way they want it the first—or maybe even the second or third—time around. This is especially true if they are an expert in their field and have a very, very specific idea of what they want. In general, I have had good experiences with clients like this.

4. The “Ask for more than agreed to” Client

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This is the client who sets up an agreement with you, with what seem to be clear project expectations, and then ask you to do more. You might have agreed on a certain length for a paper, and then they expect you to add on 20 pages. Or they might want you to include a sales page with a free report you have been hired to write. Ultimately, these clients are doing one of two things:

  1. The scope of their project changed and they expect you to adjust accordingly without altering the terms of the original agreement in terms of fee or deadline.
  2. They are trying to get free work out of you. They probably knew what they wanted from the beginning.

Either way, asking for more work without adjusting the terms of your agreement accordingly shows a lack of respect and/or ignorance as to the value of what you do. They just don’t understand the time and effort that goes into writing, graphic design, web design, or any other type of service you might offer.

5. The “You aren’t providing what we asked for” Client

This doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it can be difficult to deal with. This is the client that looks at your work and tells you that you have not done what they asked. Yet, what they say they require wasn’t made clear in the project description or offer. Unfortunately, you won’t know this is coming until you start working.

I’ll tell you about one time this happened to me. I have written courseware for clients in the past, so I applied for a job creating a course for how to write a fiction book. I got the job and sent the first few lessons and the client came back and told me to review the project requirements again. He said they had hired me because my profile stated I had experience writing and editing textbooks and he went on to talk about the textbook they wanted.

Now, a textbook is not the same as a course. So, I responded by saying that the word “textbook” was never mentioned in the project description, nor is it mentioned anywhere in my profile or the proposal I submitted. I had indicated I had written courseware. I then sent them a sample of courseware I had written in a more step-by-step style than the material I had submitted to him and asked him if it was a more suitable style.

He got back to me and said the sample was not a suitable style and to let him know if I could deliver what they want. I explained carefully that I could, but was concerned about the budget. When he got back to me, he told me he was very confident I could deliver what they needed, but he could not change the budget. In the end, I walked away. The frustration and time would NOT have been worth it.

6. The “Say your work is fabulous, but give you a low rating” Client

I have had a few of these clients sprinkled throughout my years of freelance writing. I am always careful to send material for content review so a client can steer me in a different direction if I don’t have something quite right. If they have any problem with what I’ve written or how I’ve written it, they have plenty of opportunity to say so—and most do.

But I’ve had clients who go along happily, telling me my work is “great,” “fabulous,” “excellent,” only to get a measly 3.5 out 5 rating (or another less-than-stellar rating) from them. If they really thought my work was that fabulous, then I should have received no less than a 4.5, and if they thought my work was only worth a 3.5, then they should have told me what the problem was and allowed me to fix it.

There isn’t much you can do about this type of client because you don’t know the low rating is coming until after the project is done. Thankfully, they are few and far between.

7. The “Let’s communicate via Skype” Clienticons-847262_640.png

This is a particularly interesting type of client and I have had quite a few of them. They fall into one of two categories. The first is reputable and generally turns out to be a good client. This is the client who requests your Skype ID because they want to actually speak with you over Skype and/or they prefer messaging via Skype. Now, Upwork provides instant messaging that is every bit as good as Skype, but some people just prefer Skype.

If the client is still fine with working through the platform, accepts your proposal, and sets up and funds milestones, then you are good. But remember, if you don’t hold your conversations on Upwork or on the messaging system of whatever platform you are using, there is no record of the conversations you have had with the client on that platform. If there is ever a dispute, there is no way for the people at Upwork who are handling the dispute to access past conversations so they can aid in the mediation process.

The second type of client who wants to converse via Skype is the one that doesn’t want to work through the freelance platform. They still might be legitimate clients who will pay you for your work, but strictly speaking, as a member of a specific platform, you are not allowed to find a client via that platform and then arrange to do the work and receive the payment outside of it.

In addition, many of these types of clients are scammers. They are trolling for free work and they will try to assign work to an unsuspecting writer and have them write a few articles with a promise of weekly pay and then bugger off with a bunch of the writer’s work. I grew wise to this quickly, but it sucks all the same. Once, I even had this happen with a scammer client that hired me through Upwork. Thank goodness for Upwork’s payment protection!

Working as a freelancer isn’t a steady-state gig. You will have your ups and downs. And sprinkled in among all your great clients, you will have some that are difficult, some that are less than desirable, and some that are downright horrible.

We would love to hear your client stories! Take some time in the comments section below to tell us your best and your worst.

Cheers, Karen

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