As a freelance public relations professional you are your own boss and employee, which is probably part of why you started freelancing in the first place. While it’s nice to be in charge, as a solopreneur you’re also responsible for making all the big decisions and having the tough conversations. There is no boss can’t step in, no coworkers to help support a difficult situation. Without the backing of an agency, the relationship you establish with your clients is paramount to your ability to maintain a positive working relationship. However, despite your best intentions, it’s possible to end up with a challenging client and feel feel locked into a bad professional relationship you just can’t shake off.
Here are six common problems that move clients from the “joy to work with” category to the “this cannot stand” levels of frustration. Here’s how to deal: freelancers face when dealing with diffs how to deal with a difficult client:
Problem #1: Client doesn’t understand PR
As a communication maven, you know the difference between PR, marketing and advertising. You know what falls under your wheelhouse as a publicist, and what is out of scope. However, clients regularly misunderstand what exactly PR is, how it works, and the different effects it can have on their business. This can lead to frustration on both sides.
What to do: Expectations and facts are two very different things. Develop a new client welcome process where you explicitly discuss your process, skills, and capabilities. Be sure your contract/terms clearly state what work you are responsible for executing, as well as a section that clarifies what is not included as part of your agreement.
Often times, clients are confused as to what exactly PR is, how it works, and the different effects it can have on their business.
Problem #2: Nonstop client communication
As a freelancer, you get the freedom to create your own rules. Email, phone, text, Skype—the communication options are endless. However it’s up to you to create appropriate boundaries when it comes to how and when it is appropriate to share an account update. A client who is texting at all hours of the night or interrupting your workflow to find out the latest news will quickly derail your ability to do your best work.
What to do instead: Some clients are hands-on and want to know what’s going on most of the time, while others will ask you to simply email weekly updates. Long emails can get a little out of hand, so try setting up a weekly call, or bi-weekly Skype video conference instead. Hearing you and having a visual helps everyone keep their humanity, realizing there is actually another person on the other end.
Problem #3: Endless rounds of review
So you have a client who can’t get enough of the red pen? Constant corrections, multiple edits, long conversations about this word or that – it’s enough to drive you mad. If edits are slowing down approvals, and limiting what you’re able to accomplish, it’s time to have a conversation about the approval process.
What to do instead: Allow for two rounds of review on individual items. Remind them that you are the PR expert and you were hired for your expertise. Discuss how a long approval process actually puts successful media coverage at risk.
Problem #4: Your reputation is at risk
Even before choosing to work with the client, difficult clients don’t typically set out to be challenging. Creating a clause in your contract will ensure that you protect yourself and your reputation in the long run.
What to do instead: Outline a behavioral clause in your contract. Everyone has their bad moments, but when someone is constantly nasty, or makes it hard for you to do your job then at least you have a backup plan. A behavioral clause in a contract, also known as a moral clause, is a statement explaining a freelancer’s expectation of a client’s behavior and conduct. This clause should briefly outline your ability to end your professional relationship based on rude or disrespectful behavior. Try these behavioral clause templates from Eric Goldman, a Professor at Santa Clara University School of Law for a sense of what to include.
Problem #5: Despite everything, It’s time to walk away
No matter how hard you try to patch things up, sometimes you just can’t make a professional relationship work. And that’s okay. If you have repeatedly tried to speak with your client and things have yet to change, then it may be time to let them go.
What to do instead: As a freelancer, there is no HR department to have your back. You have to make these kind of decisions for yourself, and for your sanity. Finish the last project you are working on to the best of your ability. Have a frank conversation about ongoing work, or the need to end the project early. You might offer a partial refund the work you won’t be completing. Explain calmly that due to your professional disagreements, you too aren’t a good fit.
Working as a freelance publicist has pros and cons like any job. However, the more you think through and protect yourself ahead of time for common client issues, the better you are able to set expectations and kickstart positive ongoing relationships with clients.
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