How to deal with unhappy clients?

Written by Marijn Raeven

6 minutes of reading

Once in a while, you might find yourself in a difficult position: a client is unhappy with your work, and you need to mediate the situation.

It’s important to assess what lead to this situation. Did you mess up a job or deadline, is the client being completely unreasonable, or are there different interpretations about what was ultimately expected of you?


If you are clearly to blame because you missed a crucial deadline or did not meet the original requirements, the answer is easy:

  • Be humble, try to make it right, and see whatever you can do to restore the relationship with your client.
  • Do an honest analysis of why you ultimately didn’t deliver, see how you can prevent this in the future, and share this insight with your client. Showing an honest insight in your own failings and ability to grow might give you an extra chance with your client in the future.

When the situation is less clear, the important thing is to play devil’s advocate, and look at the situation from your clients perspective. For example, it might be obvious to you that your client is changing their original demands. But you are the expert. Sometimes clients will make unreasonable demands because they don’t understand your workflow, or make assumptions based on their (limited) knowledge. They might think change X takes a lot of work while change Y just takes a few clicks – while in reality, the situation is exactly reversed. In these cases, it’s best to look for a reasonable compromise.


When you run into these types of situations, it often means you did not inform your client enough about your workflow, or did not manage expectations. The best way to deal with these types of situations is ultimately to prevent them.

  • Make sure you have a meeting about your workflow, what kind of changes are and aren’t possible during the course of the project, what deliverables your deadline depends on, etcetera – all before the start of the project. Even if your client is not interested in such a meeting, insist it’s the best way to prevent a lot of lost time down the road.
  • Show your client your passion, confidence, and knowledge about your area of expertise.

Don’t make these meetings too long, practice them first and try to nail the essentials. Additionally, you might want to make a small overview of the key points the client needs to remember. You might not feel comfortable putting your client in the position where you are basically teaching them something, but you would be surprised to find out how many people appreciate this approach. And the fact that you are being thorough about the process also gives your client a lot of confidence in your ability to get the job done.


Finally, there will always be clients that seem reasonable at first, but are just looking for a way to exploit you, no matter how you look at it. They might start to ask for a discount when the job is done, or change their mind near the end of the project. If you did everything right, and you still end up with unreasonable demands, don’t try to groom your client. It’s perfectly fine to say “no” to unreasonable demands. You should be paid in full when you completed your job, and you can ask for more money and time to implement additional requirements, even if the client insists they did not budget for that.

In some cases, the client will respect you for standing your ground, and making it clear where the boundaries are. If not, that might be a sign that this is not a worthwhile relationship to invest too much time in. Businesses that are in the “business” of exploiting freelancers usually don’t have a very steady business model to begin with. A heated discussion will often lead nowhere, except to a lot of frustration on your end. Try not to hold a grudge, and move on to new and better things.


In conclusion: keep your communication as transparent as possible, avoid possible issues by explaining your workflow to your client before the start of the project, and try to learn something from each experience, good or bad.

Marijn Raeven is an animation freelancer and teacher located in Belgium – If you would like more information about his work, please visit his website:

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