Globalization has morphed the landscape of client and customer relations in only a few short decades. You may work with a company that has an office just down the street from yours or completely online as they are located on the other side of the world. Understanding how different companies operate will help you become a better consumer.

My Customer Story

I had an interaction with a potential client recently that left me taken aback. During our exchanges, I stated key team members didn't live within the United States. I mentioned this because an in-person meeting wouldn't have been possible. We were willing to work with their time schedule of course. This didn't sit well with them that they would be 'sending money overseas' in any capacity. They threw a vague threat that they could have the work done for cheap by any company located in India. Was the prospect of working with people outside the U.S. that daunting or inconvenient? I thanked them for their time and said my company wouldn't be able to help. I informed them that I don't allow my geographical location limit who I work with and that was how I operated my company.

Perhaps this confusion could have been avoided by a few simple steps.

Ask Questions

There's nothing worse than exchanging a dozen emails and phone calls, setting up a meeting date, and then getting through the meeting only to realize you aren't a good fit to work together. The way to avoid this would be to ask questions and lots of them. If you prefer to work with a state-side only company, ask where their headquarters are. If you want to know in-house staff will be working on your project, ask to meet them all. No, really. Asking to meet the team involved shows your initiate as a customer. That speaks volumes that you're a serious client and they need to step up their game.

Be Understanding

If you have no qualms with working with people outside of your area, globally or nationally, be understanding to what they have to contend with. Their time zones will be different and they are making compromises to meet and communicate with you. If they are dedicated to giving great service, they might be up very early or late just to fit your schedule. Keep in mind that no one is perfect. You wouldn't believe how often weather has crashed the meeting and kept people away. It isn't because they are being rude, they might have a literal hurricane to deal with.

Be Upfront

If you have specific expectations, make them known before you sign a contract. Stating your desires and goals from the business relationship are best cleared up before any work gets started. If you think you might offend someone with what you're looking for, then it might be an issue to discuss with your contact in private. Working in an environment that is tense is unpleasant for everyone involved. Don't avoid it, address it.

Don't Make Threats

When the client from my story threatened to take their business elsewhere, I didn't hesitate to say 'No Thanks.' The attitude that I'll do anything for your business isn't how I run my shop. We aren't a big-box store that you can bring competitor coupons to and still get what you want. Making threats that you can get the same thing for less elsewhere makes me question why you are emailing me. I have the luxury of selecting the customers my team and I work with. If we don't mesh, that's completely OK. No one likes to be treated this way, so don't do it in a professional context.

The Golden Rule

It applies to everyday life, both in and out of the office: treat people the way you would want to be treated. Knowing how to be a better customer helps people you work with be better business people. A little give and take, clarity, and no fear on asking tough questions will benefit everyone.

Breaking up, ending relationships, severing ties, no matter how you say it, ending something can be both a burden and a blessing. Freelancers just starting out might not want to stop working for a bad or difficult client. The money might be OK enough to keep going, but is that really what matters? Being your own boss means you're in control. The times you work, what you work on, and who you work with. When a client becomes too much, it's time to break up.

Before you fire, or dump, your client, try to address your issues with them first. Are they emailing you too often or during your off-work hours? Are they asking more than what agreed upon in the creative brief? Are their demands simply too much for you to handle? Before you send the final email, talk to them about your concerns. Most clients aren't aware of how disrespectful they are being and need to be informed of it. A misunderstanding can be addressed and you can continue to work together. Blowing up at them won't help either of you and makes you look unprofessional. If you have exhausted all these options, here's a break down of your break up:

It's Not Me, It's You

When you've been pushed to your limit by a client, it's time to let them know you just can't do it anymore. Either have a meeting face to face with them or a voice conference. It won't be easy, but it's the best way to do it. Have examples of when you tried to communicate your frustrations with them, print outs of emails or other exchanges, and explain to them you cannot continue to work this way with them. Stay professional and never point fingers. You want to break up with the project, and possibly the client, for good. But you still have to represent your business in the best possible light.

Saying No to Phishing

There are clients that were difficult to work with in the past, but at least their assignments were quick in regards to time. They come back with a new project but want you to work for less than what you quoted them. They might mention they have another designer willing to work for less, but they would rather work with you. If you stand firm on your price, they might try to phish for assistance. This is when they want you to tell them what, and possibly how, you would complete their project. All speculation of course, but who is to say they won't take your information and pass it on to their cheaper designer? Never accuse your client of anything, but do mention it feels uncomfortable sharing that information without a contract in place. If you charge for consulting services, this is the best time to bring it up and remind them you will consult but not for free. The best practice is to say it FEELS wrong for you to share that information. This isn't accusing them of phishing and might enlighten them to how their actions are being read. It might not be their intent at all. You don't know for sure, but it's better to just not go there.

The Final Goodbye

Once you've made your stance on your professional relationship with your client, next is paperwork. Whatever contract you had with them needs to be terminated properly. Send an email with the termination section highlighted and state that this is your formal termination of your contract with them and list the reasons. Mention the meeting you had and with whom, and include those people in the email. Invoice whatever they owe you for work done to that point, deliver whatever was promised with work already completed, and get clarification on everything. This is the tedious part as ending a contract half way makes for messy clean up. It is your job to make sure everyone is clear on what has been done, what is being delivered, and what is still owed in regards to payment.

After all that is done, you can walk away knowing you ended a toxic partnership and can now focus on other work. Standing up to a client is never easy, but it gets easier to recognize the difficult ones as time goes on. Being a freelancer means you hold power in who you work with. Don't be afraid of wielding that power when necessary.