Dr. Freelance: I recently sent a client an email letting him know that a certain task was going to take time beyond the agreed-upon scope and therefore cost more, and asking whether he wanted to proceed. In response, he “reviewed” my services (i.e., enumerated all of the ways that I was falling short, basically questioning my fees. He softened the blow a bit by listing what he considered my “most significant contributions,” but it was still an unexpected blow. Anyway, I responded back with a list of my own honest thoughts about the relationship. I’ve been thinking about dumping him as a client anyway (he’s a chronic slow-payer) so I don’t really care what happens, but would like your perspective on how best to handle this type of thing. — Blindsided
Dear Blindsided: Based on that type of email “review,” not to mention the pay and myriad other underlying issues, I can understand why he got under your skin. It sounds like he is far underestimating how much work you’ve been putting into his projects. I’ve dealt with that type of client relationship many times before — heck, it was part of the disaster I shared the other day on my Jake’s Take blog.
As far as your response, I assume he’ll get the point. Personally, I prefer to have those types of conversations over the phone, because you can hear subtle cues (good or bad) that don’t come across in writing, and you can alter your approach during the discussion.
Part of the challenge is that you’ve both written fairly long emails to each other and thrown some pretty hard punches. As writers, we pride ourselves on communicating a message, but when it’s a hard-edged message, it can be received with more emotion than we realize.
Can this client relationship be saved? Since you are already in pre-dump mode, I suppose it doesn’t really matter how you handle it. You can go out with a bang or a whimper, the result’s the same. The other advice I try to give myself is to always sleep on a tough email — when you wake up in the morning, you may find yourself reconsidering what you’ve said or how you’ve said it.
If you *do* intend to iron things out, my only caution is that you can’t change how clients act, only how you react to their actions. Sure, you can gently guide them in one direction or another, but clients are always eventually going to revert to type, particularly under pressure. I know that sounds fatalistic, but it’s a client relationship reality.
Freelancers, have you ever given a client a “pure” piece of your mind? Tell us about it in the comments.