How to Get Clients to Stop Driving You Crazy

Dear Heather,

I really like this new client, but they’re driving me crazy! They pay really well, so I don’t want to let them go, but every time I get an email from them I get nervous. They say they like my work, but they want so many changes on every draft that I have to write the whole thing over and over again. Every time, I feel like they’ve changed their minds about what they want. They’re always nice about it, but at this rate I’m never going to be done with anything! It’s making me miserable. What should I do?



Dear Katie,

It sounds like it’s time for a come-to-Jesus with your client. You say they pay you really well, but is that true after you account for the time you spend going over drafts again and again? And what about the drain on your mental energy of all that dread and anxiety every time they communicate with you?

When revisions drag on and on, there is usually one of two things happening. Either you’re not a good match for the project, or the client doesn’t know what they want. In the first case, the remedy is either to figure out what’s going wrong or to leave the job. However, it sounds like this is a case of the latter–the client just doesn’t know what they want.

When that happens, it is not your job to babysit them unless they are paying you to babysit them. Fyi, this is called strategic consulting, and it costs tens of thousands of dollars, so unless you’re making that kind of money from them…

Here’s what you do. Send your main contact an email that says, “Hey client, We’ve got a problem. Can we jump on the phone for about twenty minutes to discuss?”

Do not go into great detail about the problem or apologize for bringing it up. You have a right to have your concerns addressed, and you don’t owe an apology for demanding it. Further, it’s good if this email makes them a little uncomfortable. Let them be uncomfortable. It will help them get into the right frame of mind to hear your concerns.

When you get on the phone (in a scheduled call!), lay out the problem. Be kind, but don’t sugar coat. Tell them exactly what you told me: You love working with them, and they’re super nice, but you feel like you’re never going to get done with anything, and that’s not sustainable for you. You can add that it’s also not profitable, as your pricing doesn’t account for the number of revisions they want. Business people understand profitability, and they won’t get their feelings hurt when you bring it up.

I know it’s tempting to then jump in and try to solve the problem for them. Don’t do that. Let them try to solve the problem for you first. Sometimes, the solution the client comes up with is better and more beneficial to both of you than anything you might have thought of.

Most likely, the client’s response will fall into one of five buckets:

  1. Yeah, this really isn’t working out. Let’s wrap up and close the engagement.
  2. Yeah, we really don’t feel like you “get” what we’re trying to do. It might help if we explain x or you research y.
  3. Yeah, we’re really sorry about that. We’ve just (insert litany of excuses here). Can you bear with us a little longer?
  4. Yeah, we’re really sorry about that. How can we make it work better for you?
  5. Yeah, we’re really sorry about that. Would it help if we paid you more?

Envision these options on a bell curve, with the first and last at the outer edges. The middle options are the most likely responses (with #3 by far the most likely, way at the tippy top of the bell). Numbers 1 and 5 are … not likely … but possible.

Let’s look at how you can respond to each possible response.

#1: Let’s Close the Engagement

This isn’t exactly what you were hoping for, but it is useful information. This client was never going to be a good and profitable client for you. Thank them for their honesty, be grateful to have found out sooner than later, and get back to work finding new clients. You know where to find the better clients, right? If not, go get the Get Started Guide and work the system.

#2: You’re Not Getting It

If the response is #2, first decide whether you think they’re right. If you think it’s more them than you, a good response is: “Thank you for that feedback. I’ll look up those resources. I’d also like to talk about our process, and how we can make it work better for all of us.” Follow this up with some version of the plan outlined in #5 below.

If you agree with them that you are the problem, then decide whether you want to do the extra work involved to get up to speed. If this is a niche you’re interested in learning more about, then it’s probably worth the investment. If this is a one-of situation and the subject holds little interest for you, then perhaps it’s time to consider moving on from this client. And get to work finding better ones for you.

#3: Bear With Us a Little Longer

This is both the most likely and the most aggravating answer. DON’T FALL FOR IT. It’s a trap. Yes, they really do think this is temporary, but it’s not. It never, ever, ever is temporary. Trust me. 16 years in. It is NEVER temporary unless you do something to make it temporary.

The something you do is this: “I understand completely. I don’t mind a little confusion here and there but it’s important to me that we put processes into place to make this easier for all of us. Here is what I suggest (insert plan as outlined below).”

#4: How Can We Make it Work Better for You?

Ding, ding, ding! If you get this answer, then you’ve got a keeper on the line. Hold that line and forge onward to your plan.

What plan? Well, that depends on you. Prior to this call (which is why you want to schedule it, and not just wait for the client to call), you need to do a little soul searching. What would have to change for you, for this client to go from a “Oh, no, not them again” client to a “Heck yeah, it’s them again!” client? More money? A better process? What would that process look like?

I can’t tell you what your solution will be, but you will know when you’ve found it because you will just know. It will be the plan that makes you breathe a sigh of relief and feel like smiling. Here are some plan elements to consider:

  • The client identifies a single person to be responsible for feedback, and agrees to always filter all feedback from their team to you so you only get one set of comments.
  • You provide two rounds of revisions as part of the process, and then charge on an hourly basis for any revisions above that number.
  • You provide unlimited rounds of revisions, but the client pays you twice as much (or three or four or six times–whatever makes you happy).
  • You provide support for any given draft for a maximum of two weeks following initial delivery, and then after that you charge for any additional revisions or work on that draft.

Your plan can include as many or as few of these elements, plus others, as feels right and just to you. Communicate this plan clearly and without emotion to the client. They may agree to your plan, or ask for modifications, or reject it. In the first two cases, great (assuming their modifications work for you). In the latter case, great–let them go, and you go find better clients.

#5: Please Take Our Money, Lots of It, How Much Do You Want?

If the response is #5, well, hang on to that client. You got a good one. Calmly agree that their solution sounds appropriate to you and ask them whether they’d prefer to be quoted for each additional revision, have a flat amount added to their monthly retainer, or pay on an hourly basis for excessive drafts (only offer those options that you’re happy with). Then charge them an amount extra that will make you feel GOOD about serving them.

Because here’s the thing, my friend. You did not go into freelancing because you wanted to get dragged down into the mud constantly. You did it because you wanted to fly. You deserve to fly. You deserve clients who help you fly. If you’ve got a client that is weighing you down instead of lifting you up, then it’s time to fix that crap… or let it go.

It’s time to fly.



Fen Druadìn Head
Fen Druadìn Head is an award-winning freelance writer and coach. Her work can be found all over the internet in publications as diverse as Redshift Magazine and Grit. Fen's fiction is represented by Ethan Ellenberg.