Last week, I wrote about some of the things clients say that frustrate freelancers.

But when it comes to client-freelancer relations, clients aren't the only ones who say the darndest things. Freelancers are guilty of saying plenty of things that rightfully frustrate clients. Here are five of them.

"I can't do that."

Clients can be demanding, and sometimes they ask for things that they probably shouldn't. But the last thing a client wants to hear is "We can't do that". Most of the time, it's a substitute for "That's going to be really hard and I'd rather not do it" and clients know that.

If a client proposes something that you legitimately feel is overly complex, explain why the client should reconsider and most importantly, suggest an alternative solution. In the process, you'll come across as even more competent instead of downright lazy.

"That's going to be expensive."

Sometimes when a client asks for something that's complex, a lazy or inexperienced freelancer will provide this response instead of "We can't do that". Unfortunately, it's a poor substitute.

Again, explaining to the client what's involved with delivering what he's asking for is the best approach. Most reasonable clients, once informed, will naturally understand that complex work comes at a greater cost. And if that cost is a problem, they can decide to take another route.

"Sorry for the delay but I'm working on other projects."

As a freelancer, it's expected that you're doing work for multiple clients. But it's also expected that you're capable of managing your own schedule in such a way that you'll be able to fulfill your obligations and meet deadlines. If you've taken on too much and it's starting to become a problem deadline-wise, a client needs more than an apology. He needs you to describe how you're going to rectify the situation.

"I know you asked for [x], but I thought it would be better to do [y]."

Every client just loves the freelancer who decides to go off the reservation. Oftentimes, this happens when a freelancer underestimates the work involved with doing a particular task and tries to accomplish it in a way that's more favorable to his schedule and budget.

Unfortunately, it's unprofessional to take another route before addressing it with a client. If, for any reason, you think that you should do y instead of x, bring it up with the client and explain why. If you're working on a fixed price quote and so greatly underestimated the amount of work involved that you can't eat the difference, the best bet is to be honest and try to negotiate a reasonable compromise. One that doesn't ask the client to pay full price for your mistake.

"What was that?"

If you deal with enough freelancers, you'll inevitably hear this. A common reason: some freelancers have a habit of trying to remember what they're supposed to do instead of say, writing it down. So they complete 90% of the project and leave you to explain (for the second time) the other 10%.

The easiest solution: write every client request down and confirm them with the client via email or at the end of each conference call. It will not only prevent a few client headaches, it will make you more efficient.

Client-freelancer relationships are a two-way street. At the end of the day, clients write the checks and no matter how difficult clients can make life, freelancers should respect that and avoid the above statements.

Photo credit: Zach Klein via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 20 January, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2642 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (7)

Save or Cancel

Creative ideas

Nice reading. Agree with article's author. Thanks Patricio Robles!

over 8 years ago

Daryl Irvine

Daryl Irvine, Digital Creative Director at The Walker Agency

Ultimately it comes down to providing solutions for clients - not more problems. If you have limitations (in either resource or ability), explain them along with an alternative way forward. Also know when to walk away from a brief. There is no point blagging your way into a project if you can't see the job this industry the relationship is everything. Communication and transparency are fundamental to maintaining that!

over 8 years ago


Gary Bury

Good article and nice to see someone presenting from the client side of things. The worst is certainly "Sorry for the delay I've been working on other projects". A client expects you to manage your workload. Can you imagine a client saying, "sorry I have'nt paid your bill, I've been paying other bills".

over 8 years ago

Sarah Jackson

Sarah Jackson, Communications Officer at Liberty

Recognise plenty of these! Though I've been lucky enough to work with some brilliant freelancers.

We work in a challenging political context with very limited resources, and timing is crucial to our campaigning - when someone takes on too much and and misses our deadline there's more than just profits at stake. The vital thing is to let the client know if there's going to be hold up so that they can put Plan B in action. 

I liked the previous post too - we try to be good clients, but I'm sure there's room for improvement...

PS any particular reason the client is male? 

over 8 years ago

Sarah Alder

Sarah Alder, Managing Director at ICAEW

In response to Gary Bury's comment "Can you imagine a client saying, "sorry I have'nt paid your bill, I've been paying other bills".", I can not only imagine that, I can remember it.

over 8 years ago


Noel Wiggins

I have to admit I have been guilty of a lot of these items, and I hope that being more aware of it I will be able to combat it. Its one thing to be a great designer, but do your clients enjoy working with you as much as they like the designs?...

I am particularly struck by the "what is that" item, I have been impressed by the technical support procedure that the mega hosting company media-temple does. At the conclusion of every call or email or support ticket you open up with media temple. they recap the conversation in an email as a follow up, Even if it was "resolved".

I have often thought that this approach would be awesome for the design business...


Thanks and Regards

Noel for

<a href="">a graphic design studio</a>

over 8 years ago


m a r c o

I agree with some of the things on this post...

However, there are many times when clients make requests that are simply outside of the person's skill-set. For example as a web designer, I take on a lot of projects where I create graphics, code, forms, etc., but there are clients that add requirements "on the spot" during meetings or phone calls that are related to programming. If you are flying solo on a project "I can't do that" is an honest answer. In my case it has been part of an answer since I always add, "...but I'll talk to one of my developers to try to find a solution..." Similarly with "that's going to be expensive", some clients assume that receiving a proposal for x to do y means their paying for x but getting y+z... Clients need to know when adding requirements is going to add to the price tag. Sometimes explaining to a client that the idea of changing the cursor into a butterfly (real experience folks) is not only a bad idea, but also "going to be expensive" seems to seal the deal.

In the end communication is key and how to deliver the message is important. While it's true that clients pay the bills, it's also true that they need designers, developers, marketing specialists, etc.

over 8 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.