Freelancer / Client Miscommunication – How to handle them

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I get it, I do. Miscommunications happen all the time when working together. It’s a normal part of the client – freelancer relationship. But what do you do when a freelancer / client miscommunication happens? How do you get your project back on track while protecting your time and budget? Here’s my advice after 7+ years as a freelancer:

When freelancer / client miscommunications happen, DO:

>Give your freelancer or client the benefit of the doubt.

If you go directly to assuming the other person is trying to scam you or something, it’s going to backfire. Of course, be aware and watch out for scams, but trust that most of the freelancers on Upwork are genuinely trying to help you get your project done. Likewise, most of the Upwork clients are just trying to get something off their checklist to keep their business running. So give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Just try to figure out what happened instead of being defensive.

>Ask questions instead of being accusatory.

This goes along with the first point. I’m not sure if maybe it’s generational, but I’ve noticed that a lot of people in the older generations (my own included) go directly to assuming the other person is an idiot as soon as they don’t understand something. Often, it’s the accusatory person who didn’t understand or communicate properly. And being condescending and/ or attacking the other person does nothing to resolve the situation.

Instead of going directly to ‘you’re a moron,’ let’s learn from our time in elementary school and instead ask questions. A simple, ‘hey, sorry, I’m confused. Can you explain why you did it that way, please?’ can go a long, long way towards resolving the misunderstanding, keeping the project moving, and keeping the egg off one’s face.

>Be clear with your expectations and budget, and ask if they are reasonable.

I get it, we all want to maximize our budgets and get the most bang for our buck. That’s only natural, especially in this economy. Be sure to communicate your budget and a list of the tasks you’d like completed ahead of time. Check in often to make sure you’re on track. And, this is key, if you add additional tasks, you’re going to have to increase the budget to accomodate those.

It’s also a good idea to check with your client/ freelancer before starting and make sure that your expectations are reasonable. If you’re requesting a full website for $500, don’t also expect to get a ton of added design or bells & whistles. That’s just not reasonable.

>Be open to the idea that you might not fully understand what your freelancer is doing and why (they are the expert, after all!).

I had a client ask me to do something. I did it. She insisted it wasn’t done correctly and threw a fit. It was 100% done correctly and once she calmed down and asked questions and listened, she understood that what I did was correct. By that time, the work was deleted and the freelancer/ client relationship was deteriorated. (We were able to repair it when she apologized and we redid the work.) In these situations, just keep in mind that you hired this person for a reason, and that they are an expert in what they are doing. If something seems ‘off’ to you, just ask for an explanation instead of assuming you know better than they do.

Keep track and watch out for patterns of miscommunications.

Sometimes it happens that miscommunications become patterns in longer term working relationships. If it’s happening often (more than once a month), it might be worth having a conversation with your freelancer or client and coming up with solutions. It’s possible to place boundaries without placing blame. As an example, you might say, “I’ll ask you to do a task and set a time limit. If you think you’ll go over the limit for that task, just check in with me when there’s 15 minutes left so we can adjust.”

On the freelancer side, you might say something like, ‘I’ve now removed 5 hours from this project on your request because of miscommunications. For the next 3 months, I will not be able to remove any more completed hours for any reason.’ If you can’t agree on boundaries, it’s likely that the working relationship will not work out anyway.

>Break your project down into chunks and complete one section at a time.

This is the best way to avoid freelancer / client miscommunication in the first place. Break everything down into chunks, complete one part at a time, and check in early and often. It’s true, some clients or freelancers will still change their minds or try to gaslight you even if you do this. But working in small chunks is a huge step towards avoiding much of that.

>Keep in mind that you likely need your freelancer more than they need you.

I hate to break it to you, but this is often the case. I’ve had a few difficult clients throw tantrums at me, even though I’m trying to help them. And you guessed it, when I close the contract after one too many disrespectful messages, I get inundated with apologies and ‘please help me’ messages. Yes, you are paying your freelancer for their work. If they are dishonest or disrespectful, you should absolutely call them on it. But also be aware that it’s quite easy for freelancers to get fed up and decide to no longer work with difficult clients. And those clients are then left struggling to find a new freelancer to take on the project.

Freelancers tend to side with each other, because we know how difficult clients can cause so many problems. So, if you get a bad review from another freelancer, it’s going to be very difficult to find a good person who is willing to take on your project after that. On the other hand, good freelancers often have strings (often years’ worth) of positive reviews. So one bad review is going to reflect more poorly on the client than the freelancer.

>If you’re wrong, admit it and apologize.

It happens, we all make mistakes. The best thing to do in that situation is to admit that you were wrong and apologize. I’ve apologized and had clients apologize to me, and we have always been able to repair those relationships and keep the project moving. On the other hand, I’ve also had clients double down on their wrong-ness, even after multiple explanations and hard proof. Obviously, in that case, there is not going to be any way to resolve that issue and your project is going to go off the rails.

>Know when to just let it go and move on.

If you’ve genuinely tried your best to explain your side and to understand the other person’s point of view, but you feel like there’s no resolution, it might be best to just close your contract and move on.

I had a client throw a fit because he insisted I only built 2 pages and billed him for 3. He became increasingly aggressive and rude over the course of a week while I repeatedly tried to explain. I sent screenshots and links, and copy/ pasted past messages showing him that I in fact did send all three pages. He just kept repeating that there were only 2 pages and got increasingly condescending about it, no matter what I said. When his messages started attacking me, claiming I was ‘inventing things,’ and became full of all caps and curse words, I knew that the only option left was to just close the contract and move on. It’s unfortunate when that happens, because I personally always try to do everything possible to keep a contract on track, even if it means removing hours that I should have been paid for.

But sometimes, you have a client or freelancer who is just not capable of understanding. (Or doesn’t want to because what they really want is free work/ free money.) And it’s just not possible to save the working relationship. When that happens, you have no other option than to close out the contract and let it go.

When freelancer / client miscommunications happen, DO NOT:

>Don’t expect your freelancer to be a mind reader.

If you can’t explain your project or task clearly in words, find a medium that works for you. I’ve had clients send me Loom videos, Google docs, Word docs, you name it. I’ve had clients send me blocks of text that have no capitalization or punctuation whatsoever. You can guess which ones got what they envisioned more quickly and easily. I taught fourth grade, I can read almost anything. But it’s much more likely that I’ll get it right the first time if you’re organized and clear on as a client. If you’re trying to avoid a freelancer / client miscommunication, start with being as clear as possible.

>Don’t assume your freelancer is trying to take advantage of you.

If your freelancer has a long history of positive reviews and a 100% job success score, I guarantee you they did not get there by scamming clients. Give them the benefit of the doubt and know that they were likely genuinely trying to do the task you asked of them. Most of the time, a freelancer / client miscommunication is just that, a miscommunication. It’s not a sign that someone is trying to cheat you.

>Don’t go directly to Upwork support without trying to communicate with your freelancer or client first.

Yes, of course go to Upwork support if you’re not getting anywhere with your freelancer or client, definitely. But it’s best to at least try to speak to them first and resolve the issue together if possible. No one, client or freelancer, likes to get a message from Upwork support out of nowhere, especially if the project has been going well up until that point. This one’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s just best to speak to your client or freelancer first before involving Upwork support. The first thing support will tell you is to speak to the other person about the issue, anyway!

>Don’t ask your freelancer to remove hours because of a miscommunication.

Miscommunications happen. Maybe I’m biased, but I think it’s unethical to ask your freelancer to remove hours of work that they have completed on your behalf because of a miscommunication. It’s up to the clients to make sure they are communicating the tasks and budgets clearly enough. If someone clearly violates that, it’s a different situation. However, if it’s because of a miscommunication or something was unclear, it’s unethical to ask your freelancer to have completed that work for free because of the client’s error in communication.

To be fair, I’ll often offer to remove hours if the freelancer / client miscommunication was on my end, and I usually err on the client’s side. But if it happens repeatedly, it becomes a real hardship for me and I will likely not continue working with that client.

>Don’t be rude or disrespectful.

This is going to backfire on you 100% of the time. The ‘not nice person’ tax in freelancing is real. If you cause your freelancer additional stress or are nasty to them, they are going to find a way to bill you for that time and energy. And if they can’t be paid more for dealing with your rudeness, they are not going to keep working with you for very long. And if you’re a freelancer who is rude to your clients, then you aren’t going to be a freelancer for very long, either. Plus if anything is disputed, it’s not going to be a good look if you’ve been rude in your messages.

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