Clients From Hell and Why You Need Them

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When I decided to devote myself full time to video production, I left a good-paying, steady job to do so. I was taking a risk and I knew it. I only had two clients to my name and I knew that if I wanted my leap of faith to succeed, I would need to make additional contacts and land new clients.

Fortunately, a local business owner took a chance on me and hired me to produce a promotional video. It was the largest project I had undertaken thus far (and therefore, had the largest budget), and I was extremely grateful for the opportunity.

I worked incredibly hard to write a script, develop a shot list, hire a crew, and schedule the production. I even had the opportunity to audition and hire local actors for the project. 

After the multi-day shoot wrapped, I went back to my home office and began editing. When I was ready to present an approval cut to the client, I made a VHS dub (Did I mention this happened very early in my career?) and mailed it to his office. 

A few days later he called me and was legitimately angry. He thought everything about the video was absolutely terrible and didn't hesitate to tell me so. What followed after that disheartening phone call was a weeks-long process of damage control as I tried to regain his confidence and deliver a product he could be happy with. It was not a pleasant experience, but the lessons learned from that job helped me tremendously.

No one wants to deal with a difficult client, but early in one's career it's important to have that experience. Here's why: 

  1. Relationships -  A difficult client forces you to communicate; to find out what went wrong and where; to manage expectations; to negotiate; to find solutions. Difficult clients force you into resolving conflicts to everyone's satisfaction. They help you learn what it takes to manage business relationships so clients will be willing to hire you again and, most importantly, recommend you to others.
  2. Contractual Agreements - As a freelancer you often have to take on several different responsibilities. Sometimes this includes the drafting of contracts between yourself and your client. A difficult client can expose loopholes in your contract. Those situations force you to reevaluate the wording of your agreements for future jobs. Difficult clients bring to light those seemingly little details that you overlooked.
  3. Alternative Solutions - When a difficult client hates what you presented, it forces you to think about your work from another perspective; it forces you to start from scratch and think creatively about how you can re-script, re-shoot, and/or re-edit the piece in new and different ways to give the client what he/she expects. And I believe that when you can develop the ability to execute the creative in a variety of ways, your work will be better off in the long run.

Despite the problems I had with this particular client for this particular job, I firmly believe that it helped me create a better video in the end. No, it isn't fun when you have to deal with a difficult client who constantly says "No" to everything you present. It's frustrating when that client can't seem to make up his/her mind about graphics, music, tone, pacing, etc. And it isn't very encouraging when you look back at your timesheet to see that you have invested way more time on the project that you ever thought you would.

But if you handle the situation with patience, understanding, and a positive attitude, and you manage to navigate to the other side safely, you will find yourself better prepared and better equipped to handle whatever creative challenge happens to be waiting for you on the horizon.