Freelancing 101: Dealing With Jerks

We deal with all sorts of people as freelancers – quirky, kind, generous, thoughtful, ambitious, overzealous, naive, impressive; the list of types is as long as the list of adjectives in the dictionary.

Unfortunately, we occasionally also deal with jerks.

Recently, I was in contact with a potential client who needed  an article for his own client who hadn’t liked someone else’s first attempt. We spoke back and forth via email, we haggled over a price, and came to an arrangement. I asked for 50% upfront through Paypal, since it was our first time doing business and since I had just been burned for a large sum of money by an Upwork client who had flown the coop (more on that later). He paid it through his company’s bookkeeper and I went on my merry way, researching and writing to produce the piece, which I turned in the next day.

Like most freelancers, the two most important things to me in doing this line of work are 1) satisfied customers and 2) getting paid for my work. That’s why any work I turn in for any client, regardless of how long I’ve known them, includes some version of the sentence, “Let me know if you have any concerns or questions, I’m available via email, Skype, etc.” I want them to be satisfied before they pay me, so that hopefully one day they’ll seek me out again or recommend me to a colleague – pretty much the standard practice of every business that has ever existed.

I sent that message along with the piece, then  sent a follow-up email making sure he had gotten it and asking if he had any questions. I didn’t send the second invoice because I wanted to make sure the job was done.

His response came quickly back:

“I got it .. The client did not like it…Send the invoice I will get it paid. IDK where I will use it though.”

Well, that was a real wrinkle in the plan wasn’t it? And not the first time someone hasn’t liked my work. If you’re going to survive as a freelancer, you’re going to have to do some jobs over and sometimes your work isn’t going to be up to someone else’s standards. Clearly, my client was making overtures that he certainly didn’t feel like he owed me the rest of the money. I wrote back in an attempt to give him that out:

“XXXX, if you don’t want to pay me the other half, you can say that. We’re both professionals here, right?”

The smartest thing to do in this situation  is to let the client know that if they are unhappy, there are ways out. The client’s deadline had already passed, so there was no writing it over, but clearly he was upset. Offering him to call it quits without the second half of the payment seemed the most fair thing to do where he didn’t feel ripped off but I was still earning some compensation for the work I put in.

His response later that day:

“I dont mind paying it I was just letting you know the feedback from the client.”

No problem with that response whatsoever on my end. He was frustrated, he vented, now he’s saying he’s honoring his part of the contract. I responded that I would send the invoice along that day,  but it didn’t get paid. I emailed him the following Tuesday (June 2) to confirm he had received it. No response. I sent a similar email on June 9 and June 16 … no response.

Having already given the client an out, and getting a written confirmation that he would go ahead and pay the invoice, I felt this sudden silence was completely unprofessional, so I emailed the bookkeeper who I sent the invoices to, in order to query if she had received said invoice and if it would be paid.

To the surprise of no one, the client suddenly quit his vanishing act and emailed me back within a few hours of me emailing the woman at his company with the following:

“I cant pay for stuff I cant use. You over sold and way under delivered. If I could open a paypal claim I would.”

Total hostility and finger-pointing after 18 days of no communication, brought on I suspect by his being queried by a co-worker as to the state of the invoice. A 180-degree turn from his previous communications, and not only a refusal to pay, but a suggestion that he should contact Paypal about getting a refund for the first-half of the payment.

It’s times like these where it’s impossibly easy to write back viciously,  because digital communication can make us feel bullet-proof. Why does it matter how rude I am to this guy over the Internet? We don’t live in the same state, much less the same city, what’s he going to do about it?

It’s times like these where being a professional matters most. Because losing your cool or getting snippy can lead one client, even if he’s never going to use you again, to tell other potential clients about how unprofessional and rude you were. I could have demanded the money or given him a piece of my mind, but instead I went with:


Like I said on May 28, if you weren’t happy with the work, you didn’t have to pay the other half of the invoice.
to which you responded that same day,

“I dont mind paying it I was just letting you know the feedback from the client.”

Since that day, you haven’t written one word to me, despite frequent attempts on my part to make contact with you in multiple venues, until I contacted someone else in your company because I couldn’t figure out another way to get a hold of you.

Have the common professional courtesy to communicate with me like adults and resolve the problem like adults.

Sincerely, XXXXXXX”
I haven’t heard back from him since and don’t expect to. I’m still out my money and don’t expect to ever see it. But regardless of the outcome, knowing I handled myself professional from jump street to the end of this rocky relationship lets me rest easier and continue to grow my business sense with another lesson learned.



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