Dealing with A Client Who Breaks the Agreement

One of the most frustrating experiences an agency or a freelancer have to deal with are clients who do not know what they want, and who then hold you responsible for the consequences. You might have come to an agreement. You might think that the client understood what you would be providing. You soon realize that you were wrong.

While it’s not possible to provide you with a proven method for handling situations such as this, it is possible to help you avoid the problem in the first place.  When it does happen, the tips below will help you to explore why your client broke the agreement.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when a client breaks an agreement with you:

  1. Why did it happen? A lot of hot emotions and reactions can arise due to broken agreements. Try to ignore them and ask yourself why it happened. Did the client react to anything in particular? Was it something within your control, or could it possibly have been a reaction towards something else?

  1. Did you do anything wrong? Many freelancers blindly focus on the belief that they were right and were only following the client’s instructions. However, a freelancer can be wrong by not taking into account the type of clients they are working with and the indirect communication they may have given. In particular, you need to take into consideration the knowledge gap between you and the client – whichever direction that may be.

  1. Did you have a clear agreement? Ideally, when conflicts arise, it is good to be able to point towards a specific brief that outlines the work that has been agreed upon. The clearer, and more specific, that agreement is, the stronger you stand in a potential conflict. If you do not have an agreement that you are certain fits the client’s requirements, then you are largely to blame for the mess you are in.

  1. Did you limit the client’s exposure? For instance, some clients may appear to be fine with work on a trial project-per-hour basis but may, in turn, freak out on sight of the invoice. The error may have been in not agreeing (from the outset) a limit on the number of hours to be worked or in giving the assignment a fixed time limit. This limitation needs to be created by you as your safeguard, particularly with new clients  – it can save you a lot of hassle.

  1. Did you protect your work? Some freelancers make the mistake of delivering large portions of unprotected work to the client before any invoices have been settled. Until you have an established relationship with that client, this is not recommended. This is particularly true for assignments which are too small for milestone payments. Learn to be protective of your work. Work can be protected by using watermarks or delivering it in preview formats using PDF software such as Adobe.

  1. Are you willing to work with the client moving forward? Knowing the answer to this question will influence how you decide to proceed. If you do not see any promise in the relationship going forward, then focus on the current project and make sure you deliver what you promised. It may mean that you make a loss on the project, however, you may have more to gain from taking on new clients and work.

  1. Can you make a counter proposal? When a client breaches an agreement, it can lead to greater opportunities which are easy to ignore. For instance, the client may simply wish to limit their work to fixed contracts. This can be your opportunity to put in a “dealing with client” buffer and negotiate a better long-term agreement. However, if you do not want to deal with the client once the current project has been completed, make sure your counter proposal is limited to only the outstanding work, or drop the matter completely. There is more to win from working with more professional clients.

Dealing with clients who break agreements largely comes down to understanding why this is happening, and then, on whether or not you want to work with them on future projects. Generally speaking, any client who has been unclear or is acting out of fear can be forgiven – if you are able to manage them.

However, anyone that actively engages in unethical behavior, and tries to shortchange you should be avoided. The best clients try to put you, and your needs, ahead of their project. Sadly, however, they tend to be few and far between.