January 18, 2022

How to avoid client negotiations turning sour

Words by  

As freelancers, we often rely on our networking and contacts to get us work. Most of us start out with a few friends in the field, and many of us have working relationships which we foster over years, and which over time morph into important and sometimes lifelong friendships. Staying on good terms is essential, but like any long-term investment, it’s inevitable that there will be pitfalls along the way.

Luckily, you can prepare yourself! Whether you and a pal are starting out on one of your first projects together, or if you’re working with someone who you’ve known for several years, here are some top tips for navigating the inevitable business disputes:

Be clear about what you want and what you’re delivering

Knowing what you’re setting out to achieve is one of the key elements in avoiding a work dispute. Try to be as detailed as possible in the planning / preproduction stages, setting out exactly what your expectations and limitations are. Get inside each other’s heads, so you’re both on exactly the same page as to what your joint outcome should look like. This can help to iron out any potential quarrels or disagreements before you’ve started the work.

Be explicit about the financial conditions

Tricky, I know.. but honesty really is the best policy here. Set out clearly what you expect, what your incurred costs are and how you expect to be repaid for your work. Stigma surrounding money can make this one of the most difficult areas to discuss, but if they really are a good friend and colleague, then they will respect your boundaries and your conditions.

Stick to your side of the deal

Now that you’ve set the groundwork properly, sticking to it should feel natural. As you commence with the project, make sure to be reliable, fair and concurrent with the agreement you’ve set out. Integrity is key, and if there’s a dispute later on, then it’ll put you in a better position to negotiate. 

Check in along the way

Once you’ve laid down your foundations and are both happy and clear about your individual responsibilities, keep checking in along the way to make sure that you’re both happy with how things are going.

Pay attention to bad habits or weird behaviour

Ok, so something’s upset you. Maybe they’ve paid you late, or suddenly thrown in a whole new aspect to the agreement without discussing it with you. Maybe they’ve taken more than their fair share, or expected you to take on extra workload that you haven’t signed up for.

It’s easy at this stage to ‘just let it slide’, knowing that your relationship = your next paycheque. But DO sweat the small stuff. You can approach the conversation fairly and calmly, but don’t let them get away with it! The more you let it slide, the more opportunity you give for them to take advantage. Imagine if this behaviour continued for the next year. Or five years, or even ten. Would you be ok with it? If not, then it’s time to speak up. And it’s never too late to pick up on something that’s bothering you, even if it feels like the moment’s gone.

Communicate

So you were clear with them, and the negative behaviour has continued, or something even worse has cropped up. This is where communication is essential. Book in a long meeting or catch up so you can give it all the time you need. Explain exactly how you’re feeling and what your experience has been. Let them know where you think things went wrong, and how you imagine it being resolved. Maybe it’s about respect, money, workload, feeling creatively unappreciated, difference in ideas, the direction/vision for the project. As your friend, they should be able to give an empathic listening ear and care that something’s bothering you (even if they might be the cause!). Keep reminding them that your friendship is a top priority, and you want to make sure that your business endeavour won’t get in the way of your friendship.

Listen to their side too

You may be feeling pretty upset, but remember that as a friend, it’s important to hear them out. Once you have explained your side of things, listen to their experience – maybe they have something important that you need to hear as well. More often than not, if one of you feels uneasy, then so does the other. Try to take on board what they’re saying, and if they’re unhappy with something you’ve been doing, listen to the advice and think about steps you can take to change.

Compromise… to a point

In life, love, and business sacrifices must be made in order to cooperate and achieve your highest potential. Compromise is essential, so having put both sides squarely on the table, you can  now discuss how to move forward. Try to negotiate a new way of doing things together which you both feel will serve you and your project better. And it really will – any resentment or dispute will only bleed into the project, so it’s vital to come to a new arrangement. With both parties happier, the project is in a better position to thrive too!

Decide when it’s time to part ways

Compromise is great, but there is a limit. Sometimes it’s important to recognise that while you may be great friends, that energy doesn’t translate into your work together. If your working relationship is depleting your friendship or your ability to work, then maybe it’s time to call it quits on the project. This can be done harmoniously – take time to honour what you’ve achieved together, before taking steps to rebuild your friendship once again.

Learn from the experience

After settling a business dispute with your friend, no matter how it ended, always remember to give yourself time for an honest reflection. Recognising the behaviour means that you can move forward positively, with confidence that there’s less chance of the situation repeating itself again.

Learn how you can turn your freelance gig into a money making business. It’s FREE!

Free 15 min freelancing consultation call
Advice and practical steps to level up your business
Learn how to consistently find work
Get tips for finding your niche

Recommended Reading

It isn’t you. Really!

Let’s face it. Freelancing is still a pioneering career choice. As a career path we’rebeyond Ferrari-speed, and closer to Apollo 11. Twenty years ago, freelancing hardlyregistered, and the closest thing to Upwork.com or Freelancer.com was...

How to survive freelancer interviews and chats

You may have gone into freelancing to avoid ever having to do interviews. Well, sadly, in same cases you may have to. So here's a guide to interviewing as a freelancer.

How to detach your self-worth from your work

When you wear every hat needed for your business to succeed, it's difficult to let your head get a rest. This is only made worse if you are defined by your KPI's. So how do...

How to tackle portfolio procrastination

How to tackle portfolio procrastination

Making good portfolios is crucial for your freelance business, but it can be tempting to procrastinate. Check out UnderPinned’s Virtual Office for portfolio templates to fill and send to clients!

The difference between Portfolios and Proposals

The difference between Portfolios and Proposals

So you’re hunting for freelance work? Well, what do you say when a potential client asks for a proposal rather than a portfolio? Have a read to see.

Freelancing with ADHD

Freelancing with ADHD

Freelancing is for everyone. But a job that requires skills you struggle with can make freelancing with ADHD difficult. Hear from an expert and a freelancer with ADHD about how she makes it work.

Freelancing with ADHD

Freelancing with ADHD

Freelancing is for everyone. But a job that requires skills you struggle with can make freelancing with ADHD difficult. Hear from an expert and a freelancer with ADHD about how she makes it work.

How to go freelance straight after uni

How to go freelance straight after uni

How do you go freelance straight after uni? You honestly ask yourself if you’re ready, and then you just lean into it 100%. And you read this article to find out more.

How to go freelance straight after uni

How to go freelance straight after uni

How do you go freelance straight after uni? You honestly ask yourself if you’re ready, and then you just lean into it 100%. And you read this article to find out more.

Signs of a weak freelance portfolio that clients spot at once

Signs of a weak freelance portfolio that clients spot at once

What signs in your portfolio are you hoping that clients see? And what are you hoping will be good filler? Make sure you’re only putting things in there that you can defend

Signs of a weak freelance portfolio that clients spot at once

Signs of a weak freelance portfolio that clients spot at once

What signs in your portfolio are you hoping that clients see? And what are you hoping will be good filler? Make sure you’re only putting things in there that you can defend

Ten actionable tips for freelancers to relieve their WFH fatigue

Ten actionable tips for freelancers to relieve their WFH fatigue

WFH has been tough. But, a year into the change for many people, there are still learnings to be had. Zoom past fatigue with our tips

Ten things you should never say to a freelancer

Ten things you should never say to a freelancer

Vent your client frustrations through us! A must read for anyone that hires/knows/ever talks to a freelancer, here’s ten things never to say to a freelancer

Kill The Boss In Your Head: Freelancing and Creativity

Kill The Boss In Your Head: Freelancing and Creativity

Through the tension and anxiety at the heart of all paid freelance work, what are the conditions that best support the free-flowing of creativity?

One year ago I turned to freelancing to save my mental health: Here’s what happened

One year ago I turned to freelancing to save my mental health: Here’s what happened

Fiona Thomas writes on her switch to freelancing pushed by her mental health, and how someone in a similar scenario can benefit from the change

A guide to being a creative freelancer without social media

A guide to being a creative freelancer without social media

We could all do with a break from social media. But how do you continue to run your creative freelance business without your Instagram? Here’s a guide.

An extension of your arm: Must-have tools for freelance content creators

An extension of your arm: Must-have tools for freelance content creators

Want an aresenal of tools in your pocket that can make your freelance life expontentially easier? Look no further

The role of the creative brief and why it’s so vital to get right

The role of the creative brief and why it’s so vital to get right

Here’s how to be clear with clients about what you need from their brief, and what they should expect from you too in the beginnings of the conversation

Building it alone; Freelancing when you’re single

Building it alone; Freelancing when you’re single

Being freelance is tough enough. But doing it all alone can make it a lot more complicated. Here’s how to take some steps to make it easier on you.

A guide to juggling multiple freelance clients

A guide to juggling multiple freelance clients

You want freelance success? You probably will need more than one client. Finding them is one thing, but keeping them organised? Oh boy. Luckily we have a guide just for you.

Freelance journalists, here’s how to make ALCS work for you

Freelance journalists, here’s how to make ALCS work for you

If you’re a freelance journalist, you might have a chance at passive income from the ALCS that you didn’t know about.

How writers and journalists can make money with Substack

How writers and journalists can make money with Substack

Want to escape from the editorial loop? Substack is on everyone’s lips right now. But how can you use it as a writer?

How to Position Yourself as an Expert in your Field

How to Position Yourself as an Expert in your Field

Want to learn how to position yourself as an expert in your field as a freelancer? Rachel White of House of DIF walks you through all the steps you need to take.

The Rise of NFTs and ‘Crypto-art’

The Rise of NFTs and ‘Crypto-art’

Want to learn what all the fuss is about? NFTs have been around for awhile, but how can freelancers use them in their business? Well, there’s a couple of ways.

HELP! I’M A RECENT ARTS GRADUATE

HELP! I’M A RECENT ARTS GRADUATE

Jody Mulvey of SADGRADS writes on how recent art graduates can surpass the problems posed by moving into the world of work during this difficult year

A step-by-step guide to handling difficult clients

A step-by-step guide to handling difficult clients

We all have that annoying client that we’re unsure how to work with. So here’s a step by step guide to handling difficult freelance clients.

A step-by-step guide to handling difficult clients

A step-by-step guide to handling difficult clients

We all have that annoying client that we’re unsure how to work with. So here’s a step by step guide to handling difficult freelance clients.

Nine ways to maternity proof your freelance business

Nine ways to maternity proof your freelance business

Pregnant and a freelancer? We can’t wait to hear more. But make sure you know how to maternity proof your freelance business before you start parenthood.