“Sorry, Not Sorry”: Don’t Apologize For Clients’ Oversights
There’s no doubt that, no matter how upfront you are, at one point or another you’ll end up with a client who just doesn’t return the favor.
I don’t mean clients who are outright rude, inconsiderate, or cheap. Those types are easy to spot and stay away from (or handle appropriately). I mean those clients who are nice but who communicate in such a way as to leave a little lingering guilt in their wake for whatever and possibly any reason.
They’re like that relative who says they love you as you are but somehow have a way of criticizing you vaguely enough to make you question yourself.
I’ve had the displeasure of working with more than one of these types and, while I’ve never had problems with them paying their invoices (they’re too “nice” not to), I usually have to bite my tongue when emailing or talking with them because they’ve, knowingly or not, insulted me or my work.
This post focused on getting paid what’s rightfully yours. Now, I want to tell you about a type client species called…
The Reluctant Acceptor
The Reluctant Acceptor is the client who will accept the work and pay what you’ve asked, but will leave you feeling like you still did a substandard job and didn’t fully, you know, deserve their money.
But, you know: They’re so nice they’ll pay you anyway. Maybe.
Consider this scenario:
You work on a project that lasts several weeks. Like the responsible freelancer you are, you provide your client regular updates at the end of every week to let them know where the project stands. With this update you include not only a time sheet (that shows when and how long you worked, what you worked on during that time, and how much the invoice has currently racked up to, even though it may not be payable immediately) but also includes a draft of what you’ve so far written.
Look at you, being all professionally transparent! How considerate!
Basically, you’re doing everything you can to let the client know what’s happening and what the current bill looks like.
It’s not up to you to force the client to review these updates. Sure, you HOPE they will, but if they decide not to that’s their choice. Regardless, you’ve made your best effort to keep them informed and move forward with the work, as planned.
Then comes time to submit the final product and the final invoice, which is now due for payment. You send the invoice and shortly thereafter the client emails, shocked that the amount due is so much. On top of that, they’re less than satisfied with the product!
From Anger to Actuality
Receiving an email from a client who hasn’t kept themselves informed and essentially blames you for their shock and dismay can be infuriating. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself screaming profanities — or at least thinking them, if you’re in public — at your computer screen. You’ll wrestle with the temptation to write immediately to explain how their laziness is to blame, not your lack of effort.
My advice? Don’t.
Take a few breaths — or a few hours — and let your anger die down. Responding with emotion isn’t going to get you anywhere (at least not anywhere good). Let that anger dissipate into actuality — when you can bring yourself to rationalize and realize “Hey. This is the situation. I made every effort to keep them up-to-date. It’s not my fault and if the client’s going to be upset about it, they’ll have to deal with that” — and then respond to their email with your usual professionalism.
Don’t let the client’s business immaturity infect your work. You’ve been responsible and mature up until this point and there’s no reason to let yourself slip now. Reacting out of emotion can land you in professional hot water, risking not only having the client refuse to pay the invoice but also risking them mouthing off about your sub-par work, high prices, and bad attitude to everyone they know.
First impressions are great, but its really the final impressions that stick.
Invoice aside, there’s a chance this client also insults the work you’ve done. (This is especially infuriating if they’re a repeat client who knew what kind of work you produce in the first place.) Obviously they could have guided you in the right direction or called it quits early on, but that would have depended on them doing their part. That is, reviewing the updates you offered in the first place.
Again, it’s the client’s laziness at fault, not your lack of effort.
Reluctant Acceptors use guilt throwing as a way to get out of paying for something they know they should rightfully pay for, like your time and hard work. They make weak excuses and quietly whine to get you to back down, to admit this is your fault… to get them out of their own jam.
But, you know what? It’s NOT. YOUR. FAULT.
You did your part. You sent the updates. Remained available for correction or redirection. Responded promptly to their concerns and questions. Made what you were doing and how you were doing it very, very clear. Short of finding them in person and shoving a printed copy of your work in their face for them to review while you stood over them like a vulture, there was nothing more you could or should have done to keep them updated on their own project.
The big takeaway here?
Never apologize for your clients’ oversights.
Some client complaints ought to be recognized for what they are: guilty admissions of their own oversight and laziness!
In my experience, these clients easily give in and pay their bill after a single firm and professional email from you stating, if anything else, that you’re sorry they are dissatisfied with the product/invoice but that you gave them ample opportunity and time to address those issues from the beginning onward.
“You think this is MY fault? LoL!”
(NOTE: Be careful how you respond. Being empathetic about the client’s feelings — however misdirected they are — is not the same as saying you’re sorry you’re billing them or that you’re ashamed of the work you’ve done. For those two things you should not be sorry! If you are, you need to seriously reassess your rates and/or your craft.)
You’re not a crisis negotiator or a counselor. You’re a writer. Don’t beg them to pay or change their mind. Don’t ask for an explanation of why they feel the way they do. Don’t try to amend their emotions.
Now is the time for them to grow up and pay up, not discuss the terms of the project or the amount being charged. Those things should have been settled before the project was completed (ideally, before the project was even started).
At the end of the day, you deserve to be paid. If the client wants to argue, refer to the project contract for the verbiage on client updates and payment protocol.
And, by all means, hold the final product “hostage” until you are paid and you can officially close the project. Seriously. If this isn’t part of your contract, it should be. As part of weekly client updates, I don’t offer clean and editable .doc files, nor do I send PDFs that don’t have glaringly obvious and annoying watermarks plastered all over them (because a plain PDF can be uploaded to Kindle and — voila! Ebook!).
In short: Until the client pays you IN FULL, the work you do on their project ISN’T THEIRS, it’s YOURS. To say otherwise is like saying the burrito the guy at Chipotle built to your specs is yours, even if you haven’t paid for it at the register. (Mmm… burritos…)
Once you’re paid, submit to them editable .doc/.docx files, PDFs, unlocked image files, or whatever else they need to do what they want to do. But never beforehand.
Closing statement: Don’t be sorry! And never apologize for your clients’ oversights.