Difficult customer - advice needed

Hi everyone,


That I have a difficult customer is an understatement. My colleague freelancers can take their worst nightmares, multiply them by 10 and obtain a correct image. But to cut the chase - after requiring dozens of free hours of work, unpaid consultancy, sending a billion documents, requiring other documents that were not the deliverable (all after the contract was assigned, of course), the customer just told me that she can't send me comments regarding what to change. In our last too-long Skype call, the customer said she will send me comments on the word file I am preparing as deliverable and now she says she isn't sure she can do that and she didn't promise it. However, I should re-write some part of the file based on some very unpolite criticisms she sent me in a very unstructured manner through the chat (finally, her first written comments, since all those before were communicated verbally). Of course, when I mentioned terms and conditions, she got upset. 


The question is: weren't customers *contractually obligated* to clearly state the darn project requirements? Mods are welcome to comment, even a yes or no answer is highly appreciated. Thanks everyone!


When I had my dispute, one of the big "debates' between the customer and me was that he refused to comment in the doc (he sent me a TIFF image of the first page with comments LOL). He refused to go through the doc and tell me where he found issues. His comment in the workroom was "I'm not doing your job for you." 


His comments were "every paragraph has numerous grammar and spelling errors." So, the arbiter said "OK, go through the first two pages and show me these issues. He marked up a few places but that's it. The arbiter said to him "You could have made the changes in a few minutes instead of going through all of this. This is not "numerous issues in every paragraph."


In the arbiter's decision, he said that the customer was just as responsible in ensuring the project was completed as the provider, and he found that the customer was not committed to making the project work but was instead refusing to cooperate.


So, yes, the customer needs to work with you. My advice is to keep communication in the work room and tell him to mark up the doc and use track changes to make comments where you are wrong. Refuse anything other than "mark up the document and I will go through it and make changes where necessary." The client must make an effort to work with you and make sure that the project completes. Tell him you're willing to make corrections, but he needs to mark up the draft and send it back.

Thanks a lot Jennifer, that's what I thought! I won't mark your answer as solving my question yet - I'll be waiting for a little longer and see if any of the mods may say something which perhaps would help in case of dispute. To be honest, I'm an inch away from closing this contract and refunding this customer because I just can't take it anymore. But it would be a shame to give up the payment after working for so long and so hard for this thing. Her attitude is always 'this is not what I need' but I think she can't tell me what she needs. She just doesn't know very clearly.


Unfortunately clients aren't required to specify exact details in their postings. it's up to the freelancer to ask all of the relevant questions and get exact details before agreeing upon a project. Was this a fixed price contract? With clients whom I haven't worked with before, it's a good idea to set-up small milestones so that you're confident you're getting paid without putting in a ton of work yet.

@Maria, yes it's a fixed price. The problem is not that she didn't provide all details upfront, and not even that she insists to receive free work apart from the one and only deliverable we established. The problem is that she is expecting me to read her thoughts and she's not working with me.

Alma, has your client actually funded escrow yet?


When you set up a fixed-rate job, you tell your client what you are prepared to do for the sum agreed - let's say you  both agree to a price of $200  for a 1000-word article. You then tell your client (politely) that you can start work as soon as the full amount has been funded into escrow.


It seems your client is just trying to get random work from you for no pay.




Yes Nicola, the funds are in escrow and the agreement was for a 4000 word article. However the customer then started asking for me to fill in a couple of excel files which should have helped me towards the article and which she insisted to receive updated every other day so that she can track my progress. This was just micromanagement, of course, and the files were not part of the agreement.

It sounds like a bait and switch. If you are not in too deep, I think I would back off, refund the escrow and say goodbye. Your JSS would take a hit though.  


Edited to add: But since you are top rated the hit might not be too horrendous.

@Alma I wrote:

@Maria, yes it's a fixed price. The problem is not that she didn't provide all details upfront, and not even that she insists to receive free work apart from the one and only deliverable we established. The problem is that she is expecting me to read her thoughts and she's not working with me.



With all due sympathy for your frustration, all of the things you mention are very serious problems. Clients may neither "require" (from your first post) nor "insist" on anything not specified in the established deliverable. It is up to us to make this clear the first time such callous exploitation rears its ugly head.




Thank you, Michael! Yes, you are right, and I did that in multiple occasions but I'm dealing with a very, possibly intentionally, obtuse customer. When I said worst nightmares x10 I wasn't exactly joking. All these things started only after the contract started. The easiest solution would be to close the contract but I don't want to take the hit to my JSS by refund or low score, not to mention that I worked too much to refund the measly sum. I'm sure you're familiar with this catch 22.

Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi Alma,


We encourage freelancers and clients to discuss and document the score of the contract in the offer or Messages before the contract is accepted and each milestone is set up. If the client requests additional work beyond that scope, you can ask them to set up a separate milestone or contract for that. If they refuse to pay for the work beyond the agreed scope, you can file a dispute

~ Valeria

Thank you Valeria! Can you please also clarify whether customers are supposed to work together with FLs and provide comments and feedback when they are not happy with the result of the work? Or is it okay to do as she does and say that 'since I didn't promise to give you feedback, you'll just have to guess my thoughts'?

My comments were from arbitration, so it wasn't Upwork.

Keep in mind that not all clients are capable of working with fixed-price contracts. It does not necessarily mean that they are a bad person or even a bad client. 


It it just means that they are incapable of grasping the underlying concepts in a meaningful way.


These clients must only be worked with using hourly contracts.

Very well said, Preston, that's exactly the case here. I think she doesn't know what she needs and she can't exactly tell me what to do. However, I did raise the topic of payment and she isn't willing to pay on an hourly basis; she is only acting as if she was. Even if she would be willing to pay, I don't think she'd be able to tell me what she needs; she only focuses on what she doesn't need. The lack of politeness or structure, or the conflicting things she says don't help either. Which is why I'm asking if customers are supposed to tell FLs what kind of changes to make when these are required. 

I've had such a client, and it's definitely a huge drag. I clenched my teeth, did all the work and ignored the incredibly annoying micro-managing. I just wanted to go through this, have a decent feedback, but then when contract is over - I can be true to myself and leave an honest feedback for the client.


But it taught me one thing - I apporach every client as if they were like yours. I expect they have little or no idea about what they want. With that in mind, I set up appropriate questions, plans, etc. before the contract. I need to know everything before the contract ever starts.


Learn from this horrible experience and put down all the things which you don't want to experience again, and figure out how to prevent them.


Besides, I notice that since I introduced this approach, clients feel more confident to actually trust me. I lay out the terms and steps of the contract. They agree to them, so basically, I guide them. Once they are guided from the moment they express interest in hiring me, they subsconsciously submit and need to be guided all along till the very end of the project.


That's when you actually lead the contract, you lead the client. Not vice versa.


This approach should get rid of such clients. Theoretically. 🙂 There will always be clients you don't expect exist.

As a freelancer, you are a business owner. It is up to you to manage the expectations of and interactions with your client. If your client is not giving you actionable feedback, it is up to you to tell him or her that. You set the boundaries for your work relationship. In a similar circumstance, I would tell the client that I need a list of exactly what needs to be completed to conclude the contract. Get the list in writing, if the client verbalizes the list-- write it out and send it back to them for confirmation. 


In order to freelance, you need to learn how to operate and market your business not just perform the underlying task.

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This all sounds like the client is a classical farmer who does not have a clue of the work, accompanied by fraudulent behavior. I would be interested to know if this work will ever be paid. 

Margarete, you were curious if this gets paid. I opened a dispute and got paid in the end. The customer kept being super unreasonable and she didn't have the wits to try to cooperate with the mediation team, which I guess didn't work much in her advantage.