How to handle clients who pressure you to work “Faster, Faster, Faster!”

Sometimes, at Reliable PSD (our creative agency’s new design-to-code conversion company), we get clients who write us…errr…a lot…asking for status updates.

Now, we are very clear about ETA, and had been communicating and updating them on ETA as we went.

But still – just a couple hours after one email interaction – we’d get another!

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And another.

(And another.)

The thing is, because we run an agency ourselves, we instantly “got” what was happening:

Behind this poor designer was an angry client demanding the work to be done…yesterday!

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So, in honor of other freelancers in the same position, I’m offering some words of wisdom on how to deal with clients like these.

And if you haven’t experienced it yet – oh, just you wait.

Someone out there is just waiting for the opportunity to breathe down your neck 😉

You can use this advice when the time comes.

I’ve also got a couple of great emails later in this post you can use to help put those clients at ease, so you can work in peace.

Okay, onward!

Step 1: Set clear timelines

The first thing you need to do is set clear timelines for your project.

If the ETA is extremely vague or open-ended, this can cause client stress, and they’ll act from that stress and make your life miserable.

Makes sense, right?

It’s kind of like waiting for food at a restaurant…you have a vague idea of how long it “should” take, but if 10 minutes turns into 20, then 30…it’s easy to start breathing down your waiter’s neck.

But if you were told from the start, it’s going to take 20 minutes – you’d be cool as a cucumber right up until that 20-minute mark, right?

So nip the first cause of unnecessary pressure in the bud by being as clear as can be.

Step 2: Get verbal AND written confirmation

Now that you’ve formulated an ETA for your client, get them to sign off on it – twice!

The more times you get them to agree to something, the more “embedded” in their minds it gets, and the less breathing-down-your-neck-ness you receive in turn.

Also, psychology or neuroscience (or one of those fields!) tells us that when we repeat information via different mediums (i.e. speech and writing), we remember it more clearly.

This can easily be done by expressing the timeline on the phone, then sending a follow up email with a reminder of the details.

Step 3: Inject light-heartedness, but set a boundary

Sometimes, you can do all of the above and your client might still “itch” for updates.

In that case, inject some light-heartedness into your reply, but also set some boundaries. Use a response like this:

Hey, [Client]!

We’re exactly on pace for the timeline we discussed, just as I mentioned yesterday!

I promise, if anything changes or there are any important updates, you’ll be the first to know 😉

Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to work, and I’ll also update you as we get closer.

If there’s anything else I can help you out with, don’t hesitate to ask.

Have a great one!

Let’s examine what’s going on:

We’re exactly on pace for the timeline we discussed, just as I mentioned yesterday!

This line says, “You asking me over and over doesn’t change the ETA.” Some clients think they can “ask” you into working faster. This is a subtle counter to that.

I promise, if anything changes or there are any important updates, you’ll be the first to know 😉

This line lets the client know that you’ll be the one to reach out to them, and it’s said in a friendly tone so you’re setting a boundary, but not abrasively.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to work, and I’ll also update you as we get closer.

If there’s anything else I can help you out with, don’t hesitate to ask.

These lines emphasize what we just said, but they also let your client know that just because ETA questions don’t help the process, it doesn’t mean you don’t still have their back.

Some clients have been burned, so they constantly ask to make sure you’re not in the process of burning them too. This will help put them at ease.

Step 4: If the problem persists…

Then you have to get a bit more direct, especially if it’s interfering with your work.

I’d then send a message like so:

Hey, [Client],

While I understand and can relate to your desire to stay so updated, at this point the time spent going back and forth in these emails is starting to really cut into my work time!

I would love to be able to write back and forth all day with you, but the same person working on your project is the person writing these messages! Unfortunately, I can only do one at a time.

If there’s something concerning you, and that’s why you keep asking for status updates, let me know and we can talk it over.

Otherwise, if you’re just anxious and excited to get your project completed, it would be very helpful if you could contain that excitement for just a bit longer, until I have something to show you. I promise, I’m not going anywhere – I just need time and space to work so I can give you the quality you came to me for, in the timeline we agreed on.

Thanks for your understanding, and please let me know if you have any questions about any of this!

Your project is coming along great by the way 🙂 I’m excited to go over it with you when I’m done.


If the client couldn’t take the hint in the last message, we’re taking a more direct approach with this one. You’re empathizing with their position while also giving them a chance to see things in your shoes, causing them to empathize right back.

If there’s a deeper concern / problem at hand, you’ll also flesh it out, so you can work through it and move on.

On the other hand, if a client responds very negatively to this, it’s very telling, and you might want to consider discontinuing the relationship.

You’re really going above and beyond with these emails to stay friendly and communicative while also expressing your needs as their hired pro.

It would take a “special” person to respond like a jerk to emails like these. Wouldn’t you agree?

Questions? Hair-pulling stories? Comments?

Let me know in the comments. Would love to hear from you 🙂

For more on handling difficult clients, check out these posts:

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  1. Very helpful article David. I love your hands on e-mail examples!

    From my personal experience I can tell that clients (or
    bosses) who ask for status updates often have a lack of trust. They basically
    want to make sure you don’t screw up. So building trust with clients prevents
    them from asking you for status updates all the time.

    There are some excellent ways to build trust such as giving
    regular updates and sharing helpful resources with your clients. When you start
    working for a client teach them about the production process and set realistic
    deadlines. Then stick to your promises and you will able build mutual trust.

  2. Finally – a polite way for me to tell extra nagging clients to stop riding me. Thank you!

  3. What do you do if you hit a creative block on the client’s project and you can’t meet your own self-imposed deadline. Or if you have other loyal, long-time clients who approach you with last minute work that is under deadline and it interferes with other projects’ timetables?

    1. Good questions.

      * For scenario 1, there are two answers I think…

      1. If this happens a lot, it’s time to look at your process. A “block” is typically a sign that not enough research has been done. If you find yourself getting “blocked” a lot, I’d suggest doing more thorough research so it just doesn’t happen anymore.

      Interview your clients more deeply, interview their clients, read forums in their industry, read Amazon book reviews of things related to their field (very insightful for picking up on what the market thinks / feels).

      2. If this is only a once in a while sort of thing, then I’d just get really good at apologizing 🙂 Be open and earnest with the client, apologize profusely, and then see where it goes from there.

      Most of the time an earnest, big apology is enough to buy you some time 😉 It’s hard to stay mad at someone who’s super sorry for doing something to you.

      Let them know ASAP though if you feel you’ll be late. Don’t wait until the day of. The earlier you rip the band aid off, the better.

      * For scenario 2…

      1. Work more hours. If you feel you can’t say no to the loyal clients, but also don’t want to mess up your relationship with the new ones by being late, then you might just have to grind it out.

      2. See how last minute it really is. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve done things where we got 911 emergency messages and then the client didn’t get back to us with questions we had or materials we needed for days, even weeks.

      Sometimes things “feel” urgent, but they rarely actually are.

      You might uncover that it’s not really as big a deal as they’re making it.

      Charge a rush fee too. That will make them really decide how important speed is 🙂 If they’re willing to pay it, you know the situation might actually be dire.

      3. Pick someone to disappoint. If you’re a one-man / woman show, you can’t be everything to everyone. Here come those apologizing skills again 🙂

      4. Find someone you trust who you can offset some work to but still under the umbrella of your company. Split the payment with them.

      Hope this helps 🙂


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