How to fix a broken client relationship

Regardless of how great you are at building great business relationships, nearly every designer finds themselves (eventually) at odds with at least one client.

You know what I’m talking about.

The client is pretty picky, always asking for revisions or never seems to have a project that not “a rush.”

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The deadline is always “ASAP” and they’re always trying to get a better deal, work the discount, or get you to throw in some extra work for no extra pay.

Then, one day, you’re more tired than usual, a little more irritable, and you just snap.

They’ve gone too far. They’ve asked too much. And you lose it.

Maybe you don’t wig out and start throwing things, but you run a little too loose on the tongue and respond to their request with a snarky remark like “if it’s so easy, why don’t you try to do it yourself?”

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It’s not enough to kill the relationship, but in the moment, you immediately regret what you’ve done.

You’ve broken the client relationship.

Why “firing your client” isn’t always the answer

If you’ve read our posts on firing your clients or dropping 80% of your clients, you might expect me to say something like: “Well, you gave it your best shot. They were just too hard to work with. Just too much to handle. You were justified. Just fire them before it gets awkward.”


Firing your clients isn’t always the answer.

Clients don’t grow on trees, ya know.

The fact of the matter is, you may not have the luxury of just writing this whole thing off to collateral damage. For many freelancers, losing clients means not knowing where your next mortgage payment is coming from.

What’s more, maybe you actually like the projects you do for this client. Or maybe they pay better than anyone else you work with. Or maybe they’re your only steady client.

So, if you don’t have the luxury of simply firing your client, what should you do?

Here’s my advice:

How to fix a broken client relationship

At my corporate job (If you didn’t know that I also have a desk job in addition to freelancing and running this blog, you can read about why I do here), we recently went through a big, third-party corporate training.

Now, mostly, I think these trainings are a huge marketing ploy to get your company’s hard-earned money.

But, out of the training, we actually learned some really cool things.

One, which you may have heard of, is this:

Experiences create beliefs.

Want to know why your client relationship is broken?

It’s not because you’re a bad designer. It’s not because you’re a bad business person. It’s not because you’re a bad anything.

It’s because you gave someone a bad experience.

And, it’s proven true for me, one good experience is not equal to one bad experience.

Meaning, you can’t fix a client relationship broken with a bad experience by offering one single good experience.

It doesn’t work like that.

Remember when you were a teenager?

Do you remember when you were a teenager and you broke a serious rule given you by your parents?

You may have gotten a lecture, maybe even yelled at.

But if your parents really wanted to torture you, they said something like “we’re just really disappointed in you. It’s going to be hard to trust you now.”

Ouch. Like a knife.

And, as a teenager, you had to learn the hard way that one right does not fix one wrong.

Only after giving your parents a lot more positive experiences, could they begin to trust you again.

For some reason, as human beings we have to learn that again on the dating scene, with our spouses and kids, and in business.

You’d think we’d learn.

But you’re only human, so…

Here’s the thing: you’re human.

And so is your client.

So they’ll understand.

But realize that you’ll need to bombard them with positive experiences if you really want to repair the damage that one negative experience created.

If your client has a new belief about you, give them experiences that prove that belief wrong.

If they think you always deliver late, deliver early.

If they believe you’re disorganized, get organized by finding a CRM for freelancers that works for you.

If they think you’re irritable, always be cheery when working with them.

If they think you charge too much…well, think hard about that one.

Have you ever had to repair a damaged client relationship?

In all the time you’ve been working with clients, have you ever had to repair a damaged client relationship? Does what I’ve explained above prove true?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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  1. I’m really careful about staying professional and keeping my emotions in check when dealing with clients because it’s so much harder to repair damage.

    My biggest tip here is to find a way to call or visit in-person to show that you’re going out of your way to contact them and personally apologize. Swallow your pride and be the adult.


  2. Thanks for another great article. I have one of these demanding clients who is a workaholic and gets upset with me when I’m busy with other things. She expects me to take her phone call/texts 24-7 & drop everything for her no matter what. The only thing I know that may have went wrong was that she took her time and didn’t give me the materials I needed to go further with the project so I moved on to other clients that had everything I needed. I now have several other clients that are much easier to work with & pay much quicker than the demanding one. So my question to you is: Is it time to say goodbye to this client or should I try to keep her?

  3. Thanks Preston

    Some clients can be very annoying but cannot forget that they are putting food on our table.
    And everytime if there’s dispute over things it reflects on the final design as well. We need to remember that the client is just trying to get the best of the advertising money he/she has put in.

  4. Thanks! Just recently though, I just cut ties with a client who was constantly insulting me and I always walk on eggshells around him and his wife and don’t want to pay my very reasonable fee. This last time, he became angry because I have a client portfolio and told me all I care about is my fame…??? Just had about enough of that kind of thing, lol.

  5. This advice is spot on. I recently had to repair a client relationship due to my pushing the project off too long. This client didn’t seem to be in a rush, so I took advantage of that perception to finish other, more urgent projects, thinking that if they could take their time, I could take mine. What’s good for the client isn’t always good for the designer. They ended up being upset at the delays and were ready to fire me. I started a dialogue with them and we were able to finish the project. It is absolutely true that it takes more than one good experience to fix a bad one! Thanks for sharing this. You guys are always providing relevant content and as a designer, I really appreciate it!

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