You’re probably familiar with the old saying, ‘The customer is always right.’

You’re probably equally familiar with proponents of the ‘Freelancers always know best and should persuade/mould/bully their clients into their way of thinking’ attitude.

If you’re new to freelancing, you may be wondering which stance is right. Perhaps you’re waiting with bated breath for me to answer that question for you.

If that’s the case, then prepare for disappointment, as the bishop said to the actress. Because neither stance is always right or always wrong.

The Client Isn’t Always RightThe customer is always right

Take Client X. Client X has suggested various keywords and phrases she believes will improve the SEO of her articles about, erm… yachts. Let’s go with yachts.

She wants these articles to be found by, and appeal to, the general public who may have some basic questions about yachts. And yet all the keywords and phrases she’s so desperate for me to weave into her articles are either awkward combinations nobody would put together or technical terms that no yacht-yearning member of the general public would search for in a million years.

She is now seeing the light about this and a few other issues of tone and content. By giving her some gentle guidance and pointing to my experience, I was able to offer a more thorough service and the resulting content was far better, which pleased her. In this case, I was right and she was wrong.

Sometimes, by not gently pointing out that something could be improved or changed, you’re doing a client a disservice. And going beyond the call of duty, offering more input and skill than the client originally sought, can only improve your standing in their eyes – and the likelihood of them offering you further work and paying you well for it.

And of course, there’s always the obnoxious client who wants something for nothing – or just needs to be bid adieu because they’re impossible to work with. That’s a whole other type of not being right!

You – And Your Freelancer Compatriots – Aren’t Always Right

We’ve all had clients who are terrible communicators, change their minds constantly or at the last second, don’t really know what they want in the first place… I could go on. Those types of client are challenging and if their demands become too unreasonable, you may decide not to work for them anymore.

However, sometimes you might misinterpret their brief or not do enough research. Perhaps you’ve gone off at a tangent, sure that you’re improving things, but not discussing it with the client first – or seeking their approval. Maybe you’ve been distracted and not paid attention to detail or not given the project your best effort. Perhaps you didn’t make it clear that making the change you suggested would cost them money, or maybe you didn’t deliver on time.

The fact is, freelancers are no more perfect than the next person. Sometimes, we get it wrong. We overbook ourselves or get slapdash. We fail to communicate – or bother our client too much, failing to take any kind of initiative.

Admit your mistakes and apologise – and preferably do so before the client is forced to complain. If you’re unaware you’re at fault and a client criticises your work ethic or the finished product, rather than biting back angrily, count to 100 and consider what they’ve said or written. Now, ask yourself honestly – is there any validity to what they’ve said, even if it’s just the tiniest sliver of truth?

Try to at least reach a compromise, and if there’s been a genuine misunderstanding, consider going the extra mile to make things right – even if it means working a little longer or adding a service. I’m not recommending you let a serial chancer walk all over you here – but I am recommending that you make at least a one-off effort to make an unhappy client happy again.

Who knows – once this mishap is behind you, they may be some impressed with your efforts that hey become your best client!