update: my client constantly pesters me and micromanages my every move

Remember the letter-writer in February whose freelance client was constantly pestering her and micromanaging her every move — and treating her very much like an employee rather than a contractor? Here’s her update.

I have a follow-up to a question you answered about a client who was treating me like an employee rather than a contractor, as well as not paying in a timely fashion. 

After drafting several emails in which I became increasingly nitpicky about the legal definitions of “contractor,” “employee,” and “invoice,” I finally opted just to loosen my ties with this client. I sent an email letting them know that I was going to be devoting more time to my in-house employment, that I’d need to reduce my time commitment to them by 50%, and that I would no longer be available as a de facto one-woman 24-hour call center.

Surprisingly, they took it pretty well — since then I’ve received assignments in appropriate ways and the all-day harassment about my whereabouts has stopped. The reduction in hours seems to have solved the pay issue, too; it appears that if I work more than XX hours/week I won’t be paid on time, but as long as I’m working fewer than XX hours I receive a check every week as promised. (I suspect this is an issue of income versus payable accounts.)

In sum, all is now well, and the advice I received from you and the commenters really helped me get a grip on the whole mess. I feel a thousand times better with this arrangement.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Prismatic Professional*

    Yay! Congratulations OP! I hope this helps improve your work/life balance. :-) I love happy endings! Thank you for posting this Alison, I really needed it. I’m very honored to be part of such an amazing community!

  2. Marcy Marketer*

    Yay! I love the nitpicky email drafts… I always seem to do this when trying to set boundaries for mt freelance clients, when in the end all that’s necessary is a brief email stating your needs.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      I have just spend the past 2 hours trying to draft out a post for the open thread here about this very problem… and maybe you can help me by giving an example of what you did and how it worked out for you. Because, seriously, I’ve got one client who is way overstepping what can reasonably be expected of anyone, let alone a freelancer and I’m at my wit’s end with what to do about it.

      And OP, glad to hear they’re no longer bugging you!

      1. Marcy Marketer*

        Usually my issues involve payment, as well– so for example, they’ll purchase a two draft design package, and then ask for 5 drafts at no extra cost. They hate paying hourly, for some reason, and expect that a “package” means “until the job is done.” I’ve spelled it out at the beginning of purchases, but somehow I always get trapped into the scope creep!

        One way I’ve successfully tackled that is to say something like, “I can definitely make those changes, but it does mean extra hours I will be billing for since it’s outside of the package you purchased (shouldn’t be too much more, only an extra hour or half hour, but I did want to give you a heads up). Let me know if you want me to go forward.”

        I’ve also just plain said to the really terrible clients, “Here’s is the completed item. It’s been so wonderful working with you, and I wish you and your company the best of luck! I did want to give you a heads up that I am not accepting any additional projects right now, but if that changes I will certainly let you know.”

        I’ve also just called clients and said, “listen. I want you to be happy, that’s my main goal. But we also need to think about closing out this project, which is already over scope. I’ve already done X, Y, and Z over the original agreement. f I give you X, will you agree that the project is complete?” And then I follow up with an email saying I’m not accepting additional projects!

        I hope this helps– if you let me know more specifically what problems you’re running into maybe I can be a little more helpful. I work with a freelance web designer who actually just slows down in responding to emails and that seems to work really well for him, but it’s just not my style.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          I wish it did… it’s like if you found out that one of your clients was offering your services to one of their clients, for free, without your permission, consent or prior knowledge. See today’s open thread for more. :(

        2. Connie-Lynne*

          Oh, that “package” idea is brilliant. Lets you cut off problem clients with a cheery “so great working with you, look forward to it again the next time I’m free” but also gives you leeway with awesome clients.

          Kudos! Totally using that!

  3. BadPlanning*

    This sounds like it turned out well — it feels like you were able to make your time more precious for them so they used it more responsibly. And I’m glad you figured out the secret red tape of on time payment.

  4. Meg*

    I’m pleasantly surprised that they took your reduction in hours so well, but I’m glad it worked out!

  5. Artemesia*

    Great example of how ‘this is what I’m gonna do’ works better usually than ‘this is what I want you to do.’ Great outcome.

  6. JMegan*

    That’s a terrific update, OP! You pushed back, established boundaries, and improved your working relationship with the client. Sounds like a win for everyone.

    1. browneyedgirl*

      I just have to say that your name/avatar is the best ever. I now want to change my name to Toffle&Miffle4ever lol. Or the Groke. I could totally be the groke. Or Snufkin. Ahhh!

          1. browneyedgirl*

            This conversation makes perfect sense. I swear. The only thing that doesn’t make perfect sense? The new translation for Who Will Comfort Toffle. It might be more accurate to the Finnish, but it doesn’t scan right. I want the old translation back!

            1. FellowMoominFan*

              For what it’s worth, the Moomins were written in Swedish, not Finnish.

    2. browneyedgirl*

      True fact, I have a snork maiden key chain.
      And a moomin one.
      (Not a geek, I swear!!!)

  7. AW*

    Surprisingly, they took it pretty well

    I’m betting that it’s because your email made them realize that 1) not having a contract means they couldn’t force you to keep working with them and 2) your reduction in time was born from frustration with the current situation. Basically, they realized that they (might have) come very close to you just firing them as a client and they needed to stop treating you that way, which starts with not complaining about the new arrangement.

    Very glad this worked out so well. Consider yourself high-fived.

  8. ZSD*

    Great! And it’s wonderful to get an update that’s a happy ending other than “I found a different place to work.”


    This one reminds me of Tim Ferriss and the 4-hour work week. By using the Pareto Principle, he realises that only 20% of his client’s are providing 80% of his income.

    I’m going to take a stab in the dark and suggest this one isn’t in the top 20% of your clients. If they aren’t then kick ’em to the kerb and spend your limited time on your good clients.

    I’ll bet you’ll feel much better too.

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