As a Freelancer, Who's the Boss?

As a Freelancer, Who’s the Boss?

Just quit your job, huh? Bet it felt great to turn in your resignation — especially if you’re escaping a hellacious boss!

So, go ahead — pop some bubbly, rejoice in your monumental decision to go freelance, and take a moment to daydream. Now that you’re running your own show, you’ll never have to deal with a lousy supervisor ever again, right?


Unfortunately, you haven’t seen the end of management styles that make you cringe. That’s because, as a freelancer, you’ve gone from one boss to many!

This begs the question: As a freelancer, who’s the boss?

Now That You’re a Freelancer, Who’s the Boss?

Sure, when you become a freelancer you become your own boss in the sense that you have final say over who you work with, what you work on, and how you run your business. But – every client you take on is effectively your supervisor – a boss who will have expectations about your work.

And, as your client roster grows, you’ll have more and more of them to cope with. Each of them will have their own preferences, personalities, and work styles.

You’re going to love working with some – and loathe working with others. That’s the nature of the business. This is why I asked: As a freelancer, who’s the boss?

Dream vs. Nightmare Clients

Your dream clients will:

  • set clear expectations
  • provide timely and helpful feedback
  • communicate regularly
  • be available to answer your questions
  • trust your expertise (aka not micromanage!)
  • pay you promptly
  • be pleasant to work with
  • refer you to other awesome clients

On the flip side, your nightmare clients will:

  • leave you guessing about project requirements
  • let your completed work sit in their inbox forever
  • communicate poorly — if at all 
  • be impossible to get ahold of (or contact you incessantly!)
  • nitpick everything and second guess you constantly
  • drag their heels when it’s time to pay up
  • be annoying, infuriating, or otherwise hard to like
  • not refer you to other prospective clients (but — would their referral be quality, anyway?)

The good news? Most clients are reasonable. So, even if they don’t check off every box on the dream client list, they’re probably worth keeping around.

You just need to get clear on what client behavior you will and won’t accept — and stick to your guns as best you can.

Managing the Client Relationship

As a freelancer, you have a TON of influence on the relationship you have with your clients. In fact, as a business owner, it’s up to you to set the tone.

You must establish guidelines for your partnership from the get-go. Otherwise, unwanted conflict is inevitable.

And when I say from the get-go, I mean from your very first interaction with them. During your initial talks with a prospective client, talk about YOUR communication and work style. See how they respond.

Did they push back? Readily agree? Listen to your gut here. If it feels like a mismatch, it probably is.

The beauty of being self-employed is that when you’re your own boss, you can be selective about who you take on as a client (unless you’re really strapped for cash). So, if the vibe doesn’t feel right – bail.

If the prospect asks why – be honest. Tell them it seems like this isn’t a great fit, and you respect both of your time too much to move forward. (Of course, say it in your own style!)

Then, when you onboard a new client, set clear boundaries from the start. Tell them when you’re available and actually stick to your own schedule.

And, make sure your scope of work and the terms of your agreement are well-defined. That way, there are no troublesome surprises later on.

Pro Tip: Get all of these details in writing through a formal statement of work (SOW) or contract. (A future blog post topic!)

Dealing with the Nightmare Client

Even if you do everything right, you’re bound to have a conflict with a client at some point.

When it happens, have a candid conversation with them. Maybe they don’t realize what they’re doing and they’re open to change.

But, if they do, and they’re not, you have a decision to make.

Nightmare clients take up way too much of your time and energy. And you deserve to build a roster of dream clients!

So, if the situation persists, and you can financially afford to, end the relationship with them (it’s called firing the client!). Be diplomatic, but firm.

That way, you preserve your reputation and free yourself of the hassle.

Final Thoughts

There you have it! But, I have to ask: as a freelancer, who’s the boss? I hope you have a better understanding.

Yes – you’ll have to deal with clients that annoy you just as much as your old boss did.

But – by having several clients in the mix at once, you can confidently take bold action to deal with the issue – and preserve your freelancing bliss.

Tell me: have you fired a client before? How did you handle it?

Learn by listening? Download the podcast episode all about who’s the boss?

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