Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Dear Bonnie: Mixed up in Martinsville

Editor's Note: Dear Bonnie is our truth-telling advice column from Bonnie Siegler. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and invite our readers to submit their questions directly to: [email protected]

Dear Bonnie,

How can you get rid of a bad client without burning bridges? For example, what if a client is a friend and you don't want to hurt their feelings or what if they're aggressively demanding more work than you've agreed to?


Mixed up in Martinsville

Dear Marty,

Repeat after me:


It doesn't matter if it's your best friend, ex-girlfriend, the neighbor of your second cousin on your stepmother’s side — or a complete stranger.

Putting the project expectations in writing always gives you an out. When the client asks you to do more work, additional versions or revisions or whatever, you can refer to the mutually agreed-upon piece of paper as the rule of law. It doesn’t have to be full of legal gobbledygook either; just make sure you have a simple description of the work, a specified number of rounds, a sense of the anticipated timing (including when you need feedback from them) and a payment schedule. Then you both just have to sign it and you’re all set.

Whether the client is a friend or not, this will help get awkward conversations out of the way before the work begins. For example, people often assume that when you say, “I’d love to design your logo” it means you will also design and produce all of the collateral they will need. Having a simple agreement will clear up these kinds of misconceptions before lots of time (and emotions) have been invested on both sides.

I employ something that I learned from a book called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Essentially, when someone "aggressively demands” that you do something you didn't agree to, you can say something like: “That’s a great idea and I would love to do it. Unfortunately, because our WRITTEN agreement didn’t include that, I don’t have the bandwidth for it, but I sure wish I did!" If the client is at all reasonable they'll understand (or at least not feel stupid for having asked, which is one of those pesky things that can burn bridges). And if not, just remember there are worse things than a burning bridge.

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Posted in: Business, Dear Bonnie

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