• Advice, Community

Give 'em options: A simple trick to keep clients happy

I have a nephew who is now 5 years old.

Recently, I watched my brother put him to bed - a process that often involves U.N.-Summit-style bargaining.

But my brother has a significant advantage over this pint-sized delegate; a tactic that helped to defuse (if not defeat) even the most heated “BUTIDON’TWANNNNNASLEEEEEEEP” debate:

Giving options.

Now, as I said, my nephew is five, so these “options” tend to be of the false-choice variety. Representative example:

“You can go to bed and read THREE books with me, OR… you can go right to bed.”

It doesn’t necessarily prevent waterworks entirely, but my nephew tends to opt toward the better choice – because he’s been given the illusion of control.

Will you be horrified, fellow freelancers, if I admit to you that I have used this EXACT TACTIC – with only a little bit more subtlety involved – to keep my more fractious clients happy?

In fact, the more controlling the client, the more effective the “giving options” technique is, but it’s not just for managing difficult clients.

When I’m working with any client, I like to give a couple of different options for them to choose from: for pricing, for form of written content, or for delivery dates.

Giving options helps them to find the workflow that best fits their needs, which makes them feel valued. It’s a good deal for both of us!

Historically, this tactic has proven even MORE useful when dealing with a persnickety or particularly demanding client.

It’s been my experience that needy clients often behave obnoxiously because they’re bubbling over with anxiety!

Giving options (for timelines, for design, for content, for pricing structure – you name it) allows them, like my tiny tantruming nephew, to feel like they’re in control.

The irony is that by controlling the choice parameters, the freelancer is put in charge – but shhh, fractious clients don’t have to know.

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The #1 key for using this tactic effectively?


Much as my brother would not give my nephew the option to stay up all night while watching Star Wars and inhaling Pixie Sticks, you should NEVER suggest an option to a client that you are not eager to pursue.

Otherwise, the inevitable Rules of the Universe will dictate that your client will pick the nastiest option available… and you will have only yourself to blame.

Try giving options next time you have a new client (or indeed, are even negotiating terms with an existing gig). Odds are you’ll have a happier, calmer client on your hands – no tantrums necessary.

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.