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I've been freelancing for 8 years and have never had a problem with a client like this one. I take a lot of pride in my work and take a lot of care to ensure that the client and I are on the same page and there are clear expectations regarding the project.

Last year I took on a client who is, frankly, disrespectful. He has not shown up for an appointment in three months, demands meeting times at all hours and seems to have a disregard for any professional opinion I give. When he messages me in the night I only get them the next morning and I remind him of my availability hours and encourage him to set a meeting time. He never pitches so I haven't had a meeting with him in 3 months. I have coped to some extent with one-line emails.

I am at my wit's end. I care a lot about my work and have worked really hard on this project for him and am starting to feel really discouraged. I want him to be happy with the work I do and I don't know what to do with such a disrespectful client. I don't know how to earn his respect. It seems like no matter what I do, it's not good enough. This project still has a couple more months (potentially longer) to go and I really want to figure out how to salvage the situation. If I bail now it will really set things back for him. I don't really want to burn bridges and leave midway but I honestly am really discouraged and just want to throw in the towel at this point.

While I hope it's not the case, it is necessary to mention that I'm a woman engineer and he may not be used to working with woman engineers. That may be a factor here. I hope not. Maybe he's just disrespectful to everyone.

(I've had clients before who aren't sure about hiring a lady engineer an it usually takes a couple of meetings for me to earn their respect and establish a good relationship. I thought this would be the case here but it just seems like it's not happening).

How do I salvage the situation and earn his respect before I just throw in the towel and bail on this project midway?

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    did you bill him, and did he pay? – michi Jan 11 '18 at 20:49
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    I second. Are you getting paid? Is this a fix price or time and material? Disrespectful are usually the worse payers. – paparazzo Jan 11 '18 at 21:04
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    @michi it's the one thing he gets right. I do get paid. – user6818 Jan 11 '18 at 21:12
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    How did you infer that the client doesn't respect you and your work? From the short messages? From not scheduling meetings? Are long messages and frequent meetings the norm and/or a sign of respect in your profession and/or culture? In my field, for example, one-liners are the norm. By He has not shown up for an appointment, do you mean that he hasn't scheduled appointments or that he has stood you up? – user510 Jan 12 '18 at 9:42
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    @henning Of the 10 scheduled meetings he's made in the past 3 months, he has stood me up 10 times. The only reason I have been able to continue to work is because I've received the bare minimum of information from him in one-liner emails. There is a lot I need to discuss that he just hasn't been available for. – user6818 Jan 12 '18 at 12:44
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How do I ... earn his respect ...?

Short and sweet: Don't.

As long as he isn't outright rude, derogatory, mean, hostile, you name it - treat him with respect to follow your ethics, and let him follow his.

Do not lecture, preach, teach manners. Chances are that he is behaving like this towards everybody, and it has nothing to do with you, but with him.

Here's a quote (source unknown to me) that I think could apply here:

"I'd rather be rich than right"

I learned that I was able to be more successful and make more money than many of my competitors because I was able to work for difficult clients.

This became part of my portfolio, and of my reputation. This is a bonus skill I acquired that really gilds my expertise on the matter.

Here are a few thoughts on some selected portions of your question:

When he messages me in the night I only get them the next morning and I remind him of my availability hours ...

Don't remind or comment, just do not be available and communicate the bare facts the next morning, as if everything was totally normal.

If he'd criticize you for not being available, tell him something like "I am available now, let's talk."

If he insists on talking at 3 a.m., tell him that you don't - or be available and bill him with a x% bonus on top of your daytime fees (calculate that bonus so that it really makes it worthwhile for you to work at these hours, and sleep in on the following day), which - of course - you state in advance, but as a fact, not as a question, with total naturalness.

If communication improves when talking at 3 a.m., propose only such times in the future. This might have the paradoxical effect of him asking for proposals at "usual" times.

Background story: I have been working with a client who would write long emails at 2:30 am and even later, but never during daytime. I found out that he was very busy during the day, slept for 3 hours between 10 pm and 1 am, got up and worked til 5 am, then went to sleep till 8 am, then went to work. He did that 7 days a week for the last 25 years. He was a very successful person and told me that virtually all of his successful ideas came to mind between 1 and 5 am, while during the day, he just did his routine-tasks. Our cooperation was no routine-task for him, and he didn't expect me to reply at 2:30 in the morning.

... and seems to have a disregard for any professional opinion I give

How do you come to this conclusion? What exactly is he doing or not doing that lets you know it is disrespect and not something else?

It seems like no matter what I do, it's not good enough.

Again, how did you arrive at that conclusion?

In my experience, it is vital to reflect your responses and interpretations when working with so-called "difficult clients" or "clients from hell", as a business-partner used to call some.

Some people do not communicate appreciation at all, some in ways that I would never have recognised as such.

Make sure to really understand in the beginning where the client wants to go. This is the basis for the contract. Seems that you did that.

For example, one lady would always find and call at least 3 "failures" in the work I presented. When I outright asked her to rate the results I presented in relation to the goal she had communicated as basis for our contract in the beginning of our cooperation, on a scale from 1 (no progress towards goal) to 10 (full progress towards goal), she replied "8 to 9", which was frankly more than I expected, because we were not there yet and there were future milestones to be accomplished. So I thanked her and when I asked why she criticised, she said "Well, on the level on which we are playing, this is part of the game." That helped me understand: I started to criticise her criticism, and she enjoyed that immensely. She reduced criticising my work to a point where she eventually stopped doing it completely, so I challenged her: "Is there something wrong with my work, because I don't get the usual feedback from you any more?" No more difficult client from that point onwards.

So, ask to assess his idea of quality: "How do you rate my work XYZ in relation to the goal blah blah blah from 10 = full success to 1 = zero success?"

If you get a 3, thank him and ask what he thinks you should perform to be worth the money he is paying. If he says "7", ask what needs to be done to get a 4, a 5, a 6 and a 7, a 9. If you have such talks, bill them as "performance review" or something similar.

He never pitches so I haven't had a meeting with him in 3 months. I have coped to some extent with one-line emails.

Fine... speak the language of your customer, they say... ;-)

If he doesn't provide information necessary to continue, just tell him that. Link it to his goal that you assessed in the beginning:

"Are you still interested in having completed X by February 1st?"

"Yes, of course!"

"Good, please provide A, B, C no later than Z in order to make that happen."

no answer until Z

"As I didn't hear from you, I put X on hold, Please let me know how you wish to continue. In case you want some options to choose from, let me know as well. To keep your slot open and have you on priority in relation to other clients while not working on X, I will charge a reduced rate of $M per day."

Please feel free to comment, I'd appreciate it.

I think this could be a client to learn from :-)

  • Thanks for this advice. I ended up doing something similar: I wrote a report detailing what I needed to tell him in meetings but couldn't, sent it to him and said that I would need to discuss with him how he would like to proceed before I continued to do any more work for him. He claimed he would contact me and hasn't yet. Currently the project is on hold. – user6818 Jan 16 '18 at 8:02
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While I don't think this is a gender issue, I also don't think there's anything left to salvage here. It sounds like you're dealing with a first rate a-hole, and nothing good can come from continuing to associate with him.

You're the subject matter expert, and your time is valuable. When a client treats you in this manner, it's best to cut the relationship ASAP.

If you are not desperate for the money, kick this guy to the curb. Don't back down from stating why you're doing so either:

  • Your time has been wasted.
  • Boundaries are not being respected (contacting you during business hours, etc.).
  • Poor communication (which leads to frustration, wasted effort, etc.)

Keep in mind that if you don't act like your time is valuable, neither will these people. What I mean by that is that if a customer books a meeting, but doesn't show up, thus wasting your time, you should charge them for it, or at least hold them to account. If they fear no penalties for wasting your time, then the logical conclusion (for them) is that they can safely disregard you.

In the future you may wish to include clauses in your contract regarding this behavior. For example, a clause about answering emails in the middle of the night. You'll do it, but charge them a mint. Or an automatic charge for no-shows to meetings. You can ask for more advice on that topic on other stack exchange sites.

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Some people tend to think that because they hired someone, they are the boss of that person for the duration of the project. I've done freelance development myself, and the customers often feel more entitled than they should.

I hate to say it, but it's unlikely you'll earn his respect. Period. Don't make that your goal.

Firstly, you need to decide if you can give up this project. It seems like you can, as you're considering it. If you can't, for financial or career reasons, you'll have to painfully endure it (and be sure to prepare next time to avoid such clients).

So, if you've decided you can afford to lose his business, you need to make a stand. You don't need to earn his respect nor quit on him, but you can mitigate the problematic areas.

About His Behavior

Set up a meeting with him and lay down some new rules, strictly. Here are some examples:

  • I will not communicate with you outside of my business hours. I normally allow flexibility but it is not working between us (don't start an argument about why you're enforcing this rule, just state that your normal procedure isn't working, and resist any inquiries as to why).
    • Note: you can also charge him for outside of business hours communication.
  • You will be charged for all meetings that you do not show up to without [insert strict notice guideline here]

Honestly, you're not obligated to make these universal rules. You can just make them for this one particular client. You have leverage here, and you can use it ethically when a customer is abusing your generous guidelines. Just try to use it as a last resort, because no one likes the rules being changed on them. You can also state that your flexibility is a privilege not to be abused, to make it clear to potential future clients.

About His Attitude

You should also address his attitude, if it is a serious problem. I would start very professionally, saying something like:

If you are not completely satisfied with the work, can we communicate an effective strategy for identifying specific problem areas and planning out a solution?

If he insists on being disrespectful and unprofessional, your options will come down to leaving or threatening to leave.

I would personally suggest against threatening to leave if his attitude doesn't improve. If he agrees to this, I would not expect him to keep his word, or at the very least be extremely passive aggressive.

The only way people like this learn is when their 3rd or 4th contractor drops them as a client. You probably aren't the person to sway him.

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    I submit that the line "I will not communicate... outside my business hours..." is somewhat harsh and most likely won't be well-received. Whether you want to take that risk or not is a whole different question. However, the idea of charging for after-hours communication is a good one. It needs to be clearly documented and it probably forms a change in the contract so needs to be negotiated. there's a lesson to be learned here: this language should be included in future contracts to include an exorbitant rate for off-hours non-emergency requests. – baldPrussian Jan 12 '18 at 20:52
  • I only suggest that in the case of a client such as this. As you said, it is harsh, and I would never say it to a new client or potential ones. – Clay07g Jan 12 '18 at 21:18
  • But if he wants to drop this specific client anyway, saying "Sorry, you are not bearable enough to work with" would sound much worse and may do significant harm if leaked to any other client. – h22 Jan 14 '18 at 12:11
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His respect is not a requirement. He is not likely to change. Don't judge yourself by what he thinks or you or how he treats you.

If you are getting paid and you think you can deliver the product then make a business decision.

If not meeting with you results in billing more hours then that is more income for you. Tell him you are not as effective if you cannot meet.

If he crosses the line to rude / abusive then tell him you will not tolerate that behavior.

If you need his respect to move forward then I see no solution. You cannot demand his respect but you can cash his check.

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Email is a non-real-time medium, usually 24-48 hours for a response a normal. Why do you think you have to answer at night? Maybe it's just convenient for him because he is awake anyway, feeding a baby every two hours or whatever.

Do you get all the information you need to perform your tasks? If yes, I wouldn't worry too much about his quirks. If he demands a meeting at a time you don't like, just say you are sorry and already have something scheduled there, another client maybe or yoga class or whatever.

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    Are the emails interrupting your sleep? If so, set your device to not alert you outside working hours. Better still, leave it in your office. – RedSonja Jan 12 '18 at 7:48
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If it's only a couple months more, just finish the project and move on. If he wants to extend tell him that you have other obligations. Your client is the type that will likely smear your reputation and will try to cause as much damage to you as he can, for leaving mid project.

When my clients are unprofessional I usually leave the team about a week into project, if not I stay till the bitter end, or at least to some milestone, and I notify them beforehand.

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When I read the title in the "Hot Network Questions" tab I thought to myself "Sexism" Then first thing I looked at was your name, to check if I'm right.

Given the question description and (I'm only guessing here) your gender it is very safe to assume that client will never change his disregard for the opposite sex and inner believes fundamentally.

Even I believe for myself to be the exact opposite of sexist, racist etc. and I catch myself disregarding my SO's opinion sometimes, but then agree with the same opinion when expressed by someone else ...

What you can do to make the situation bearable is (if at all possible) do what's described here. Basically switch your identity with a male colleague for any non verbal communication.

If that's not possible, its very unlikely your client will stop being sexist towards you.

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