A Dozen Tricks Used By Clients To Manipulate Freelancers

A Dozen Tricks Used By Clients To Manipulate Freelancers

Since the dawn of time, mankind has tried to find ways to get people to do what they want. Sometimes they employ strong-arm tactics and sometimes they use deceit, but most of the time they use manipulation to bend people to their will.

They have used tried and tested forms of manipulation for thousands of years and for the most part these techniques have worked pretty well. But they only reason they are so successful is that most of the intended victims don’t even realize that they are being manipulated.

A Dozen Tricks Used By Clients To Manipulate Freelancers

12 Most Used Manipulative Tricks Employed by Clients

If they did recognize these techniques for what they really are, then they would lose all of their effectiveness. Just glancing over the list below could save people from being manipulated in most circumstances.

1. Using Common Misconceptions

This is one of the most common manipulations in the entire world and most of the time not even the person using it understands they are being manipulative.

Using Common Misconceptions

This manipulation involves taking a common misconception and stating it as if it were a fact just to win an argument or force the other person to do what you want. It is a tactic that is frequently used by parents in order to keep their children in line.

Here is an example:

“Freelancers don’t do the same kind of quality work that a large corporation does and they don’t have as many overheads either, so I can cut down their salary base by 20% and still get the type of work that I want.”

2. Taking Advantage of Divided Attention

This is another very classic manipulation. Instead of asking a person for something while they are giving their full attention to them; the master manipulator will ask for something while that person is preoccupied. This is a common practice among women who are looking to get their husband to do something while they are watching the game. It is also used frequently by people to control their co-workers.

Client:”I need this report done by Thursday”
Freelancer:”I have quite a bit of work on my desk today, but I should be able to get to it.”
Client:”Oh, can you also do one little assignment for me by say, Saturday?”
Freelancer:”I am really strapped at the moment.”
Client:”It’s just a little assignment. Won’t take much time.”
Freelancer:”Ok, send it on over.

The client then sends over an assignment that consists of three parts and would take at least a week to complete.

3. Taking Advantage of a Superior Position

This is a manipulation that is often used by people in positions of power. People such as police officers, doctors and politicians are the most common perpetrators, but it can be used by almost anyone in an authoritative position.

Taking Advantage of a Superior Position

They use their authoritative positions to convince their intended targets to forgo their own common sense in lieu of theirs.

Here is an example:

“I spend millions of dollars on freelancers every year, and every single one of them works for the salary I just offered you. If you don’t won’t to do the assignment for what I am willing to pay, then you are missing out on quite a bit of work.”

4. Topic Dialing

Topic dialing is when a person wins an argument by quickly changing the subject to a completely unrelated topic that is only distantly related to the original subject. The effectiveness of this technique is usually dependent on how fast they can change the topic. They faster they can change the topic, the more successful it is likely to be.

Here is an example:

“I heard that Stephen King worked as a freelance writer before he became a novelist. During that time he was able to write five or six reports at a time and have them done within a week or so. He could really crank them out. By the way, do you think that you could finish this assignment in the next day or so?”

5. Assumption of Guilt

This is when the manipulator assumes that a person is guilty of something by observing only the smallest amount of evidence.

Assumption of Guilt

Here is an example:

At 3am, after finishing a website template for a client who had to have it “by 6am their time,” the freelancer sent an email letting her know that it was finished. The next day he get a call:

Client: I don’t appreciate you staying out all night when you should be working on my project.
Freelancer: I’m sorry? I was working all last night. As you can see, I sent you an e-mail.
Client: I see that. At 3am. Do you think it’s okay to party all night and then work without sleep at 3am? It’s very unprofessional and morally reprehensible.
Freelancer: What makes you think I was out partying?
Client: Why else would you be up at 3am?
Freelancer: You gave my 24 hours to do 18 hours of work. I had to stay up.
Freelancer: Don’t try to use math on me!

6. The Use of Technobabble

Technobabble is frequently used by professionals in high tech fields such as medicine or computer science. It is encoding information in jargon intensive language. It is often used as an intimidation tactic to get a person to do what the professional wants done without the person knowing exactly what is being discussed. It can also be used to hide inherent flaws in the manipulator’s argument that he doesn’t want to reveal.

Here is an example:

“Despite its dangers, Dihydrogen monoxide is often used to wash children.” Dihydrogen monoxide is a pseudo-scientific name for water.

7. Making an Outrageous First Request

Here is a tactic that almost everyone has used at some point in time. It involves making a request that is almost impossible to fulfill or is a request that is most likely to have been denied by the target. The manipulator then asks for something that is less likely to be struck down.

Making an Outrageous First Request

This works on the psychological principle that people don’t like to have to say no multiple times in a row.

Here is an example:

Client:”Do you think you can finish these 4 reports by this weekend.”
Freelancer:”I don’t think that is possible.”
Client: “How about 2 reports by this weekend?”
Freelancer: “I’ll try but I can’t promise it.”
Client:”Okay, can I have the first report by tomorrow then.”

8. The Stepping Up Manipulation

This tactic is often used by children. It is when a person asks for something small, and when that person agrees, then working up to bigger and bigger things.

The Stepping Up Manipulation

Here is an example:

Client:”I need that report done by tomorrow.”
Freelancer:”Ok, no problem.”
Client:”I also need it done in triplicate.”
Client:”And by the way can you make sure you add in some charts to illustrate the point.”
Freelancer:”Umm, I can do that.”
Client:”And I need each report to have a different type of chart. One with a bar graph, one with a pie chart and one with a comparison of the two.”

9. Razor Thin Conclusions

This is when the manipulator gives out a little bit of information to the victim and then draws a conclusion from this fact. The conclusion that is drawn is usually based on a razor thin premise and is thinly connected to the information that was granted in the first place.

Here is an example:

“Can you finish this assignment by the second week of this month? You can’t? Well, most of the professional freelancers I employ would be able to do it. I guess that you aren’t as professional as they are?”

10. Making Reality More Pleasant Than It Really Is

This is often called looking at things through rose-colored glasses. Except that it is done intentionally and is not a result of the manipulator’s naivety. The manipulator relays information about a potentially unpleasant situation in a very pleasant way.

Making Reality More Pleasant Than It Really Is
Image credit: designers of tumblr

Here is an example:

“This assignment is really easy and shouldn’t take anytime whatsoever.” After receiving the assignment, the freelancer realizes that it will take several long days to get it completed on time.

11. Making Something Appear Like It’s Limited

This is when the manipulator makes an item appear to be rarer than it actually is, thereby driving up demand.

Here is an example:

“We need an illustrator with a medical or veterinarian background. We’re expecting a lot of responses, so make sure to give as low a quote as possible or I am afraid that you are going to miss out on a great opportunity.”

12. Fear Creation

This manipulation technique is employed by everyone from the average person on the street to the governments of very large nations. It is a tactic that has been successfully employed for thousands of years and will probably continue to be employed for many thousands of years to come.

Fear Creation

It involves creating a scenario that invokes fear in the recipient. This fear is then cured by a solution that the manipulator just happens to offer up at the exact right time.

Here is an example:

“We are going to have to cut some freelance jobs from our division in order to keep payroll costs under control. We are going to have to start cutting the jobs of freelancers who aren’t willing to work on a lower commission. I know that these jobs are important to you and I want to help you, so why don’t you lower your rate to prove just how important this job really is to you.”


As can be ascertained from the above list, there are a variety of different ways that people use manipulation in order to tilt things to their favor. This has always been, and most likely will always be, something that is done on a regular basis. But if a person knows the different ways that people manipulate, and keep their eyes open, then they can avoid being manipulated and ensure that they are always in charge of the situation.

Do you have any examples of manipulative clients? Feel free to share with us in the comments below.

Note: Some examples are extracted from Clients From Hell.

Aidan Huang is a web enthusiast and ingenious blogger who loves all things design, interesting and technology. He is the editor-in-chief at Onextrapixel and have founded several other interesting blogs. Do keep in touch with him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.


    • Trevor Barrios,
    • February 13, 2012
    / Reply

    I can honestly say that I do not encounter any of these situations. I’ve been freelancing for a year and a half. Worked at an agency for a couple of years prior to that. Not saying that my situation is typical, but I also make a point of being assertive. I do not pander. I have clear policies in place that I do not waiver from. I have the fortunate circumstance of having more work than I can handle, so when I tell someone that I cannot attend to them for 3 three weeks, they perceive me as being in demand, which helps frame me as an expert in my field. If they see you as an expert, the kind of shenanigans described above rarely ever happen. I have even turned potential clients away who I felt were going to be problematic, after initial conversation. I am not bragging about my good fortune. I’m simply saying that it is the creatives responsibility to prevent this kind of behavior. If you don’t respect yourself enough to say “no”, then why in the hell should your clients respect you? Just remember; be good to yourself and others will do the same. Happy freelancing.

    • Drew,
    • February 13, 2012
    / Reply

    For anyone who isn’t in the position to gloat or get on a high horse, this is a really useful article, and was far better written than I could have put it. I think it says a lot about someone (or a company) when they have to manipulate people into doing things, rather than asking them direct.

      • Trevor Barrios,
      • February 14, 2012
      / Reply

      Drew, I think you failed to read my entire comment. I made it clear that I was neither gloating, nor riding a high horse. Perhaps you are bitter, because you allow your clients to manipulate you. The entire purpose of my remark was to point out that if you respect yourself enough to turn away this type of client, you’ll eventually find the kind of clientele who respect you enough to treat you the way a professional deserves to be treated. I find it remarkable that so many freelance websites address this, and related issues. It baffles me, because no one should have to deal with this kind of treatment if they’re approaching their business correctly. For that, Paul is absolutely correct. It’s no different than any other type of relationship. If there is a lack of mutual respect, it’s because no one is managing the expectations of the relationship. As the commissioned talent, that falls squarely on your shoulders. Pointing out my success in this area does not signify that I am gloating about it. I use that to validate my position. You should have been able to draw that conclusion.

        • Mary,
        • July 24, 2012
        / Reply

        So disagreeing with you means that Drew is bitter. Uh-huh. That would be you using trick no. 5 then?

    • Paul,
    • February 13, 2012
    / Reply

    if you’re attractiing these types of clients, you’re doing it wrong.

    1. / Reply

      Paul, I agree 100% with you!

    2. / Reply

      Hey Paul, if you aren’t attracting these types of clients – then too!

    • Yari,
    • February 14, 2012
    / Reply

    I’ve only had to deal with these types of manipulations once or twice. Generally it’s from people who are not used to being stood up to or who think they’re doing me a favor by giving me their work. I tend to stand my ground and they’ll either fold or move along. Which is just as well, these types of tactics are a big red flag for me and I always try to phase these clients out.

    • WAT,
    • February 14, 2012
    / Reply

    Every single one of these “tricks” can be countered by saying, very simply, “No”.
    If you fall for any of these, you’re a pushover.

      • James Kyle,
      • February 14, 2012
      / Reply

      Sometimes it’s easier said than done. Circumstances plays a part. Designers can’t be that scornful anymore.

    • Nate,
    • February 15, 2012
    / Reply

    Contracts are everything to prevent these sort of things. A deposit up front that is forfeited (to the designer) in the case of project termination is a good way of keeping a new client “civil.” Obviously these are not always the most convenient way of doing things when your work includes several small updates to be billed later. For outlined projects though, I always use some sort of contract unless my laziness prevents it.

  1. / Reply

    A great article. Thank you so much for that!

    An amazing follow-up would be to craft the appropriate, smooth & professional responses to these manipulations (And to design it into a clear, original & beautiful graphic. Well, let’s make it 5 graphics with different color themes for different freelancing areas. And…).

  2. / Reply

    I once had a client who was a master manipulator. She was the Queen of scope creep and wanted everything for nothing. I finally terminated our business relationship after she failed to pay me for a stock video that she had requested as a last minute addition. Later she told me that I was unprofessional to terminate the relationship over $45. I then explained to her that if she had owed her cell phone company or cable company $45 they’d cut off the service.

    No idea where some of these people think that because we’re freelancers that we should be willing to give away the work for free.

    I typically use contracts to protect my sanity, so that definitely helps a lot.

    I saw a comment about avoiding these types of clients, but how do you really know they’re like that until you start working with them?

  3. / Reply

    Most of the times, the person who manipulates other has more information than the people who are being manipulated. You just have to trust your instincts and know the market very well. Also another technique is this: to tell the employer that he is going to be awarded for his effort but never say anything about the price. After the work is done, the employer receives a diploma with no value at all or a ticket to a concert he doesn’t want to attend for eg. I’ve seen this strategy in a lot of companies. The employers work hard but if they would knew the award from the beginning, their efforts wouldn’t have been so big. (Sorry for my English, it’s not my native language).

  4. / Reply

    This write up is awesome. So much in fact, we’ve been pondering about a potential client whom my team met up recently needing a project that ‘needed to be done yesterday’. This is clearly technique 7. Making an outrageous request. Then throughout the conversation, other pointers creeped in.

    The series of events, in sequence.
    Point 7. Making an outrageous request – ‘I need this completed early next week.’ We met to discuss on the last day of the working week!

    Point 10. Making Reality more pleasant than it really is – ‘Don’t worry about the tight timeline…it’s really simple and so basic…’

    Point 4. Topic dialing – ‘Come, let me show you some examples’. They had no relevance, since the client’s budget and timeline would obviously never allow these features to happen, so why show in the first place?

    Point 9. Razor thing conclusions – ‘Well, the project is basically about this, this and this etc.’ The background information was so ‘thin’ we could have been sitting there in the client’s place ourselves.

    Then it steered into Point 8. Stepping up Manipulation – ‘Well, anyways, am not so sure about everything right now but I do know that the features will evolve along the way and we’ll be needing more stuff done’. At this point, we’re thinking we have no idea of what the requirements are, this is clearly a merry go round and our gut feeling’s telling us to exit.

    So we graciously end the the meeting and mentioned we’ll be in touch. We haven’t gotten in touch since.

    Conclusion wise, I think clients often adopt a few of these techniques at a go and try to manipulate their way into getting us to do work for them. Please be sharp and watch out for these in future.

    1. / Reply

      Hi Morgan,

      I feel you.


  5. / Reply

    The following scenario might not be so manipulative but I can’t stand when potential clients try to offer compensation by ‘profit sharing.’ Example: “I can only pay you a little bit right now but, once this project starts to rake in the dough (and I know it will), then I’ll pay you more plus a bonus.”

    • Edna,
    • March 17, 2012
    / Reply

    what you have said in this article has deeply impressed me and i wish you can write more about this subject.

    • Stacey,
    • April 5, 2012
    / Reply

    I can honestly say that the only time I had something like this happen to me, I quoted less than I normally would have by $10 an hour because I felt bad for the guy. Not only did he successfully get me to lower my rate, when we were discussing the quote he flat out told me that I wasn’t worth what I was charging–after I lowered my rate! I was so angry about that statement that I told him that I couldn’t do business with him because I refused to lower my rate based on what he thought my work was worth! And you know what he said to me? “I didn’t expect that.”

    Having respect for yourself and for your work is the most important thing you can do as a freelancer. If someone doesn’t like your work for what it is, don’t do business with them! Neither of you will end up happy in the end so why waste the time and emit the negative energy?

  6. / Reply

    Great article.
    Specially useful for people who are just starting out as freelancers.
    When you have spent years dealing with clients, you learn to negotiate.
    No one’s out to deliberately screw you, they just want to get as much as they can from the deal as possible, just like we do every time we go out and pay for an article or service.
    And of course, manipulation is a tool used, be that the person is aware that they’re doing it or not. We all do it.
    So, the first thing to remember is that it’s business, not personal. You negotiate in a way that the project will be fair to both parties, that you work normal hours (rush rush clients are not healthy, and believe me, most of the time you can negotiate more reasonable deadlines as well).
    I use a very simple diagram in the shape of a triangle, being project extension one side, cost another and finally time frame the other. If one side has to be shortened, others will enlogate, like less time, more cost, more extension but maintain cost, then time extends (not the nicest one, specially because we need the money), or more extension, more cost, etc.
    You manage the whole thing like what it is, a business deal. Where you’re selling your profesional services, which include your time as well.
    Manipulation can only occur if you let it happen.
    You have to learn to say NO when necesary.

    Anyway, that’s my belief.

  7. / Reply

    One of the best trick used by clients is we have more big projects in future we are looking to complete this one cheaply by this we want to check your skills.

    • Paulus,
    • June 29, 2012
    / Reply

    And then there’s the…

    “Payment in full after completion”, so you do the job and send them the invoice and a month later you have to chase it up and you get “are you sure you sent the invoice? Can you resend?”, so you do then you get another month to wait and then you get “I checked with Fiannce and I’ve just missed the payment schedule – we send cheques out bi-monthly”, so you wait another two months and call back only to find that “the person you were dealing with doesn’t work here any more – we have no record of the invoice, can you resend?” and on it goes!

    But I always ensure that they are clear that I own the copyright and moral rights (UK) of any work I create and payment in full for that work is one of the conditions that must be satisfied for them to use that work (have a limited, non-exclusive right to use that work for the commissioned purpose (no other purpose unless that was part of the commission). Remember that even a commission is a contract that states that you will be creative for a price. No cash – no using my designs! Be strong with your own copyright – you have the weight of your country’s legal system behind you.

    In that, then, I guess I’m saying that you must never feel small. Even if you’re a designer on your iMac in your one-bedroom apartment. They like and want you – then great – they have already put you on a pedestal that should make you feel on an even keel with all those designers out there who are salaried.

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