I've been really, really lucky during the last couple of years that I've worked as a freelance writer and editor that I've not had a ton of difficult clients. Clients with different opinions? Yes. Clients with different communication styles? Yes. Truly difficult? I've been really lucky not to deal too much with that. At least until recently.
The red flags were there from the first phone call. Client was scheduled to call at a certain hour my time and did not. I went on with my day. My phone rang two hours later and I was busy baking cinnamon rolls. They sent a message essentially stating that I had missed their designated call. I responded with the truth: I hadn't missed the call. They called two hours past the time they said they would. Then, an excuse was provided: power outage. They didn't realize the time. So, I told them to call me later in the evening. I took time away from my evening plans with my friends and family to talk to this person about their project. Their reason for missing the call changed: they had simply lost track of time. Alright, fine.
We settled on my usual rate and I was asked to provide a paid sample. I used their presentation (provided by them) and their blog (provided by them). I sent it over and a day or so later received a response that they had to "edit" my work more than they've ever had to edit anything. I found that odd. They asked for another sample. I asked that they return my work with Track Changes so that I could correct any issues needed. I've worked with several companies in this fashion and never have I had an issue.
I looked at it earlier today when I had time. It wasn't a problem with the writing. It was stylistic changes. There was one misspelled word. There was also one sentence the person didn't like and stated they couldn't find it on Google. I can't speak for Google...especially since I'm not in the business of plagiarism. The information came straight from their presentation. Past that? It was minor stylistic changes.
It dawned on me at that very moment that I am not the writer they need. I prefer honesty. Stylistic changes do not constitute editing. Changing excuses about missing a phone call just isn't honesty. Instead of putting my business or their time in jeopardy, I chose to end the contract. I included a note that stated we had different communication styles and I did not feel that I was the writer they needed. I gave them positive feedback. Why? Because sometimes it really just is the fact that you have conflicting work styles and personalities. It's not a huge problem. They left a little better than average feedback and included a note that "apparently" did not take criticism well and had ended the contract "abruptly."
Am I worried about how it well affect my ability to get more work? No. Here's why: I did and said the right thing. I knew that we would not work well together. Instead of making them or myself miserable, I chose to move on. I wished them well. I had nothing negative to say (although I probably could have). Also, the majority of my clients (including ghostwriting clients) are long term. I don't end contracts abruptly unless there is a reason for it. Anyone can see when they look at the feedback I provided (and the clear reason) and their response (which is essentially a decent rating and a complaint) that I wasn't the issue.
So, how do you deal with a difficult client? Well, it depends on the difficulty. I've had difficult clients in the past. Generally, I finish the job and just don't work with them again. That's essentially what I did here. Then, it's just a bless and release. To deal with a difficult client, you find a nice way to just break it off. Even when it's not your fault as a freelancer it is generally easiest to give them the "It's not you, it's me" virtual speech. Other options, that you should only use if they are true, include offers for full time contract work and no longer freelancing.
You can avoid this altogether by watching for the same red flags that I ignored. It's true that in the beginning that you sometimes just have to take what you can get. Most potential clients really don't act like this. Understand the difference between demanding excellence and nitpicking. I'm sought after for a reason, and the opinion of a nitpicking client really won't make or break my day or my business.
Seriously, though, watch for those red flags. Also, trust your gut. I knew I should have said no and I didn't...partially because (as Bull says) I try to see the good in everyone.