Contributing Author: Woofy
So you have your own business, and you are your own boss. You work with plenty of great clients but, once in a while, you get a difficult apple with which to deal. Rest assured you are not the only one — this is part of every business, and we all have to go through these moments. However, the way you handle these situations dictates what type of professional or business person you are.
Even the most straightforward project can become a time- & energy-consuming nightmare if it comes from the wrong hands. So you have to get rid of the trouble clients. Otherwise, you can end up wasting your time, ruining your nerves, and even losing money. Nevertheless, what makes a client bad? Let’s see the most common red flags that should make you rethink working with a client:
communication or language barriers : it takes too much time to get a response from the client, they waste your time by talking too much, or they are not native speakers and have a terrible command of your language;
undecidedness : you’re given incomplete or vague briefs, or they keep you in a loop with never-ending revisions;
superior knowledge and skills : the client tells you exactly how you should be doing your job since they obviously know better;
plagiarism problems : when the client asks you to copy what someone else did because it works for them;
payment problems : refusal to pay on time, inventing reasons for why they cannot pay you at the moment, or they ask for additional work without paying for it;
abuse : rude or inappropriate behavior, offensive language or abusive actions;
everything is simple : the client will repeat that their project is uncomplicated and doesn’t take much time to do, either because they don’t have the skills to assess the complexity of their task, or because they try to make you charge less;
false promises : they throw promises to give future work or plenty more work with the hope of getting discounts, or they ask you to do a piece of the project for free before they hire you;
unrealistic expectations : they expect the project to be done and delivered at an impossible speed because of unrealistic deadlines;
budget problems : they criticize or question your rates & pricing structure while hoping for a discount;
past experiences : they talk badly about previous contractors and how they fired them all (however, this can be an opportunity to find out what the former contractors did wrong so that you can do better)
Now, all the above flags are not 100% bulletproof methods to spot trouble clients. It’s critical that you don’t rush into firing a client without thinking twice. More so, if your ego gets hurt or you just have a gut feeling, that doesn’t mean the client is bad news.
So take some time off, think if it’s really the right call to fire them, analyze the problem from all angles, and make sure part of the problem is not coming from you before you make the final decision of firing them!
You’ve decided not to work with a potential or existing client. As long as you’re not bound to them by any legal terms, you are free to fire them! Below I’ve listed the most used approaches to firing difficult clients — feel free to use whichever feels right for you, or combine them if you wish.
- Always tell the truth but not the harsh naked truth.
You don’t want to make enemies, and you definitely don’t want to get complaints. Frankly explain the situation by stating the facts and reasons why you cannot work with them, but be polite & respectful while also using a more formal language to appear professional.
- Consider real-life meetings or phone calls over e-mails .
It’s known that people don’t get that heated in person or when they hear your voice over the phone as opposed to reading an e-mail or text message. However, this also has the risk of them compelling you to accept the job, whereas an e-mail is final but colder.
- Fire them by making them fire you first .
If they are unreasonable or ask you to do the impossible, consider doing the same (although you should be careful how much you exaggerate since the client could spread bad words about you). For example, you can ask them to send some required documents with an impossible deadline, or double your prices because of the ‘nature’ or complexity of the project.
- Indirectly involve your other clients .
You can always tell a problem client that you don’t have time for them and need to reduce your client base because of some larger clients you have acquired. If it’s a potential client, then you can simply tell them you don’t accept any more clients at the moment since as you’re fully booked.
- Send them to your competitors (they do it, too!)
There’s nothing wrong with sending a client to your competitors if it’s a difficult client for you — they might be an ideal client for your competitor! However, are you sure you want to do that?
- Admit what they expect to hear .
There’s no shame in ly telling the client that you can’t help them and that you’re not the right person for the job. Most of them will understand, and the ones who don’t will be easy to convince, at least easier than it is to work with them!
Finally, always keep in mind not to take it personally, remain calm at all times and avoid letting them enter your psyche. Moreover, most importantly, learn to apologize even if it’s not your fault, but make sure you’re not overdoing it to a point where they start thinking it is your fault. You can apologize directly by saying you’re sorry that you cannot help them, or indirectly by telling them you’re sorry to hear they feel that way.
Think about it this way: you can’t make room for awesome clients if you don’t ditch the difficult ones. More so, they have no right to break into your life and affect your mental & physical health, or your well-being!