Confession: I’ve had clients who made me want to run for the hills and never look back!
I remember a client who asked for major discounts and price cuts but when we finally started working together, she had no problem adding, “just one more little thing” to the task list…
Again and again.
Another client thought it was perfectly fine to call and send me messages all hours of the day and night (and on weekends and holidays).
And then, there was the client who totally went AWOL. She disappeared for weeks without giving me the information I needed to get the job done right.
Most of this happened back in the early days when I used to do a lot of 1:1 client work — back when I said “yes” to almost everything a client asked me to do.
I’m sure you can guess what happened next: I hit rock bottom.
I felt exhausted, unhappy and frustrated almost ALL the time. I knew something had to change. Fast. I had to find ways to do the work I loved without losing my mind.
I created a list of guidelines that would help me deal with difficult clients without giving up on my values, my integrity and my professional responsibility.
Those guidelines still serve me today.
I want to share them with you because I don’t want you to believe you have no choice but to put up with nightmare clients if you want a successful business.
The opposite is true.
When you create clear boundaries that support your personal wellbeing and peace of mind, you can consistently produce professional, high quality work that attracts ideal clients and amazing revenue in your business.
Let’s start with the most important guideline of all…
#1: Make a Promise
First on my list is a 2-word promise I made to myself and it’s saved me from countless crazy client experiences.
When you’re not upfront with your clients, you’re setting yourself up for a whole lot of problems down the line.
Let’s say your client sets a deadline — 3 days — to get a job done. You know it’s going to take a lot longer than that but the client has no clue.
This is the point where most people do something that is absolutely unhelpful: they start complaining.
They talk to their friends, their peers and their mother. They tell everyone how unfair their client is.
But they don’t do the one thing that will actually help them: be honest with the client.
When you talk to your client and tell them it’s going to take 5, 7, 10 or 14 days to get the job done right — and not 3 — a couple of things will happen:
- You can work together to come up with a deadline that suits both of you.
- You’ll deliver quality work, establish your expertise and earn the respect you deserve.
#2: Get Crystal Clear
Next on my list of guidelines is a rule that’s saved me from a whole lot of stress and frustration.
Repeat after me: I will set clear, measurable deliverables from Day 1.
Vague deliverables give your clients room to increase the original job focus and request endless updates and changes…
These are things that make a difficult client, difficult…
The things that make you want to scream!
So, here’s an example of a clear deliverable a copywriter might use:
Write a sales page for Product X that’s 2,000 to 2,500 words long. The page must include 7-10 benefits of Product X (to be provided by the client by April 20th). The completed sales page will be submitted on or before May 12th. The client can request up to 2 revisions.
An unclear deliverable would look like this:
Write a sales page for Product X.
That right there is a disaster waiting to happen. Unclear deliverables lead to disappointment and unmet expectations, which brings out the worst in everyone.
If you’re a coach and not a service provider, switch out “deliverables” with expectations.
For a business coach, a clear, measurable expectation might look like:
Provide 4 weekly 60-minute coaching sessions to get clear on the core message in your business and craft 5 pieces of content that support that message.
See how that works? This provides you and your client with a clear outcome. No confusion. No frustration. No tears.
#3: Check Your Checklist
Finally, here’s a guideline that’ll help you avoid difficult clients altogether.
When I first started out online, I was excited about working with a client — any client — so I said “yes” to everyone who wanted to work with me.
It was a huge mistake. Remember this: Not every client is right for you.
Difficult clients are sometimes not difficult at all. They’re just not a good fit.
When I understood this, I created a personal ideal client checklist. I decided I would only work with clients who would:
- Respect my time (translation: no more calls and messages at all hours)
- Work with realistic timelines (translation: no more working 18 hours straight to hit an insane deadline)
- Be happy to answer questions and provide helpful input (translation: no more guesswork that leads to disappointment and do-overs)
It’s a simple list but it helped me spot difficult clients a mile away.
Something to keep in mind…
No matter how many rules and boundaries you put in place, you can’t protect yourself from difficult clients 100% of the time.
Smart, successful entrepreneurs know that difficult clients are a part of running a business and they don’t let a couple of less-than-great client experiences stop them from achieving their goals.
What’s your worst and/or best client experience and how did you handle it?
Let me know in the comments!