There are all sorts of clients you can have when you are in business, and most are pretty good. The valuable client, the friendly client, the repeat client – yeah, we love them. But what about the troublesome client, the difficult client? No, we don’t love them so much.
What makes for difficult clients? It could be any number of things:
- They are too demanding or unrealistic in their expectations
- They might be belligerent
- They may complain excessively
- They ask for revision upon revision
- They don’t respect your time, work, or efforts
Whatever the case, they are called “the difficult client” for a reason. The question then becomes, what do you do about them?
Here are four ways to deal with, cope and handle a problematic client:
1. Appeasement: No, this may not be what you want to hear, but it also may be realistic, depending upon the situation. Some difficult clients are so hard to manage that they require drastic measures, but that is not always the case. Many times (usually when this client really helps pay the bills) it behooves you to just say yes, deal with it and carry on as best you can. Sure telling them to go fly a kite may feel good, but feeling good doesn’t pay the rent.
By the same token, aside from just dealing with it, the smart choice can often be to try to see things from their point of view. Why do they keep sending you those emails? Maybe they have pressures that you don’t know of, and in that case, your extra communication can be very valuable and welcome.
2. Take charge: People often test the limits of relationships to see how much they can get away with – to see where the line is. If you have kids, you know this to be the case. This is as true in business as it is in other relationships, so it is your job sometimes to draw the line and let the difficult client know that there in fact is a line.
Regardless of your intensions, you have trained your client to get away with this behavior, or maybe more accurately, he or she has trained you to take it. The thing to do therefore is to get ahead of the situation. Take charge.
This will require more communication on your part. Explain that your time is valuable, that their relationship with you is also valuable and that you have some suggestions for how you can better work together. Then, after you take a stand, don’t chicken out. If the client demands extra revisions, this time taking charge may mean letting the client know that there will be an extra fee.
They even may respect you for it.
3. Protect yourself: Aside from working to re-train your client, you should not forget to protect yourself as you do because you never know when a small problem with a difficult client may turn into a big problem. In that case, you want to be able to cover your rear end:
- Keep copies of all of your work
- Retain all emails and letters
- Document phone calls, meetings, advice and instructions
4. Fire them: Some clients are just not worth the effort. Try as you might to appease them and work with them, train them and deal with them, there simply are times when – no matter how much money they pay – it’s still not worth it.
Of course it is scary. It’s never easy letting go of a paying client. But you will likely find that two things will come as a result. First, you will be very relieved. And second, you will open up space and time to be filled by someone else who treats you with the respect you deserve.
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.