Though Co. have created a list of warning signs to help identify difficult clients before they even sign a contract. Some of these signs include:
Their project is “easy” and will take “no time at all” – clients say they just want a simple website, but nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
They have unrealistic deadlines or are vague about deadlines – if you let clients dictate tight deadlines to the extent it disrupts your other work, it demonstrates they don’t value your business.
They quibble over every aspect of your rates – If they can’t afford you, then they can look elsewhere. Trying to force you to give them discounts shows they don’t respect your time or skills.
The words “I fired the last consultant” come out of their mouth – it could be that they were completely innocent and the last company was just terrible, but far more likely there were issues on both sides.
Trust your gut – Even if everything else checks out, if your gut says a client isn’t a good fit, then you should listen. There are always more clients to be found!
There are other things you can do to avoid picking up more difficult clients:
Under-promise and over-deliver
If we go back to psychology for a moment, think about this: it’s much easier to impress a client if you first give yourself the room to provide exceptional service.
Saying yes to every deadline, extra feature and demand creates the expectation that you’ll meet those demands, even if for you, they’re actually quite a stretch. The client assumes their demands are the norm.
However, if you tell the client, “actually that’s not a reasonable time-frame. You’re more likely to be looking at this,” you set their expectations from the onset. And then, you can blow their expectations out of the water.
As designer Addison Duvall suggests, try not to let your clients see your superpowers. Instead, impress by under-promising and over-delivering every time. If you manage to meet their deadline after all, you get to be the hero, and the whole dynamic between you and the client shifts.
Don’t compromise your values
According to the IRS Oversight Survey in the US, 11% of taxpayers believe it is acceptable to cheat on their taxes.
If a client asks you to do something that’s against your professional ethics, or you feel yourself morally challenged, then go with your gut and move the client on. Your integrity is worth more than what any client could pay you to try to cheat the system.
Increase your prices
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, the difficult clients also tend to be those clients who pay late, dispute invoices, or try to wheedle more work out of your for free.
Raising your fees will help you to move these clients along and new clients to avoid you, while the resulting increase to your bottom line from your remaining clients will help your cash flow while you fill the gaps in your client schedule.
Improve your contract/engagement letter
Check all your contracts and engagement letters with a legal professional. Make sure you are protected against litigation if you fire a client, and that all the terms and conditions are in line with your processes and company values.
You want to make sure that should you end if with another difficult client, you’re able to get out of the contract with your integrity and company intact.
Difficult clients drain resources, energy, and money from your business, but the way you deal with them also provides a valuable learning experience for anyone in business. Clients are just people, after all – people with a very specific set of needs you’re trying to fulfill – and learning how to deal with all types of people makes you a stronger, better business owner.
What’s the most difficult client you’ve had to deal with, and what did you learn from the experience? Share your horror stories.