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When good clients go bad

Wednesday, 14 November 2012 | By Amanda Jesnoewski

They seem like the perfect client. Switched on, easy to work with, respond to you quickly, and pay promptly. But then all of a sudden it changes. The ‘clientmoon’ is over and your once perfect client has become the client from hell.

 

Life’s too short to be working with people who make you miserable, but coming straight out and 'firing' a client isn’t always possible or wise. So what do you do?

 

Here are five subtle ways to help you weed out the bad clients so you can focus your time and energy on the good clients you want to work with:

 

1. Increase your prices

 

This can often be a quick and easy way to get rid of the price-focused difficult clients. Keep in mind though, that some clients may call your bluff and pay you the higher price. While this can be good if the main problem was you weren't being paid enough, it's not so helpful if you were using it as a way to get rid of them altogether.

 

2. Become unavailable

 

Unless you have a client on an ongoing contract, fill up your schedule with other work so you no longer ‘need’ to work with them. When forced to wait repeatedly and potentially miss their deadline, you will find the difficult client will source another provider who can help them sooner than you can.

 

3. Stick to your agreement

 

Most difficult clients tend to be boundary pushers. Whether it is paying late, expecting more for nothing or being needy and high maintenance, they constantly try to change the terms of the original agreement.

 

In the beginning it can be easy to accommodate their requests, though often these acts of kindness work against you and they start to expect it more as time goes on.

 

If you agreed to do a certain amount of work for a particular price, stick to what you’ve said. Any time they try to push the boundaries or change your workload, refer back to the agreement they originally signed off on at the beginning of your working relationship.

 

If they are persistent, inform them that you can certainly help them with the additional work, though it will cost extra and a new agreement will need to be drafted. The same goes with demanding more of your time, if you don’t have unlimited face-to-face, phone and email support, kindly inform them that a set amount of time is included for support, though beyond that you will need to pay X amount per hour.

 

Most boundary pushers will start to back off when they know you will stand firm in the agreement, or they will go and find someone they can more easily control.

 

4. Request payment up front

 

If you have a client who persistently pays late or on their own terms, then change your payment terms to requiring payment upfront or at least a 50%+ deposit before any work commences or any product is received.

 

If you charge a deposit you may also like to charge another payment halfway through the project so you don’t have a large amount still owing to you after you have finished. It will be easier to get money out of them by holding the project up midway, then waiting to the end when they have already got what they wanted.

 

You will find one of two things will happen upon changing your payment terms, they will either start to see you as more of a financial priority and respect your payment terms or they will go to a competitor.

 

5. Find a suitable replacement

 

Some difficult clients, regardless of what you do, will not take a hint and will continue working with you. If you can’t live with them anymore – despite being compensated at a higher rate – then look for another suitable company you can refer them to.

 

Once you have a couple of options for your client simply explain that you can’t take on their work anymore, though you have found some suitable replacements that can.

 

There are a number of truthful reasons you can give as to why you can’t take on their work any longer without saying you just can’t stand to work with them anymore. For example, you could say you are scaling back on work due to your workload with larger projects, you think they need someone more specialised in XYZ, or you are changing your business model and aren’t offering XYZ services regularly anymore (only use this if it is a service outside your core offering and you do want to limit this service).

 

Never be afraid to ‘fire’ or give up clients, life really is too short to be working with people who make you miserable. You just need to make sure it is handled right and you part ways as amicably as possible so your reputation remains intact and you can feel confident that they won’t go and slander your name or your business to anyone and everyone they meet.

 

How do you handle difficult clients?