HOW TO: Deal With Bad Clients

bad-clientIf you’re a freelancer, consultant or other independent worker, chances are you abandoned the comfortable and steady office paycheck to become your own boss, make your own rules and blaze your own trail. So why are you still navigating unpleasant situations with your clients? What happened to working on your terms?

Being your own boss has its rewards, but dealing with bad clients isn’t one of them. However unfortunate, you’ll inevitably have to confront poor client relationships. Here are some tips on how to identify the situations and ensure they don’t impact your business or emotional well-being.

1. You Don’t Have a Bad Client — You Have a Bad Situation

We’ve all heard freelancers complain about that “client from hell.” For example, a web designer may have to deal with the “vague-input client” — a person who says things like, “I’ll know what I like when I see it, but in the meantime, can you present four iterations?” Another example might be a CPA who works with a freelancer who brings in a box full of receipts two weeks before tax time.

However, the only truly bad clients are the ones you continue to work alongside in spite of the red flags. If you’re losing sleep or dreading the telephone ring, you need to realize that you’re just as active a participant in the relationship as your client. Remedy the situation proactively.

Is a client unprofitable? Try raising your rates. Are you spending too much time responding to their demanding and inconvenient requests? Put your foot down once in awhile and request more time or notice. If a client relationship isn’t mutually beneficial, it’s your responsibility to change the situation.

2. Conduct a Time Audit

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Maybe you feel like the majority of your time is spent dealing with one client (when that person may not even represent half of your income). If you’re self-employed, it’s important to precisely strategize your time and energy.

For two weeks, conduct a detailed audit of your day. Keep track of what you did, for whom, and how long it took. These audits can reveal great insights into your client relationships, and can help you make adjustments where needed. For example, is one squeaky wheel getting all the attention while your top client gets short-changed? You need to respectfully approach the time-intensive clients in order to reevaluate a more beneficial relationship.

3. Make Sure You Get Paid

In this economy, you can expect some delays in payment. Even good clients get behind once in awhile. However, a professional gets paid for the work he or she does.

You should ultimately aim to have a minimum of 2-3 months worth of “safety funds” for your business, especially so that a slow payment cycle won’t impact your ability to pay personal bills. This cushion will allow you to occasionally cut a good client some slack. However, you should not be spending time tracking down or worrying about payments, or even worse, distrusting your client’s promises. If that’s the case, you need to make a change.

4. Stay Away From Your Client’s Office Politics

Perhaps you became a freelancer to avoid office politics, gossip and backstabbing. Now that you’re removed from that environment, don’t let your clients involve you in their own corporate drama. When dealing with a team, it’s important not to choose sides or be influenced by one particular member. As an independent worker it’s your responsibility to get your work done, not to get caught up in a client’s power struggle.

5. Firing a Client Isn’t Fun…But It’s Part of Your Job

The majority of us try to avoid conflict. However, remaining in a negative client situation can take a significant toll on your job satisfaction and your emotional well-being — and even impact your work with other clients. If you’ve already tried to actively manage or change the negative aspects of a client relationship, it might be time to cut the cord.

When firing a client, be clear and calm. A simple statement like “I believe my services are no longer meeting your needs” can suffice. The more details you provide, the more you might open the door to an argument. Make sure to leave your emotional baggage aside and remain neutral. These conversations aren’t necessarily easy, but soon afterward you’ll be able to move on to bigger and better things.

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