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Dealing With Troublesome Clients

Survey Results

Of 313 respondents who answered five questions about their most troublesome clients, here are the results.

When asked to think back on all of the clients who turned out to be far more trouble than they were worth, they named the following kinds:

Exhausting to deal with 63%
Impossible to please 51%
Kept trying to get free advice 46%
Whiny, complaining, always negative 41%
Asked for changes after project supposedly finished 40%
Emotionally unstable 28%
Verbally abusive or threatening 26%
Refused to pay for no good reason 25%
Couldn't deal with any criticism 21%
Inappropriately romantic or sexual 7%

When asked whether or not there were warning signs of trouble ahead, people responded:

Yes 65%
No 19%
Not sure/don't remember 17%

Those filling out the survey fell into these categories:

Solo professional 53%
Business owner with at least one employee 22%
Executive, manager or employee 25%
Expert commentary on the survey findings
For psychological perspective on why difficult clients may show up in our lives, how we can head them off by setting clear, sensible boundaries and what to do when the above-listed problems arise, listen to a teleclass with psychotherapist Szifra Birke.  Order the CD.

Comments, advice and perspective

A lot of wisdom showed up in our survey when we asked for questions and comments.  Here are some selected pieces of advice and poignant experiences.

"The key is careful advance screening of potential clients, just as one would do with employees."

"My first rule of project management is 'Choose the right project.' Don't go for what appears to be easy money."

"Ask every question you think of. Get it in writing. Business is business. Be honorable in your dealings, and don't accept less from clients."

"Once in a while I have a difficult client who is coachable. If so, I am willing to coach them. However, if they exhibit any sign of true imbalance, abusiveness etc., the relationship must be terminated as quickly as possible. There are too many wonderful people out there who want assistance and are appreciative when they receive it to waste time, energy and sanity with the few who are truly difficult."

"Decision-making ability is something that I look for now. Clients that agonize for two weeks over which color blue tend to agonize over everything, and second-guess my advice and their own instincts."

"Whenever I take a client for the money against my better judgment, it never works out."

"A new service must expect to attract some 'misfits' who haven't been able to receive services elsewhere, and are somewhat desperate. The goal of admission or acceptance or continued service should be to help some of those who are difficult, while growing and recruiting to maintain a majority of stable, happy, regular clients."

"I've reached a point where I insist on a no obligation consult and a survey/self-assessment (due diligence if you will) to determine best I can if this is a fit with mutual reward potential. I have learned after 27 years to also factor in personal intuition (yes, we guys have/can develop it!)"

"My best way of dealing with poor clients is to raise my price. This forces the clients to place a value on my work. Sometimes they are not willing to pay the higher fee, other times they pay the fee and treat me better because they have reassessed my value. The first thing we discuss in the initial contact is the cost - not what they want. I can do what they want or they wouldn't call. It's not about being arrogant, it is about being valuable."

"I generally find that the worst customer/client problems are brought about by a misunderstanding of expectations on the part of the customer, which this business has fostered and allowed to flourish over the years. A store manager I worked with at Bloomingdale's remarked many times that customers have to be taught how to be good customers of that company. It often becomes necessary to 'fire' unprofitable customers, in order to devote time and resources to those who deserve them."

"You can do a lot to pre-empt client difficulties. If a client balks at paying hourly for any reason other than corporate bureaucracy requirements, I take that as a sign of distrust and wanting to gorge at the salad bar with unpaid professional services. I have a list of 'what you can expect from us' and 'what we expect from you' that has created many happy clients in the several years I've been using it."

"Is client homicide ever justifiable? Is there a special place in Dante's third circle of hell for clients who mistreat vendors?"

"When I was interviewing clients, I refused anyone I couldn't get to laugh at least twice in the first hour."

"Clients will zero in on your weak spots and get away with what they can get away with. As you increase your own confidence and strengthen your boundaries, you will find that you will begin to attract less troublesome clients."

"Sometimes difficult clients become good clients after you figure out how to work with them."

"I have a knack with difficult people, am able to maintain my integrity and usually get the client to come around. Therefore, when the situation is impossible, it is hard to make the call."

"Remember that the person who is most difficult may be acting out their problems rather than being a reflection of your inadequacies."

"The most difficult are long-time friends who become clients - a real source of potential conflicts of interest."

"The very few difficult clients that I've had have always come from thinking I needed the client out of a feeling of desperation. I should have just walked away."

"The abuse you may take is not worth the money you hope to make."

"You attract the difficult client to you. Since I don't visualize any difficult clients coming my way anymore, they have magically disappeared! And all the wonderful clients are beating a path to my door!"

"The more I niche, the less I deal with this problem."

A mentorship program that helps

If you'd like to learn how to grow your business by taking steps such as raising your fees, creating passive income streams, shifting to a more congenial clientele and concentrating on the work for which you have true passion, consider the Marketing for More program.  Learn how to increase revenue and profits despite competition, despite the recession and even if you also hope to do good in the world.

Learn more about Marketing for More.

If you were one of those who took the survey, thank you for your candid thoughts!

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