How To Deal With Difficult Clients (And Avoid Them)

Ughh… they’ve emailed you, again. It’s the 5th time this week, and it’s only Monday morning. “Can you just change these 10 things, it will only take 2 minutes”. What started out as a short-term project, somehow turned into a long-term nightmare. After the hundredth request, you contemplate folding up your laptop, chucking it out of the nearest window & joining a faraway tribe. But before you do that, I’ll show you how to deal with difficult clients and how to avoid them in the first place. Let’s get started!

How to identify difficult clients

In order to know how to deal with difficult clients, you need to be sure that they are one. Say you get a message from someone who’s interested in hiring your services. (Let’s call that person Jack.) Before you get all excited, the first thing you’ll need to know is if Jack’s the right fit for you. You see, sometimes, we can jump ahead of ourselves with dollar signs in our eyes…

But out of confusion or misinterpretation, Jack may be expecting a lot from you and you may have okay-ed all of his vague and unrealistic demands, albeit unintentionally. That misunderstanding can soon create a toxic relationship with your client. Believe me, I speak from experience.

That’s why you need to be very clear on what you expect from each other from the get-go. That being said, there are certain ‘red flags’ that you can identify when taking on a new client, like Jack…

Types of Difficult Clients

  1. He doesn’t know what he wants…
    And constantly changes his opinions about how to get things done or requests constant changes on a particular material.
  2. He’s requesting more work than what was promised…
    And each time he calls you, he expects, you will fulfil each and every request he’s going to make.
  3. He wants to get work done yesterday…
    And thinks that if he’s given you an idea to work on, it should be done instantly, even if you have to invent a time-machine for it.
  4. He’s always requesting an instant response…
    And believes he has all your time for himself, neglecting the reality that you have other clients’ projects to work on as well.
  5. He doesn’t give you a deadline at first…
    But then, comes up with one without giving a damn about how you will finish the project by the given date.
  6. He doesn’t really care what you do…
    And gives you all the “freedom”. He doesn’t even provide you key information that you need in order to deliver the best service.
  7. He knows exactly what you should do…
    And leaves no room for creativity, leaving you to wonder why he even hired you in the first place.
  8. He knows what he doesn’t want…
    And that’s everything you’re proposing to him. Again, no room for creativity, even if he, himself, may not know what he wants.
  9. He’s extremely concerned about the budget…
    And requests extra work but doesn’t want to pay for it because he’s gone “all-in” for your service.
  10. He doesn’t care if you’re sleeping…
    Or spending quality time with your family at the weekend (even holidays!). He wants you available 24/7, 365 days a year.
  11. He latches onto small features…
    Like colour, font, or word in a project that has no reason or fact to back up the requested changes on such a small scale.
  12. He thinks you can do it in five minutes…
    In other words, he thinks he can do your work in a flash. Or simply, doesn’t understand the concept behind the space-time continuum.
  13. He decides everything by committee…
    Even if it’s irrelevant to the project or if it’s a minor adjustment to the project. He will not decide for himself, no matter what.
  14. He disappears for days or even weeks…
    And reappears with a bunch of requests that need to be done as soon as possible. And then, he disappears again.
  15. He loves what you delivered…
    But now, he wants to go a completely different direction, without paying “extra” because he thinks, it’s all part of the scope of agreed-upon quote.

Does your client resemble some of the above traits? If they do, then you’ve landed yourself a nightmare. Now, all you can do is know exactly how to deal with difficult clients like him, the right way. Let’s talk more about that…

How to deal with difficult clients

Now you know that Jack’s being a naughty boy, you need to teach him some manners. But, it’s not like what you’re imagining right now. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Here’s how you deal with difficult clients like Jack…

Relax

And calm down. I know you’re angry and frustrated right now and every bad emotion you can think of, wants to gush out of your mouth and turn into hateful, relentless, brutal words. But, you don’t want that to happen. Trust me, it’s bad for your client and even worse for yourself. You’ll definitely regret the things you said because when we’re angry and it almost always burns bridges, not just with your client either!

So, instead… Take a breather. Starve your anger by going for a walk or doing something that you really love doing before dealing with difficult clients like Jack.

Listen

It can be very difficult to listen to Jack when he is being a pain in the ass, but, not listening to his rants can make the situation even worse. To handle it like a boss, you need to be open-minded. Always assume that the person you’re talking to knows something that you don’t.

Listen to Jack and try to understand what problem he’s facing without being defensive about it. A simple question like, “What is it that’s troubling you?” can diffuse his issue and calm him down  (even if it’s all in his head and there’s no actual problem to solve in the first place).

What you want to do is acknowledge that you hear him and understand what he wants. Because, believe it or not, sometimes that’s the only thing a client wants from you.

Respond

Now that you’re calm and have listened to Jack with a clear mind. It’s time to respond back. You want Jack to know that his opinion matters and you will do your best to resolve the issue (even if there’s none!). This will establish a friendly communication between you two.

And that’s a good start. Sometimes, Jack might expect more than what was discussed due to a misunderstanding that snuck past your attention. Asking the right questions from Jack will not only clear up the confusion, it can also give you an insight if something’s wrong from your end.

And it’s totally okay to be wrong sometimes, without even realizing it in the first place.

If you are in the wrong, admit it openly and show Jack how you’ll sort this out and get the project back on track as soon as possible.

If Jack’s in the wrong, point out what was discussed (this is where a contract or letter of agreement can be quite useful) and tell him that you’re okay to wipe the slate clean but also tell him what he should expect onwards.

If communication is to blame, come up with a way that makes Jack feels included. You can offer him frequent updates, a monthly phone call or whatever works best for you and him.

What I found useful

Now that you know how to deal with difficult clients, I wanted to recommend two things that I found very useful working with hard to handle clients.

Add it to the bill

If Jack’s being a scope-creep and asking you to do more than what was discussed, don’t try to impress him by saying, “I understand but”. Simply say, “Sure no problem. I’ll add it to the invoice.” And if he asks you why, simply tell him that it’s out of the agreed-upon scope of work. Trust me, when you do this, you’ll get surprisingly good results. Worst case scenario, they decide not to go through with it and you save yourself a headache!

Take the hit

If you’ve done everything you can for Jack and he’s still proving to be too much trouble, it’s okay to walk away. Because in the end, he won’t pay you or if he does, he will leave you in a horrible state, both mentally and physically.

I for one have been in a position whereby I’ve gone deep into my overdraft, because a client had messed me around that much. That’s a big NO-NO for your health and productivity. And don’t worry about losing a bit of the revenue. There are 7 billion people on this planet, many of which are more than willing to pay for your services without being a d*** about it!

How to avoid difficult clients in the first place

So now you know how to deal with difficult clients, you’ll want to know how to avoid them too. Because if you avoid them in the first place, you wouldn’t have to go through all the trouble of “pleasing” your clients. Avoiding a difficult client means that you have to reorganise the way you do business.

Instead of being a “Yes Man”, you need to create your own value and command respect amongst others. Doing this allows you to avoid working with people that suck the life out of you, and instead allows you to attract clients that genuinely respect you as a professional.

Let’s dive deep and see how you can create value, respect and avoid such clients…

Create a contact form that filters them out.

Creating a contact form that filters out clients, which are going to be a pain in the ass, is a great way to save yourself a headache down the line. To do that, you can ask specific questions that only serious clients (that know why they’re hiring you) will be able to answer. For example, if you’re a fitness expert who helps to get people fit via a fitness program, you can ask questions like these…

  1. What are your short-term goals? (4-6 weeks)
  2. What are your long-term goals? (4-6 months)

These two questions will help you determine if your prospect knows what they’re letting themselves in for, or if they’re just wasting your (and their) time. Another great question that I ask on my website is…

“What is your budget for this project?”

I then list a drop down of various budget sizes, from £1,000 all the way up to £25,000 and over, which they can choose from. That alone can be a great deterrent for anyone looking to hire you ‘on the cheap’. On that note…

Charge a high-end price and stick to it.

Have you ever wondered why people buy expensive stuff? Two reasons… One, most expensive brands like Apple, Gucci, Ferrari, etc. deliver high-quality products and two, for status. And guess what? It’s very rare that people who buy expensive stuff, complain or rant about it. Unless they’re YouTubers who review such stuff for a living (that’s a whole different story!).

But let’s stick to the first reason… high-quality products. So, if you charge a high-end price, more than what is normally charged at your experience level, you will not only avoid difficult clients (because most of them are looking for ‘cheap services’), your audience will see you as someone who provides high-quality service; it’s a win-win.

And don’t worry about losing revenue. You’ll only lose clients that are going to be difficult to handle. Clients that are happy with your services will stick with you because they know what you’re worth. You can also ask for a monthly retainer or a deposit before working. That also weeds out clients that are going to be a problem in the future.

Avoid making promises

Sometimes, to please our clients or gain their trust, we tend to make promises (I’m guilty of this too) and this leads to, you guessed it… working with a difficult client.

You don’t want to do that. Trust me. What you want is a client who acknowledges what you offer and wants to work with you. That kind of client will not only stick with you longer but he/she will respect you and do word-of-mouth marketing for you because he/she likes your work.

So, no matter what happens. Don’t promise. Even if your potential client is asking you to… just don’t. Because the reality is, what’s worked for your previous clients – might not work for this one, even if it’s for a similar project. Explain to them how you roll and the difficult ones will roll away.

It is better to undersell and over-deliver later.

Just like you don’t want to make promises that you cannot uphold, you don’t want to oversell what you cannot deliver. Why? Because that will lead to unrealistic expectations from your client, with little to no room for error. I’ve found it useful to undersell what I’m offering then delivering more than what was agreed. This always leads to my clients being more than satisfied to work with me again.

Have a proper onboarding process.

You can save lots of time and effort (and avoid difficult clients) by having a proper onboarding process. What do I mean by that? To put it simply, an onboarding process is like interviewing your clients. You want to know what they’re expecting from you and if you can meet their expectations.

I’d highly recommend to only work with clients that have a complete idea of what they actually want. Prospects that are confused and don’t know why they’re hiring you… are always going to be trouble. I’d also highly recommend that you set up agreements with every new client, these agreements need to be signed before you begin working.

I personally recommend using LawDepot to set up new agreements, it’s very easy to use and I’ve used it with all of my clients thus far. Legal agreements will help keep the scope-creeps away and will clearly determine what can be expected from you. Try LawDepot out today.

Keep them in the loop.

It’s a good idea to keep your customers updated. Heck, it’s one of the basic principles of maintaining a healthy relationship with your client. Giving them something visual to look at (of what you’re doing) will give them a sense of relief that you’re actually putting in the work. And who doesn’t like that?

Walk away

I know, I know. It sounds difficult, especially when you are short of money. But believe me, once you start walking away from clients that seem like trouble, you will feel a lot better in the long run. By actually saying “No”, you’ll be more productive and will eradicate the daily stress of dealing with ‘that’ client.

Conclusion

Your health is a priority. Without it, you’re unable to work at your best. You want to be at your optimal state in order to push your business ahead. So, when I say that you deserve better clients, I really mean it. You really do. Learning how to deal with difficult clients can be the game-changer between living a life of stress, and taking your business to the next level.

Try to persevere and complete the projects you have on currently, but don’t be afraid to move on if it’s affecting your mental (and physical) health. Follow the guidelines above and you’ll be handling your difficult client like a boss.

Do you have any questions or feedback on this post? Let me know in the comments below!

How To Deal With Difficult Clients & How To Avoid Them - Mike Walters
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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Susan

    Great article! I’ve had a few difficult clients in the 20 years I’ve been in business for myself. Fortunately, most are not bad at all, and some are wonderful. I think your point about charging a high-end price is spot on. It’s what has helped me along the way.

    1. Mike Walters

      Hi Susan, thank you for those kind words! I think it’s probable that most business owners deal with ‘bad clients’ towards the beginning of their entrepreneurial careers, and along the way you begin to pick up the necessary experience in knowing who to avoid & who you want to be working with.

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