The Advisor

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What Can You Do When a Client Goes Bad?

By Vicky Knee


What does a “bad” client look like? Have you ever been a bad client yourself?


Most don’t intend to be bad, they simply don’t understand your process. They don’t know what’s required to produce the finished product. They will flip-flop on key components you need to get the job done, requiring multiple revisions and delivering important information late. Maybe they can’t stop micromanaging the project and are getting in the way? These behaviours may turn into dissatisfaction (did they choose the wrong provider?) and late payments. You may even end up agreeing to reduced payments, simply to get the job off your desk.


The chance of your client behaving badly is usually greater if your product is a creative one. If they want to buy a stapler, they will simply go to the office supply store and select one that’s available. But if it’s a logo, a website, or a wedding, they’ll need to envision the finished product and be able to tell you what they want. Then they need to trust that you understand their needs and have the talent and resources to deliver.


What can you do?

Once the symptoms of a bad client/supplier relationship surface (trust me, you’ll know!), there are a few things you can do.

  1. Develop a strategy to get the relationship back on track.

  2. End the relationship.

Communicate.

Most conflicts are a result of poor or no communication. Once you start avoiding this person and not keeping them in the loop, you may find them becoming hostile, angry, and unpleasant to work with. It’s natural to want to avoid this behaviour, but better to address it quickly and fully. When people have the full picture, they often calm down.


Develop a standard process to get new clients started.

What can the client expect? You may be unsure with this person and may not ask the questions needed. Why do they want it? What are the results they are looking for? Do they have a budget? If so, what is it? If not, why not? Have they talked to other suppliers? Have they hired someone to do work like this before? How did that go? Do they have staff who can get you the deliverables in the timeframe required? You’re the expert: remember that you need to lead the process. Be prepared to say no if it’s not a good fit!


Don’t forget the money conversation. Be up front. Remind yourself that receiving a fair price is the result of doing the job required, and you’ve earned it.


But before giving up on working with this client, schedule a meeting to discuss the issues. Know what needs to change. Go to the meeting prepared with a clear understanding of what you are prepared to give up and what points are non-negotiable.


When you can’t fix it …

You’ve tried to fix this relationship, but it’s a no-go . . . How do you say “you’re fired!” and not create a PR problem for your business with an angry client on the loose?


Deliver the promised work, shake hands, and walk your separate ways. Yes, you may need to incur a small loss in the process, but your reputation is far more important and the respect you will earn will pay back in surprising ways.




Vicky Knee


Working as a life coach and CBT practitioner, Vicky gets to help people work through many of the issues standing in the way of their success and happiness. In addition to coaching, Vicky offers consulting services to business owners and people looking to start a new business. When Vicky isn’t working, you’ll find her painting, reading, or chilling with her husband, Dan, enjoying Netflix with their two cats, Taz and Clawdette. Vicky can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. She’d love to connect with you where you hang out.