How to deal with difficult clients?Written by Ana Mladenovc on September 20, 2021
Difficult clients can take many shapes. There are the ones who’re in a constant panic mode, that make everything seem urgent and more serious than it is.
Then, there are the ones who’re unaware of the concept of boundaries, working hours, weekends, and personal life.
The ones who think you’re their new best friend, a person they can call whenever they feel like it, without thinking about the etiquette and following rules.
Difficult clients are not rare, and it’s very likely you’ll have to deal with them throughout your whole working career.
They are the people that can make you judge your sanity, probe your patience, and leave you burned out and without motivation. They’re like a needy partner, a toxic relationship that pulls you down until you cannot take it anymore.
Besides the psychological and physical damage difficult clients have on you, they can take a toll on your business’ finances too, as they’re more likely to pay late, dispute their invoices, and stall the progress.
And even though they’re practically inevitable, their behaviour shouldn’t be considered as a norm.
As someone who worked in several marketing agencies and a freelancer for many years, I decided to share my top tips on how to deal with difficult clients and manage them successfully.
Not all difficult clients are created equal
But before I give out all of my secrets on dealing with difficult clients, let’s talk about the types of tough clients you’re likely to stumble upon throughout your working career.
Managing clients isn’t a straightforward process. In theory, you, as a freelancer or a small business owner should provide expertise and results and get compensated for it. However, there are more things “in-between” you have to deal with to make a living.
Based on the people I met during my career as a freelancer and marketing manager working in an agency, I came to the conclusion that we can divide difficult clients into two categories.
First, one group is reserved for clients who’re unintentionally difficult, and the second one is for those who are knowingly difficult.
Clients who are not intentionally difficult are often indecisive. They don’t exactly know what they want and switch decisions frequently. They make changes last minute, stalling the whole process.
Usually, these types of things aren’t done from malice and they don’t intentionally want to treat you poorly. They just don’t know any better. They do things without knowing how things work, and cannot make quick and informed decisions.
Clearly difficult clients, on the other hand, want to squeeze out every penny they invested in you, and oftentimes leave you completely burned out. Truly difficult clients are the ones who want too much as long as they can pay you as little as possible, who withhold payments and who’s generally rude.
Now, when we went through this, let’s see how to deal with difficult clients in the most efficient way.
Don’t take things too personally.
Difficult clients always existed and they’re likely to exist in the future. But, since we cannot change how our clients will behave, we can change our reaction to them.
I find that many freelancers and small business owners take too personally things their clients say. And while what they say might be directed towards them in some cases, most clients aren’t attacking them directly and there’s no need to defend.
Instead of defending yourself straight away, and manage difficult clients more efficiently, make sure to listen to their concerns. Let them know they’re listened to without interruption, and that they’re understood.
Remember that it’s okay to disagree, but first, listen and acknowledge without defending yourself.
Pay attention to the detail.
I feel like the most demanding clients, those who have the need to micromanage everything, have to comment on every bit of information you provide or every step you take, are actually too afraid.
Those clients are difficult because they are afraid of failure and mistakes and want to avoid them at all costs.
Often, a freelancer’s and contractor’s job is to be a psychologist. They often have to know how to handle clients and their personalities as much as they know how to do the job they’re paid for.
To calm down anxious and demanding clients, a good strategy would be to ensure them they’re in good hands.
To do it, you should pay attention to details and show that you’re really interested in them and that you take care of the work they trusted you with. Keep notes on your conversations, make sure to remember what they tell you.
Especially the smallest things such as what their hobbies are, where they go for a vacation, whether they have a hobby or not, or if they have some major deadline they need to attend to and mention it next time you meet them.
This will help you win them over, and show them you pay the attention to the smallest details, allowing them to realize they’re in good hands.
Set the expectations right straight from the beginning.
Difficult clients become difficult if you don’t set the expectations and rules straight from the start.
Clients are like kids, who’re constantly and consistently try their parent’s patience and boundaries – looking at how far they can go to satisfy their needs. Difficult clients are the same, just more sophisticated.
To avoid miscommunication and frustration, it’s important to set the expectations right straight from the beginning. Determine how you’re going to communicate, how often, which channels you’ll use.
Explain your working process carefully, and what your clients can expect from you. And don’t bend your rules! Once you make a small exception and break your rules, you’ll find them pushing for more.
In case they’re probing your boundaries and disrespect your needs – address them, don’t be silent. Remember that you’re a person with self-respect and integrity and that nobody should mistreat you.
The worst part with managing difficult clients is having to deal with “he said, she said situations”. Nobody wants to play the blame game where so much energy and time goes on things that don’t serve anything.
Luckily, you can avoid this by having a written contract from the start and sending email confirmations whenever you agree on something with your client.
For instance, you can summarize the meeting in an email and send it to your client as a follow-up – this is how you can have written proof on what you agreed and avoid them calling you out on things you never agreed on.
Some clients tend to express their concerns by unloading on you repeatedly. Furthermore, most of them do this by making broad generalizations that are often not true.
This is why is so important to track your progress and be specific on what’s been done, what’s agreed on, and which milestones are completed.
Furthermore, you can ask them to give you a more specific answer on things they think aren’t working, what they’d consider a success, and you can show them how you can get there.
Difficult clients can sometimes be so unnerving to take the best from us. They can upset us so much we end up allowing our emotions to take charge.
However, we should always remember to separate business from personal life and remember that we should always be professional with our clients.
If you’re dealing with a difficult client face to face, make sure to avoid mirroring their anger and frustration. Let them unwind and be especially careful about your facial expressions and body language that can disclose your frustration.
Learn how to say no.
Learning how to manage difficult clients is learning how to set proper boundaries.
Small business owners and freelancers often have irregular income, and they oftentimes feel like they have to go above and beyond to make their clients happy and keep the finances in check.
However, saying “yes” to everything can oftentimes cost them health, time, and money. What they need to learn is that saying “no” to a client is a good thing.
Managing difficult clients has a lot with setting your boundaries straight, and not conforming to the things you’re not comfortable with.
When you do learn that refusal is sometimes the best way to a happy workday, you’ll enjoy your job more, be productive, and be more likely to deliver on the expectations.
Make them pay for the effort.
As I said before, difficult clients are more likely to withhold payments and be fussy about invoices when the time comes.
Many of them will try to lower down your prices by claiming something wasn’t done right or just simply ignore you.
Managing difficult clients and late payments can be damaging to your business. If they don’t pay their invoices in time, they’ll impact your money stream, making you unable to manage your business seamlessly.
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This software will help you stay on track and achieve your business goals seamlessly, by helping you charge for your services even in the most difficult clients.
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