The elephant in the room

Today we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is a rather large elephant causing all sorts of social anxiety that no one ever talks about. Well, today I’m going to point to this large elephant, poke it, prod it and bring some stuff to light. When I’m done, you’ll be shocked and amazed and glad I did. So what is this rather large mammal in our collective living space.

Problem clients.

Yes, you heard me say it. Let’s get the gasps of shock and the titters of discomfort out of the way. I understand. Problem clients is like condoms. We all know what they are and have some experience with them but no one talks about it. Well, time to talk about it.

We all get the problem clients, those clients that make us grit our teeth and pull our hair. Those clients that make us question the wisdom of becoming an entrepreneur some days and have us bitching to our friends over a large glass of wine. But who are these problem clients and what do we do with them?

I’m not sure if these people intend to be difficult or if they’re just trying to save a buck or if they really don’t know the trouble they’re causing. Whatever the case, for an entrepreneur they can be a nightmare. They especially seem to come out of the woodwork in the first few years of a business when the entrepreneur is just learning the ropes. It’s this vulnerability that lures them like hyenas to a baby goat. There are a few things that you can do to protect yourself or lessen the impact. Let’s look at these problem clients.

  1. Get Something for Nothing Client – This client can be one of the sneakiest around. They seem to come out more to the new business, sensing that the entrepreneur is new and hasn’t quite cut their teeth yet. Everything is a “discount” for them. If you give a 10% discount, they want 20%. These people will push and push until you’re nearly paying them. The particularly sneaky ones will make you feel like they’re doing you a favor by letting you work for them. A popular phrase is, “I’m trying to help you out here.”

    Don’t buy it. You have a product or service that you’ve put time, thought, work and your sweat and tears into. It’s worth the price you’ve established. There is something to be said for giving a good client a discount or a client who might be struggling a break but be careful. If you think a 10% or 20% discount is worth establishing the relationship with the client, then do it. However, remember that you set the discount, not the client. If you have a client constantly pushing for a bigger discount or makes you feel guilty for charging your fees, you have the ability to walk away. There are other clients and saying no to a problem one won’t damage your reputation.

  2. The Check is in the Mail Client – There is always that one client that is late in paying or just doesn’t have the money right at that moment. They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul and you’re feeling the beats because of it. When you try to demand the money, there’s always an excuse as to why they don’t have the money along with a promise to pay next week. It’s frustrating because these people love your work but they’re literally taking food out of your mouth.

    Try to start with a deposit. Good clients have no problem paying part of the fee up front. They understand the need to ensure that you’re paid for your product or service. With a problem client it ensures that at least you will have part of your fee. This way you don’t have to chew on the full bill. If this still doesn’t deter your problem clients, consider letting them go. It’s okay to cut the dead weight, even in the first years of business. So many new entrepreneurs feel that make money, any money, is the goal. There is an anxiety about meeting the bills in those first years. However, cutting a client can make a healthier one down the road. Get your roots firmly in the ground to grow a healthy business. Those deadweight clients you cut now will make for a healthier business later.

  3. Know-Everything Client – These people are a hoot at parties. If you’ve done something, they’ve done one better. Your joyful afternoon on a trampoline turns into a harrowing story about the time their bungee cord came close to snapping. Working for these clients is such an adventure. One that I recommend copious amounts of alcohol for.

    No matter what you recommend or how much you explain why doing something a certain way is a bad idea, they insist you do it that way. Or, when you do have a nearly completed product, they come in and hack and slash it so much you have to start from the beginning. They always know better than you do no matter how much training or experience you’ve had in that field. There is a huge desire to take a bat into meetings with them so you can beat them into submission before you deal with them.

    There is actually a cure for this type of client but it takes a particular type of person. This client’s problem is not trying to be better than everyone but a need for control. They’re afraid if they let go of any part of their business, they’ll fail. Understand that this problem stems from fear, not ego and you can address it that way. As the entrepreneur, you need a massive dose of patience. Address their fears and hear them out. It could be that they have a legitimate reason for their fear. If there’s a compromise then try it. This client chose you because they have a certain amount of trust in you. They just need to know that trust is well-founded. If you don’t think you can effectively work with this client, you can pass them off to a colleague. As a writer, I do this all the time and have other writers do the same for me. Remember, not all matches are perfect ones and you want the best for that client. That will build your reputation, not gritting your teeth and bearing it.

Problem clients are a part of any business, especially when that business is being established. Try to find a way to work with the client, if you can. That should always be the first solution. However, if you can’t find a solution or compromise it may be best to drop the client. Sometimes cutting dead weight early on makes for a healthier business in the long run. Don’t be afraid of the word, “no.” Consider passing a problem client to a colleague, if you can. Just because you can’t work with someone, doesn’t mean that someone else is going to have the same problem. In this way you can deal with that problem client and build a good reputation for yourself and your business.