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4 May

Thinking about ... Bad clients

It’s not a topic any service business likes to openly discuss. But every business has them - bad clients. So how do you offload a bad client, when your whole reputation potentially is at stake?

Thinking about having boundaries in business is really important. While we don’t always leap out of bed with joy thinking about work (although many days I genuinely do), what I never want to feel is dread or a sick feeling when I am about to engage with a client. 

My business thrives on positive client relationships. If my clients don’t engage with me and the team, then quite simply we can’t be effective. We can’t deliver the value, the strategy, and the hardworking thinking that we bring. Without openness and an ability to share freely with each other, the business relationship will ultimately fail. 

And that means, over the years, we have to set boundaries. Boundaries in any relationship are vital. In the closest, life-giving relationships we have, with our kids and our partners, those boundaries are often few and far between, but they still exist because they bring health, safety, comfort and wellbeing with them. And it should be no different in business. 

Boundaries first and foremost make economic sense - if you don’t set boundaries, you’ll work too many hours for every client, failing to actually deliver what they need and compromising your productivity in your efforts to keep on giving. 

They also make sense for your emotional, physical and mental health and wellbeing. Without boundaries, you never feel you’ve done enough. And so you keep on doing. You will never say no to a client, never challenging their assumptions and allow your clients to ignore vital information or professional advice because you can’t do what is actually required. One of the ways we set boundaries in business relationships is, of course, via contracts. They bring mutual respect and understand (in theory) to the commercial relationships you’re engaged in. 

Thinking about the kinds of clients who break your boundaries. Over the years I’ve encountered clients who tore through my boundaries to the detriment of the rest of my business, to my other clients, to how I behaved working for them, was significant in having the courage to end the working relationship or letting them walk away when a project had ended. 

I have put them into a number of different categories. If you have any clients in any of these categories, it’s time to do something about them.

  1. Time drainers - these have been people who often don’t want to pay for the time they’re getting, expect the earth and criticise your delivery at every turn. This actually inhibits creative solutions and good thinking. It also keeps you from doing your best work for the clients that do value you and work with you on their marketing endeavours. If you’re able to have the conversation and increase the fee, it may be worth keeping them - but often it really isn’t.
  2. The client you help too much - another pitfall is the client you give lots of extra help to because of a predicament they’re in and you want to support - who then completely fails to appreciate the extra value you provided and thinks they can get along without you. They might not be able to - but you can certainly do without them.
  3. Head hurters - these are the clients that won’t listen - they don’t really engage with what you’re bringing, and they tell you, months down the line they’ve not been happy with anything you’ve done for them. Bye!
  4. Wrongly aligned clients - we’ve all done it, taken on clients outside our core focus believing that we can deliver what they need, often because they’ve been referred to you and said they really want to work with you. Working outside your comfort zone can be stretching and really positive - but it can also take your business down a path you never meant to do down. Be really clear when you take on clients outside what normally do - it can be very expensive in all kinds of ways. Don’t be afraid to end this relationship either because you’re doing both of you a favour in the long run. It may be that you can pass them on to another provider too, which can be great for networking and extending your reach - sometimes these can be clients who you get more from by giving them away than by keeping them.
  5. The bully client - these are few and far between but there can be clients who are bullies, who shout and scream and are rude with you, are never grateful and treat you like they own you. Run!
  6. The late/no payers - clients who don’t pay you on time are a big no-no. Cash flow makes the world go around. If you have clients who regularly don’t pay or pay late, then you need to have the conversation to improve things or to end the relationship. It doesn’t matter how much you like them either, if they’re not paying you on time, then the message is that they don’t really value you.


If you need some support about having those conversations, I know some great coaches and I’m happy to share my experiences in more detail as well. Message me: info@dxdmedia.co.uk

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