How To Deal With Difficult Clients

Originally published on LinkedIn.

NoAlmost all everyone who’s ever dealt with clients has had the opportunity to forge amazing relationships, create partnerships and learn a lot from every single client they’ve had. The constant feedback, the back and forth conversations that finally yield the best result possible are always inspiring and call for not only business growth, but also personal growth.

Then there are those clients that teach us so much just by being constantly and completely difficult, by always focusing on what’s not working and rarely offering something that supports a resolution. We all recognize them by a particular sentence they use consistently “I don’t like it.” The statement usually comes with no additional information. There’s no “I don’t like it because…[insert reason].” While we all wish our clients would be masters at giving feedback and could tell us exactly what they don’t like so we can immediately correct it and move on, most of us have to deal with a lot of the “I don’t like it” clients on a day to day basis. Since the chances of them changing their ways are not very high, here are a few ways we can all use to better deal with them and thus create a better working relationship.

  1. Don’t get turned off by the “I don’t like it.” The words are emotional and they have a good chance of producing an emotional reaction in the person who actually created the project. Try to put those emotions aside as getting upset about the directness of the client will not get you closer to an approved finished product.
  2. Move past the “I don’t like it” by asking specific questions. If you’re a designer, try to ask about specific elements, ask about the colors, the texture, the different aspects incorporated. If you’re a writer, you might want to ask about the style, the words used, the length, the positioning or the message. In other words, try to break down the overarching “I don’t like it” into elements that you can actually work with.
  3. Offer solutions. Sometimes the clients just want to be heard. They want to know that their likes and dislikes, their proposals and ideas are taken into account and transformed into something cohesive and beautiful. It’s best to try to turn the requests into possible solutions or if there are no solutions, then explain why that’s the case.
  4. Set boundaries. While you want to make sure you offer enough solutions that the client feels heard and understood and you can reach a consensus, you also want to make sure that you set clear boundaries. Most creative people I know include two reviews in the initial fee of the project, leaving the third, fourth…a hundredth up for renegotiation on an hourly rate. Make sure you state your boundaries clearly so you don’t get buried in revisions with no compensation.
  5. Keep your eyes on the prize. Remember that your goal is to deliver a good product and get paid for it. If you feel like your client is dragging on with the payment or wants to include more things than originally discussed in the initial price, you need to build a strategy for that. Maybe some clients who tend to delay their payments will have to pay half of the fee in advance and half when the project is delivered. Or maybe you have to be very strict about how much time you spend on revisions. Whatever your solution is for every client, make sure you stick to it.
  6. Don’t make it personal. Remember a bad client is not necessarily a bad person. Sometimes clients need to be taught how to be good clients. And even if you are indeed dealing with a bad client who has no interest in becoming a good client, remember that your focus is on finding solution to the situation, not to the person.

As we’re all striving to create better relationships with our peers and our clients, there is a deeper need to create more openness and communication. Listening to your client’s needs goes a long way, but so does knowing your worth and remembering that at the end of the day, just like with any toxic relationship, you have the option to leave and deal with the consequences of that.

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