Do you want to know how to PREVENT difficult client experiences in your business? Whether you have had a client experience you would call difficult yet or not, these tips are going to help set up your business to avoid having unhappy clients. We are covering things like boundaries, communication, red flags, contracts, and so much more!
In Part One of this topic, we talked about how to deal with a difficult client situation when you’re in the middle of something challenging. Now we are going to cover 10 great tips to keep you from those situations in the first place.
[If you missed it, check out Episode 54, How to Deal with a Difficult or Angry Client, on the Breakthrough Brand Podcast to hear more about what to do when you are in the middle of a difficult client situation.]
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE NOW:
PREVENT DIFFICULT CLIENTS:
1. Don’t work with clients who you think will be difficult and watch out for common red flags.
Wow, what a simple, yet profound tip! Often when we are in the thick of a bad client situation, we know looking back that there were warning signs that we ignored. Go with your gut. If you have a bad feeling, you can say no!
Watch out for these warning signs:
- Someone you trust, who has worked with them, tells you not to take them on as a client and has a good reason why. This might seem cruel, but remember you are a business and you get to choose who you work with.
- They talk bad about other people in your industry.
- They have never been satisfied with the work you’ll be doing from another person. For example, they might say something like, “I have worked with 5 other designers and always hated everything they did. But, I know it’ll be different with you because you’re so much better than they are!”
- They want you to copy someone.
- They want you to do a style of work or type of work that isn’t your thing. It is more beneficial to BOTH of you to not work together when what they want and need isn’t what you do.
- They emphasize how easy it is to do the thing they need in an effort to get you to change something, for example going faster or asking to pay less money.
- They aren’t respecting something about your process or pricing from the get go.
It is so important for you to ask the right questions to help you know if working together is a good fit. It’s okay to say no if you think you guys won’t be a fit for each other. You want them to be satisfied and you want to be satisfied. It’s not bad to tell someone you’re not the right fit for them. It doesn’t mean they are bad or that you’re bad. Not everyone is your ideal client.
Good clients will appreciate it when you tell them you aren’t the right fit for them. You’re not desperate for business, but you actually want to know that you can properly serve the people needing things from you.
2. Be a leader from the beginning.
This starts with the sales call before they have ever booked you and will continue through the whole relationship. It is not uncommon for business owners to go from a corporate job with a boss to having their clients be their new boss. This is not ideal!
You are the boss, they are the client, so you should lead as if that were so. You have to have the boldness to lead. This can sound scary but just know, the people in your industry earning the most with client work are the ones leading. No matter what you are doing, the people who lead their clients are the ones who are making top dollar and staying booked out. The people who are being micromanaged by their clients are the ones earning the least.
High paying clients want you to lead them. When you lead, you create an environment of trust. If they don’t trust you, they will feel like they have to micromanage you. Some people naturally want to micromanage everyone, but typically even with a client who likes all the control, you can help this by leading them.
3. Set clear standards and boundaries, and then communicate them before a problem occurs.
Client problems can often come from unstated boundaries or a lack of boundaries. You might have a boundary that your client doesn’t know is there because you never communicated it. The boundaries need to be established at the very beginning of the project. This doesn’t need to just be in your contract. Most people don’t actually read the contract. You need to talk about it.
For most business owners, I recommend having a welcome guide and going through it with the client on the phone, Zoom or in person. This could simply be a PDF or even a page on your website.
What to cover in your welcome guide:
- How you communicate and how they should communicate back
- When they should expect a reply from you
- Your working hours
So often when people are in the midst of a difficult situation with a client, it started with not clearly communicating boundaries and expectations from the beginning. For more tips on what to do if you are in the middle of a difficult situation with a client, check out this post from Part One on this topic.
4. Over-communicate everything.
This is so important and is something you’ll probably always be improving on. This is a huge key to not only preventing difficult situations but also to creating happy, satisfied clients who trust you.
Your clients should not be confused! EVER! This is always something to avoid! When we as humans are doing something for the first time, we desire steps and processes and want to know what happens next.
Remember, this might be the first time this person has even worked with someone like you. They don’t know everything, that’s why they needed to hire you!
A great way to communicate important things is to use lists to show a client exactly what the steps are in the process, exactly what they should be doing right now. This helps them visualize the process. If they have things they are turning in to you, give them due dates and be specific.
Answer their questions before they have a chance to ask them. They should feel guided by you and should feel like you’re patient with their questions. You should be educating them along the way. This goes back to the fact that you have to lead. The longer you do your system the more you’ll learn what’s confusing and what your clients are getting stuck on.
Check out these episodes to learn more about asking clients for feedback: How to Get Powerful Testimonials for Your Service Business, Is it Ok to Edit my Client’s Testimonial, and How to Use Testimonials in Your Marketing!
5. Don’t overcomplicate the experience.
This goes along with tip #4. You want to over communicate, but not over complicate. These are different things. Sometimes we make things more difficult for the client than it should be in our efforts to make something a “really great experience”. Be careful that you aren’t just creating unnecessary work for the client or for yourself.
I like to ask my clients only to do what I truly need and then I take care of the rest. Analyze your client experience every now and then and ask if everything in it is necessary or if there’s something that could be cut. Client experience is extremely important! But, important doesn’t mean drawn out, long, and with tons of communication and to-do list items.
6. Have strong contracts with an out clause and clear details of what is included.
First, you NEED a contract. If you don’t have one, please get one. Never do any kind of work in your business without a contract! It could easily be a headache and a difficult client experience is going to be so much worse if you don’t have contracts to guide expectations.
You should have terms in your contract about terminating the agreement. Make sure that if you did need to end things, you can do so clearly and with integrity. Contracts are great for so many things and contracts can be the “bad guy” when needed!
Important things to include in your contract:
- Layout exactly what is included. This can be in paragraph format and in bullet points.
- Tell what’s not included that someone could possibly think was included and say what their responsibility is in it. For example, with my clients I tell them that I do not provide photos for their website but they have to have photos for me to work with them.
- Talk about compensation and payment structure. What is the total amount? What is due when? How will payments be made? What happens when payments are late?
- Explain the terms and process for termination.
I am not a contract expert, but those are some things I recommend as well as anything else that is important to you or your business. You also need to assume people aren’t really reading your contracts that closely. Reviewing the main points with the client when you go over their welcome guide is really important to make sure you start your working relationship off on a good foot.
If you need a contract, Contractista is my recommended contract resource.
7. Don’t be a contract stickler when you don’t have to be.
This point is on the same note of having a contract. ALWAYS HAVE A CONTRACT. But, you are in charge of the contract. Each client situation is different and you get to decide what you enforce and what you let go.
If you are seeing clients cross lines in your contract or constantly ask for things outside of what you agreed on, you may want to consider that there is a flaw in your system. We aren’t talking about letting people run over you but it’s okay to do the extra work that is not in the contract when you feel good about it. Sometimes by over enforcing a contract, you can actually create drama that you don’t want, especially when the client isn’t trying to take advantage of you.
Listen to this full episode to hear some great examples of client situations that may not be worth the drama that comes with being a contract stickler!
8. Know that all clients need to be served differently and adjust accordingly.
Not all clients are the same, and because of that, they will all likely need to be served differently. This is not a different process, but a different experience.
You might have a client who is very hands-off and trusts you to handle anything that they don’t directly need to be involved in. Or you might have the other extreme where your client wants the experience to but much more collaborative and they want to be more involved in your process. Maybe they have a ton of questions.
There is nothing wrong with either client style and odds are most clients will fall somewhere in the middle. It’s in your best interest for serving your clients well to know where they fall so that you can give them what they need.
You can even ask them, “How involved do you want to be in the creative process?” to give you an idea of the experience they are looking for when working with you. A client who just wants to trust you to handle it might be annoyed with all of your feedback questions. But, a client with a lot of opinions might want more of that.
You have to know your client’s style to prevent them from being unsatisfied!
9. Set the right expectations.
Unmet expectations are often the main reason for unsatisfied clients. You want to make sure that the expectation you’re pitching matches what you are going to deliver. You want to undersell and overdeliver.
Look at your website and marketing materials and make sure you’re not over-promising. A great example is how long it takes to complete a project. You will quickly disappoint your client if you give them a turnaround time that you cannot meet. If you tell them a longer turnaround time and deliver sooner, they will likely be much happier.
It’s all about what expectations you’re setting. This also goes back to over communicating! When you over communicate the process, people understand it.
Be careful to not say you can do something you can’t. You don’t have to be a chameleon and do everything each specific client wants you to do.
10. Try to not have a bad attitude about your clients.
If you hate working with most people, it might be you. You might be burned out. You might be attracting people you don’t like. You might have something in your system that is terribly flawed that leaves you feeling drained.
Don’t hang around other business owners who just constantly complain about their clients. Many times in situations like this, the business owners aren’t looking for solutions, they are looking to complain.
Ditch the bad attitude and get on the same team with your clients. They are typically not bad people and they want the same thing you want which is to end up satisfied with the project. Care about your clients and the results they are getting.
Sometimes, there really are difficult client situations with people who are trying to take advantage of you or not respecting you. I get it. Part One of this topic covers some great tips for client situations like this.
More often a “difficult” client is just someone who is not doing something how we want and it helps here to have compassion and shift your mindset. Assume the best in the person, even when they are frustrating you!
Your focus sets your reality. If you see them all as horrible, that will be your reality as an experience with them.
This is a hard truth but if you’re in a situation where every client is difficult, you might need a break, so take a break!