Let me start by saying that, anyone who has ever worked a job has dealt with difficult clients. also, anyone who is an entrepreneur or a freelancer has felt the stress of feeling like losing this difficult client is the end of the world. So, this is a matter close to each working individual!
This past week, I remembered a valuable lesson I had forgotten in time, since, thankfully, our clients are awesome! However, before we got to the awesome, we did go through some difficult clients who, in some cases, made our lives challenging. Unfortunately, this is something that every entrepreneur will go through, since it is part of learning and growing. In my view, it’s all about understanding the way to function around them.
Truth is, the first question that will go through your mind when faced with this type of clients is to “let them go”. Then you will probably think of the money you will lose if you “fire” them, especially if they represent big accounts. By the end of it, you might end up firing them or you may end up having a fruitful collaboration. But before you realise which it is, there are some basic steps to follow to try to make it work.
Step 1: Evaluate their psychology
I know that, optimally, business is business and emotions don’t fit the profile. However, as human beings, we are driven by emotions and this is the basis you need to start on with every client and especially with those difficult ones. Figure out where the problem is; lack of trust; fear of losing control; plain bad day. Once you figure out the issue, the next steps become easier.
Also, it helps to have a Masters in psychology! Just saying…
Step 2: Show them you know your stuff
So, for those of you who don’t have a degree in psychology, here’s something to help you out: it’s usually a combination of lack of trust, fear of losing control and a bad day just makes it worse.
Based on the above assumption, you need to assert yourself as a professional, which means, showing them that you know what you are doing. Some tips on doing that is to always be prepared when in a meeting so that no questions are left unanswered and speak with examples, preferably of past, good, experiences on similar cases. Show-casing your previous work will help with the lack of trust, as they will become reassured about results. In cases of young companies who probably don’t have a big portfolio, if any, the trick lies in the preparation for each meeting.
Step 3: Inform them of the reached milestones
You know how we all like control? Well, clients, especially the difficult ones, like it even more because they pay for a service and they want to see the best outcome at the most limited time possible, all the while keeping tabs on the work.
In some cases, the client will give you full trust and will let you be to work in peace, which, in my view, is optimal. Most of time, this is not the case. Usually, clients stress over the evolution of a project. So, to avoid the fear of losing control rising, keep them informed of the progress. In my experience, it is good to pre-set milestones and months of delivery (avoid specific dates), as indicators. Once you reach a milestone, send an, informative email to show them that everything is on track. And even if things are not on track, let them know of the why and what you are doing to fix it, in brief.
This should give them a sense of control and leave you space to work.
Step 4: Be very specific:
With clients who show signs of being difficult, it is preferable to be very, very, very specific. Never leave room for interpretation, as this will make the way for misunderstandings. In the preparation of the agreement between you, as well as throughout your communication, make sure you use simple wording, to the point and measurable, where possible. Allow them some time to review the information and come back with questions, answer them, make sure they understand it and then proceed with the work.
As time-consuming as it may seem, it will save up energy and a lot of pain, if misunderstandings come up.
Step 5: Solve the problems promptly
Now, it would have been nice if problems and mistakes didn’t exist in the carrying out of projects. However, the only ones who don’t make mistakes are those who don’t do nothing! So, as long as you are undertaking work, problems and mistakes are bound to happen.
I know that, when it comes to difficult clients, problems and mistakes have a way of tripling in size, and something which usually seems meaningless suddenly becomes the end of the world. No panic though as solutions are out there for you to use. Breathe in, breathe out and get your act together, since panicking will not get you anywhere and will make the situation more difficult. Find the solution at the earliest possible time and then follow Steps 2 and 3!
Overall, there is a way to handle these clients. An in addition to the above, remember to never apologize for things you didn’t do wrong (contradicts Step 2), choose your words carefully (goes with Step 4) and always stay calm as nothing is worth getting yourself worked up on!