Crappy Clients Will Drag You Down

I came across something recently that had me reflecting on some of the bad clients I took on in my early days of business. I was reminded that it wasn’t until I let go of all unideal and (let’s be frank) crappy clients that I really started making serious money and having more joy and happiness in my business.

There are so many ways that bad/unideal clients drag you and your business down. They create negative energy. They demoralize you and lower your professional self-esteem. They zap your energy. They deprive your ideal clients of your quality time and attention. They keep you from making more money. Oh, we’d be here for days if I tried to list everything, lol!

This is a huge problem in our industry. There’s a sort of subtext that instills and encourages the harmful mentality that “you had better be grateful for whatever clients you can get.” And it’s precisely because of this thinking that so many in our industry are just struggling to get by.

You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, as Dr. Phil likes to say. And so we have to have the conversation in order to learn from it and get to a better place.

When we’re new in business, we often aren’t conscious about the clients we take on (“any business is good business; I need the money!”), and even if we are somewhat aware, it can be a bit of a learning curve to start getting clear about what we want and who we prefer to work with. Things aren’t always clear. We don’t always recognize the pitfalls or see the consequences. And often, we feel like (because we are new), maybe it’s something we are doing that is the problem.

If I’d had an industry to turn to back then (I didn’t discover the industry until several years after I’d already been in business), I’m sure I would have gotten a lot clearer and conscious about this MUCH sooner.

Oh my gosh, I remember the client/ex-friend that I had to sue in order to get the thousands of dollars she owed me.

I remember the client who was really nice, but thought the world revolved around her and constantly kept me waiting when I had an onsite appointment with her (although looking back, I’m not sure why I thought there was anything “nice” about that).

I remember a few bookkeeping clients who it saddened and disappointed me to learn were pilfering employee funds (e.g., tax monies and child support withholdings) to buy themselves expensive toys while stealing from their employees and not paying the tax man.

And yet I would still bend over backward trying to be helpful and make a fit out of them. For some reason I had the idea that the “client is always right” and superior customer service was the ultimate responsibility I had as a business owner, which I prided myself on. Who cares if they walk all over you! If someone had just simply said to me, “You know what, bad clients are bad clients. You are not a failure if you kick them to the curb. Lose the losers!” I could have saved myself SO much time and heartache.

Of course, as with everything, there’s always a positive side to every bad experience. From these bad experiences, it brought about my thinking and consciousness about the kind of clients with whom I truly wanted to work.

And I learned many tough, expensive, but ultimately invaluable, business lessons. For example, my friend/client I had to sue to get what she owed me? Well, my part in that was that I was being a pushover and teaching her to disrespect me and take me for granted by giving her “friend” discounts and letting her get into debt with me for my services. You can bet I don’t do that anymore.

I learned to insist that clients respect my time and to let go of anyone who consistently missed appointments or otherwise wasted my time. Once I quit doing onsite visits, I had more time and energy for “virtual” clients and made more money because of it.

And I learned to immediately let go of any client the minute I found them lacking in character, integrity or honesty. (Spending child support payments withheld from employee paychecks is one of the most despicable acts I can think of.) Trust your gut. Don’t let your desire to give benefit of the doubt cloud your better judgment. It’s not a “mistake,” isolated incident or lapse in judgment as they often try to make you think (especially after the “mistake” has been pointed out to them several times). People like that just don’t change their stripes. If they’ll do it to someone else, they’ll do it to you; it’s only a matter of time. It’s best to get them out of your life (the sooner, the better) and leave them for the universe to deal with.

Once I started becoming more aware and conscious about these things is when my business and happiness really started taking off. Nowadays I work with people who value and respect what I do for them. They’re grateful and appreciative. They’re smart and funny. We have great conversations and fun working together. And they care about me as a person as much as I care about them.

And so I say now for those of you who are newer in business, you absolutely have the permission, right and even obligation to lose the losers! You and your well-being are no less important than that of your clients. In fact, your success and attentive client care DEPEND upon your happiness. It’s simply impossible to have space for your most ideal clients if you are keeping it occupied with poorly fitting, unhappy-making ones.

Be more discerning about the clients you take on. Have a consultation process. Start an ideal AND UN-ideal client profile that you continue to hone and update throughout the life of your business. Begin formally documenting your standards and boundaries now, if you haven’t yet, and honor them, always. Read your UN-ideal client profile anytime you are tempted to ignore them. Never take on any clients without any regard or due diligence (that’s your consultation process). I promise, your business will become better and more profitable and prosperous for it!

8 Responses

  1. Judy Reyes says:

    Wow, great post, Danielle. Thanks for telling this story; your experience will certainly help me and others “lose the losers” with more confidence and less anxiety.

  2. Monique says:

    Hello Danielle,

    Your post is so apt – thank you for sharing!!

    At the end of last year, I too had a “big” client and she was all of that and more – demoralizing, demeaning, insulting, had to wait for long periods until she decided to see me when we had booked on-site visits. And yes, the list went on.

    In fact, as you so rightly said, I felt I needed to endure this behaviour for sake of getting the business on its feet.

    I had promised to bring the contract to a close at the end of December 2011. Long and short – we parted ways. At first I was angry and bitter and resentful at how it happened, but I have been dealing with the spiritual aspect of the entire situation and realized it is not necessary or healthy to continue with that behaviour. I would be in her same boat.

    The best advice I read in your post was creating an UN-ideal profile which would be consulted in the future when taking on a new client and the consultation process is key because that is when the flags will be raised.

  3. Jude says:

    My very first consulting client turned out to have such a horrific lack of ethics that I ended up physically sick from the stress of dealing with him. I was torn between wanting to dump him and needing money when his despicable behavior finally made it impossible for me to continue. One week before Thanksgiving, he told me to tell a handful of freelancers that their paychecks had been mailed out…but I KNEW the checks were still in his desk drawer! Of course, I didn’t do it. We severed our working relationship that day, and despite the loss of over $6000 monthly income, my stress-induced symptoms began to fade the very next day. No amount of money is worth associating with that kind of slime!

  4. Monica says:

    Danielle, I like what you said about starting an Ideal and Un-Ideal Client Profile. Better to be honest with yourself and work with the type of clients you prefer.

  5. Great post, Danielle!

    You are right, it may take several years and many rough experiences before we can clearly define those toxic clients. As well as what we will tolerate and what we won’t. Same as in life.

    I have a pretty good feel now for those clients and just hug and release. As tough as it may be, especially if you ‘think’ you need the money. However, if your client base is full of toxic clients you certainly don’t have room for those ideal clients.

    Right now, my clients are the best ever! My mantra — “I am not the best fit for you!”

  6. Thank you Danielle, This is very thorough.
    I think this deserves a re-post quote from Danielle:
    ‘Be more discerning about the clients you take on. Have a consultation process. Start an ideal AND UN-ideal client profile that you continue to hone and update throughout the life of your business. Begin formally documenting your standards and boundaries now, if you haven’t yet, and honor them, always. Read your UN-ideal client profile anytime you are tempted to ignore them. Never take on any clients without any regard or due diligence (that’s your consultation process). I promise, your business will become better and more profitable and prosperous for it!’.

    Well Danielle this shows your experience in the industry, thank you for being such a good mentor to all of us.

    Kind regards,

    Brigitte.

  7. Sam says:

    Thanks for your advice Danielle. Chasing up payments from unreliable clients is probably the worst thing about my job. My business is fairly new and I feel a lot better knowing that I’m not the only one who has to deal with this problem!

  8. Sam, you may want to to check out this post here for helping on getting paid:

    http://www.administrativeconsultantsassoc.com/blog/2011/11/30/dear-danielle-should-i-get-payment-up-front/

    Let me know if that helps 🙂

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