Archive for the ‘Bad Clients’ Category

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

A good question came up on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to about a topic that is a frequent source of vexation for people in our industry:

“I have a client that is continuously scheduling my time and then when it’s time to “meet” she is otherwise engaged with family, etc. I understand “things come up,” however this is becoming a pattern. She is not very versed in the world of business and I’m not into giving my time away. This has happened three times now. I plan to begin billing for this time moving forward and want to put a policy in place. Thank you in advance for any guidance or words of wisdom you can share with me!!”

This falls under the category of “we teach our clients how to treat us.”

If a client normally respects your time and keeps their appointments with you, it’s easy to be understanding when life gets in the way and they are unable to give you sufficient notice when they need to cancel or reschedule a meeting with you.

However, once you recognize a pattern, and it’s causing you wasted time, irritation and resentment, that’s when you need to nip things in the bud.

Here are a few ways to help prevent this problem in the first place, as well as what to do when it does occur:

  1. Work with ideal clients. It’s fine to add a policy for the sake of clear understanding and communication (and you would not legally be able to impose fees if that language isn’t in your contract), but there’s something else to consider here: why would you want to work with the kind of clients who would only respect your time under threat of penalty? And what if the added charges don’t deter or change the behavior? You’d still have a PIA (pain-in-the-ass) client causing problems and negative energy in your practice. Examine whether that client is really worth continuing to work with.
  2. Run your business like a business. That means having a professional web presence, proper email and signature lines, formal business policies, documents and procedures, etc. The more you present yourself as a business, the more clients will respect it (and you) as such.
  3. Always have clients sign a contract. A contract isn’t just for legal purposes. It’s also to help clients take you and your business seriously, to view your business as a business. People who see you as a professional are more likely to respect your time.
  4. Include a section in both your contract and your New Client Guide that talks about the importance to the relationship of respecting each other’s time, what your expectations are of them (and that you will extend the same to them) and what the policies are around canceling and missed appointments. For example, how much notice do you ask clients provide if they need to cancel an appointment (this is common courtesy and respect)? Do you charge for missed appointments, and if so, how much? How long will you wait for a late-arriving client before you will no longer meet with them for that day? By informing them upfront what your policy is on this, you are indicating the value and respect you place on your time (as well as that of your other clients and priorities). Personally, I wait no more than 10 or 15 minutes; after that, they will need to reschedule their appointment for the following week. So, this is the other thing that contracts are for: formalizing what your expectations are for each other and the relationship and informing clients how things work in your business.
  5. Don’t be so quick to always instantly respond to clients. I know this sounds counter-intuitive because you want clients to feel you are responsive, but there is such a thing as being a too-eager beaver. When that’s the impression clients have, they think you have nothing better to do than sit there waiting for them to tell you to “jump.” You undermine your own authority in that way. Establish a communication standard in your business of 24-48 hours turn-around time in your replies, whether you have other clients or not. This helps set proper business expectations and clients will respect your time more appropriately.
  6. Don’t let clients slide. As soon as you realize you’ve clearly got a client who has no regard for you or your time, you’ve got to have a conversation about what is going on. Be prepared to fire any client who continues to abuse your time after this conversation. Because by letting them continue to do so, you are teaching them that your word, your time and your value mean nothing and they are free to do as they please and you’re just going to keep taking it. If you don’t respect your boundaries, clients won’t either.
  7. Re-examine your business, your standards, and who you are choosing as clients. If you have clients who continuously abuse your time there are two things going on: a) you are not working with ideal clients (and starting an Ideal Client Profile list is going to help you tremendously), and b) there are areas in your business, how you are presenting it and how you are working with clients that is contributing to this problem. This presents you with a good opportunity to improve your business, who you accept onto your client roster, how you might better communicate your needs and expectations of clients, and how to identify and get better, more ideal clients. Because if you are working with clients too informally, too loosey-goosey, and not being selective about who gets a place on your roster, those are definitely underlying root causes.

How Do You Know If a Potential Client Will Be a Good One?

How Do You Know If a Potential Client Will Be a Good One?

Someone on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to asked this question not long ago:

I have a client that I really don’t think can handle a virtual work situation. She doesn’t communicate well, doesn’t want to set aside time that I can ask questions about work. She expects me to understand everything the first time she tells me. I could go on. I want to learn from this situation and compile some questions I can ask future potential clients to determine if they can work virtually with me. Any ideas?

My advice to her?

Run away, lol.

You already see the red flags. This is not someone who is likely to make for a good client, and will probably end up making you pull your hair out.

Start a list called Unideal Client Profile. Then, list each characteristic you’ve listed in your post.

Whenever you are tempted to step over your standards and ignore when your gut is telling you someone is not a good client candidate, take that list out to remind you why you don’t want to take on any client like that.

Unideal client are far too costly and unprofitable to work with. They cost your business far more than you realize, and not just monetarily.

The psychological toll they take is not anything you can afford.

Every unideal client takes up 3-4 times the space in your practice that an ideal client does because an unfit client generates huge negative energy that drains you while ideal clients create positive reciprocal energy that invigorates you.

You also want to start your Ideal Client Profile and add the opposite of these characteristics to that list.

Every time you realize a positive or negative attribute of a prospect or client, add those to your lists. This is an exercise you should conduct throughout the life of your business.

These lists help you get conscious and intentional about the clients you choose by documenting and formalizing your standards around who is the best fit for you—and who isn’t.

You never want to take on any ol’ client just for the money. That’s where 90% of problems start in the first place.

And you can’t serve well and do your best work for any client who simply isn’t a good mutual fit. It would actually be unethical to take that kind of client on.

The other part of this is using your website to prequalify prospective clients.

So in the course of your website content and marketing message, you want to make clear the kind of clients you’re looking to work with, who you work best with, what kind of clients benefits most from working with you and this way of working together (this is your ideal client) as well as who doesn’t (your unideal client, the client who isn’t a good fit for working with you). These Ideal and UN-Ideal Client Profiles help you with that.

There’s a whole host of other ways you can prequalify clients, but this is a start.

These steps will help you avoid wasting precious time in conversations and consultations with people who don’t fit that initial level of qualification as a good client candidate.

(And if you want to save yourself all kinds of angst and wasted time, money and effort and start getting more ideal clients and more action from your website, check out my Build a Website that WORKS guide.)

How to Leave a Bad Client Relationship When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

How to Leave a Bad Client Relationship When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

This post was inspired by some recent correspondence with a colleague who shared that she was mired in an unhappy relationship with a client who is far from ideal.

She dreads hearing from this client and rushes through this client’s work to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, she stated, she can’t afford to let this client go as it is her only source of income at the moment.

What I told her was that she couldn’t afford to NOT get out of this relationship… quick. It’s keeping her stuck and zapping her energy and morale.

What’s also important here, but not commonly talked about, is that we all have a moral duty to work with ideal clients and let go of the unideal ones.

We are not walking in integrity taking money from people we don’t care for and, thus, for whom we are not doing our best work. You’re not serving their best interests, and it’s not fair to them to keep them on.

Staying in a bad relationship also steals your life from you.

It keeps you from moving forward and opening space for the better and more ideal.

You are holding yourself hostage by letting fear rule your decisions.

I totally understand practicalities, though.

If you feel you are stuck between a rock and hard place financially, here’s what you can do strategically if you don’t feel at choice (yet) to let go of a client you are not happy working with any longer:

  1. First, take a moment to be in gratitude. Thank the universe for providing this client to you and for all the business lessons and experience you gained. You can still be grateful even while you recognize you have outgrown the relationship and that it’s time to move on.
  2. For the moment, keep doing what you’re doing with that client. Gradually, when and where you can, make changes that are more to your liking. They don’t have to be drastic. Sometimes, it’s the smallest tweaks that can have the biggest, most positive impact. And with each small success with these changes, you will feel empowered and gain courage. Always announce these changes (without asking for permission) and put them in the most positive, client-focused terms as possible. For example, “In order to better serve my clients, I am now…” “I’m doing this so that you can experience better…” Anything that improves your life and business is always in the best interests of your clients, but you don’t want to explain things from that perspective. You always want to relate that information in terms of how it better serves them, not you. Understand?
  3. Simultaneously, work your BUTT off to get new and better clients, taking them on under all your improved and heightened standards, policies, procedures and pricing, and doing everything in the way you wish you would have with that client who is no longer a fit.
  4. Once you’ve got yourself in a better position financially, you can give that unideal client an opportunity to adapt to how you are doing things now in your business. Write a formal message letting them know that you are making changes to how you are doing business and working with clients, and outline what those changes are. If the client isn’t willing to accept those changes, you can very genuinely thank them for your time together, wish them well and let them go, happier trails to everyone.
  5. Finally, be cognizant of the ways you contributed to the unhappy relationship. Many people fail to realize that bad clients are often created by a) not being discerning and choosing clients carefully in the first place, and b) spoiling them with unsustainable practices. They promise these clients the moon, work with them in ways they can’t possibly keep up with once they have more than one client and don’t set boundaries and parameters for clients to observe. In recognizing these problem areas, you can improve and avoid them in your future relationships. That’s called growing and maturing as a business owner and service provider.

Have you found yourself in an unideal situation with a client, but don’t feel free to change things or move on due to financial constraints? Please do share your story in the comments below as it is very helpful to others in the same boat. They find validation that they are not the only one going through this. And I would love to know, as well, if this information has helped you get unstuck.

Another Reason to Stick to Your Standards

Another Reason to Stick to Your Standards

Something reminded me the other day about why you should always do things according to your standards in your business and not to go below them just because a client asks or wants you to.

Many of the biggest, most valuable (but painful) business lessons I learned came unfortunately by working with a good friend of 10 years.

When she was starting up her business, besides setting up all her systems, doing her bookkeeping and providing her with administrative support, I created many marketing pieces for her.

Normally, I would have done these pieces according to my usual and proper design business standards using the appropriate design tools and software (i.e., Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.)

However, because she constantly had changes and didn’t want to have to wait for me to make them (rushing me, being impatient), she wanted to have them done in programs that she herself had (e.g., Word) so she could make textual updates/changes herself.

I made the mistake of accommodating her. And let me tell you, it was an impressive feat to integrate design imagery into a Word document.

There are many reasons why you don’t do this as a designer.

First of all, it is not common business practice to hand over native files to clients. That’s YOUR intellectual property that you earn your living from.

What that means is the files and ownership of the creative piece hold a completely separate value from simply being engaged to create a work for a client.

This is why people are charged separately for those things (or not allowed to purchase rights at all, simply giving them license to use the work).

But in my business adolescence, I did a lot of stupid things.

And that act of “being nice” and accommodating my so-called friend came back to haunt me (or tried to anyway) because later when I had to sue her for the thousands of dollars she owed me, one of the things she tried to use against me was the very fact that these pieces weren’t in professional standard format (i.e., in Word instead of InDesign or Photoshop, etc.).

She failed in this attempt and in the end I got my money, but it was still galling to have done a favor for a client (a friend, no less), gone against my own standards and boundaries to accommodate her wishes and then to have it thrown back in my face.

So next time a client tries to rush you, overstep your processes and standards, have you do sub-par, below-standard, second-rate work, or wants you to ignore details and slide things by, or do anything that goes against your personal and professional standards and ethics, think twice about allowing that.

It won’t sit well with you and it could come back to bite you in the butt in ways you’d never imagine in the present.

Excellence in service and being of service should never come at the cost of your own standards, well-being and self-interests.

Ideal clients are those who allow you to do your best work and respect your standards and boundaries. Anyone else is not a fit.

25 Ways to Get Better, More Ideal Clients

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One of the biggest complaints people voice in our industry (the administrative support business) are clients who are a pain in the ass, otherwise known as PIAs, or more gently, unideal clients.

Bad clients are also one of the biggest business killers. One bad client (particularly in a new business) can suck up all your resources and destroy profit—and your morale—to the point of no return.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible to end up with a rotten apple once in awhile.

Far more often, however, it is we who create the conditions that bring un-ideal clients into our lives in the first place.

You have far more control in this area than you may realize. So, here’s a list that will help you have more ideal, joy-to-work-with clients who won’t tear your business apart:

  1. Own your role. Bad clients don’t happen to you. You’re the one who took them on and continues to work with them. Acknowledge that so you can fix it and start doing things differently from this point forward.
  2. Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling or see red flags, pay attention. Your instincts will never fail you.
  3. Treat and respect your business like a business. When you do, your prospects and clients will as well.
  4. Have self-respect. Don’t beg, bribe and prostrate yourself to get clients. The only clients who are attracted to desperate people are bad clients.
  5. Don’t be so available. Have a process that prospects go through to become clients. It’s an indicator that you are a professional, successful business, and that is going to attract professional, successful prospects. Anyone who is in a rush and wants to sidestep your processes is never an ideal client. Better clients are willing to wait for the best.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is often where at least 75% of the problems start.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work with only honest, ethical people is a standard. What others can you think of? Write them down and hang this list where you’ll see it every day.
  8. Set proper expectations. Remember, you’re not running a mass consumer, assembly-line business like McDonald’s. You’re running a professional service firm where there is a personal, ongoing relationship with each client. Sometimes clients can seem unideal because you haven’t properly managed expectations. They’ve been left to their own devices and so they assumed or made up their own rules. Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, and establish policies that we can’t possibly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients quickly into spoiled brats who throw tantrums the second you don’t instantly jump at their request. Picture your business with a full roster of retained clients. What kind of turn-around and communication policies does THAT business need to take great care of all your clients, consistently and reliably, now and in the future, without overcrowding and burning you out in the process?
  9. Set policies, procedures and protocols. These are relationship-preservers that bring order to your business, ensure it runs smoothly and gives you the space you need to take fantastic care of all your clients, evenly, consistently and reliably. Without this structure, clients can quickly (and often do) turn into monsters we dread dealing with.
  10. Establish boundaries. Besides helping ensure your business runs smoothly so you can do great work for all your clients, your policies and protocols also establish boundaries. For example, having formal office hours between 9a and 5p is a policy that also sets a boundary that tells clients you are running a professional business that opens and closes at certain hours and they may not expect you to be working past those times. See? Boundary.
  11. Honor your standards, boundaries and protocols. Here again is where we often “do it” to ourselves by taking shortcuts and stepping over our standards and boundaries or allowing clients to. They’re in place to ensure you have a happy business and happy clients. Ignore them at your peril.
  12. Know who your ideal client is. Start an Ideal Client Profile. This is a list of all the traits, characteristics and demographics of the kind of person you really enjoy working with, who you work best with, and who benefits most from working with you. Keep adding to and refining this list throughout the life of your business. This formalizing exercise helps you get more clear, conscious and intentional about who you want to attract and focus on in your business.
  13. Start an UN-ideal Client Profile. Likewise, as you grow in your business, you are going to get more and more clear about who is not the right fit for you, with whom you don’t enjoy working. List these traits and red flags so that you can better recognize those folks when they appear on your doorstep—and quickly and politely send them away.
  14. Work with business people rather those who are employees themselves. Business people get it. Non business people are more often going to be difficult to work with because they aren’t coming from a business context and don’t understand the proper business etiquette and rules of engagement.
  15. Have a target market. A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. Having one will not only make everything in your business easier, it will also help you get better, more ideal clients.
  16. Have a proper business website. Your website isn’t merely an online brochure. When you have a proper website that informs, educates and markets you like a business, it’s a powerful influence in the clients you attract and how those clients approach you in a proper business context. It helps set expectations and prequalify clients so you get more ideal business people contacting you. The image it presents, the message it conveys, and the process it takes them through set a precedent that is going to attract either ideal or unideal clients to you. If you want better clients, have a better website.
  17. Stop marketing yourself like a substitute employee. Face it, if people are approaching you like a potential employer instead of a client, it’s because you aren’t educating them properly. If you don’t want clients who treat you like their substitute, beck-and-call, under-the-table employee they don’t pay taxes on, then you have to stop marketing yourself like one. Model your marketing message more like that of other independent professionals like attorneys and accountants. You want to position yourself as someone with the expertise of administration, not some order-taking gopher. Reframe the message and you’ll get better clients.
  18. Have a consultation process. And I don’t mean some penny-ante 15-minute chat. That is NOT going to help you or the client whatsoever. I’m talking about a full and proper consultation process that begins before a prospect ever contacts you. Not only does this process help you prequalify prospective clients for mutual fit, it also helps them take your business more seriously.
  19. Always use a (proper) contract. A contract is a relationship-preserver as well in that it helps everyone remember and honor their agreements to each other. A contract helps clients respect you as a business, and a respectful client is an ideal client.
  20. Have a Client Guide. Formalize your policies, procedures and prototols into a written Client Guide that you give to all new and current clients. Part of setting and managing expectations is making sure you are informing clients about how things work in your business. None of us are mindreaders and neither are your clients. If you want your relationship with clients to go smoothly and ideally, you have to inform them of what that means, how things work in your business and what is expected of them (remember, it’s a two-way street; it’s not all about their needs).
  21. Conduct a New Client Orientation with new retained clients before you begin working together to go over and clarify the information in your Client Guide and answer any questions they may have. Do this with existing clients as well whenever your business undergoes significant changes. This further supports your efforts in educating clients about the nature of the relationship, setting and managing expectations, how things work in your business and what the standards, policies, protocols and procedures are for working together.
  22. Issue formal announcements to all your clients whenever there is a change in your business. Whenever you make changes or improvements to your business and how you do things, don’t mention these things in passing. Make it formal. Send out a formal business communication to your clients on company letterhead as well as any ezine and blog you publish. Here again, you’re reinforcing the business aspect of your relationship and treating the business like a business which then influences how clients treat and respect you and the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, unideal clients. It’s an immutable law of business that when you raise your rates, you get better, more ideal clients. It’s a way to sort the wheat from the chaff in prequalifying clients.
  24. Face difficult conversations. It will only be worse for both of you the longer you wait. However, the quicker you are to face difficult conversations, the more often those relationships can be turned around for the better. You can learn many new positive things and possibly keep a client .
  25. Let go of unideal clients quickly. They’ll keep you buried in the muck and you’ll never grow or move forward if you continue to work with them. Unideal clients are highly unprofitable to work with and suck up three times the space in your practice compared to ideal clients. They cost your business far more than you realize and you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and unideal to make room for the better and more ideal.
  26. Bonus Tip: Stop calling yourself an assistant. Who you attract is all about your marketing. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and creating perception. The words you choose to call yourself influence how clients perceive you and understand the relationship. The fact is, people only understand the word assistant one way: employee. So when you call yourself an assistant, you’re telling them you are some sort of employee. When they think you’re an employee, they want to treat you like one. And when you call yourself an assistant, causing their perception to be that you are some sort of substitute employee, you predispose them to balk at your fees because they expect to pay you no more than an employee. If you want more ideal clients, it’s not enough to change how you work with clients  and insist that you’re a business owner. You have to stop calling yourself a term that contradicts all those efforts. When you do, you”ll get higher quality prospects and more easily command higher, properly professional fees because you haven’t created a disconnect in their understanding and perception of the nature of the relationship right from the get-go.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Jump Off a Cliff

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Last week I came upon a post where a colleague was offered an “epic business offer” to work 16 hours a week for three months—um, FOR FREE—until the client’s business launched.

Once the business launched, she was told, the client “planned” to “promote” her to paid intern status.

This client was in her target market and she felt could potentially open doors to other clients within that industry.

What she wanted to know from the group was if they had this same opportunity, would they accept it.

And every single person on there was all “Yeah, go for it!” “I’d jump on it in a heartbeat!”… rah-rah sis koom bah.

What?!

I thought I was on a business forum.

Obviously I was mistaken because not one person spoke up about the fact that this wasn’t a business deal whatsoever.

Potential is not a form of payment. And clients don’t “promote” you to anything; you’re not an employee.

This was a con for free work by some slimeball preying on a new business owner’s naivete and lack of business experience.

Hope springs eternal. But REAL friends don’t let other friends jump off a cliff.

The ol’ “dangling carrot” is one of the oldest ploys in the book by those who would devalue others.

If their “epic” deal is so great and such a sure thing, they should be investing in it themselves by PAYING for the services of others fairly and squarely. Let them play games with their own business’s time, money and profits.

If you are ever presented with an “epic opportunity” such as this, let me assure you, it is anything but.

Before doing anything foolish and wasting your precious business time and resources on those who don’t deserve you, take a look at these entertaining videos and blog posts that will really open your eyes:

1. Please Design a Logo for Me. With Piecharts. For Free. Hysterical, but quite illustrative blog post by David Thorne on the kind of client who tries to get free work with the lure of “great potential” and “future business.”

2. Pay the Writer. Video clip of Harlan Ellison rant about people expecting writers, creatives and others in service-based professions (like ours) to give their work for free.

3. The Vendor Client Relationship in Real World Situations. Video humorously illustrating how cheapskate clients try to get you to work for free just because you’re in a service-based business.

4. Are You on Sale? Stop Giving Yourself Away for Free. One of my own blog posts on the topic of illegal internships.

5. Don’t fall for dangling carrot syndrom. Another of my own blog posts about not falling for unbalanced “opportunities.”

Free does not pay your bills. It doesn’t pay your electricity. It doesn’t keep a roof over your head. It doesn’t put gas in your car. It doesn’t buy food. It doesn’t take care of your kids or give them opportunities.

You deserve better and those who depend on you deserve for you to be paid and hold yourself in higher esteem.

Say no to spec work and giving yourself away for free. Think long and hard before you devalue yourself (and teach others to devalue you) like this.

Anyone who wants you to work for free is not a legitimate prospect. Walk away.

How Do I Terminate a Client Who Is No Longer a Fit for Me?

Today’s conversation came from a thought I posted on our Administrative Consultants Facebook page:

Your “mistakes” are a necessary part of your business growth (and I use quotes because they aren’t really mistakes, they are learning experiences). You will take on a lot of what I like to call “practice” clients in the beginning. One thing, though, that has the ability to kill your spirit and morale—and possibly your business entirely—is continuing to work with a bad, unideal client. So, have standards around who is worthy and entitled and a fit to work with you. Choose clients thoughtfully, carefully and deliberately. Do your best to prequalify ideal clients (and weed out unideal one) before you ever begin working together with what knowledge and self-awareness you have at the moment. None of us is perfect or has a crystal ball and sometimes we take on a client who turns out to be not so great later. And sometimes we just outgrow some clients. Either way, never prolong a bad relationship, no matter how much you need the money because the psychological cost is far greater than you can afford. Let those clients go quickly and just feel the weight lifted off your shoulders and that of your business.

And what that means is, you do the best you can with what you have at the time.

You have much more business savvy today than when you first started. And you will continue to learn and grown every day. It’s impossible not to.

That doesn’t mean you won’t make some mistakes, have some missteps, do some second-guessing, and ignore your gut, red flags and the advice of others along the way.

These “mistakes” include clients we choose.

It’s a sure bet that the kind of clients you deem ideal in your business today are not at all the same as those you chose in the beginning. Heck, for most people new in business, any client is a good client.

But then they live and learn. They realize they are not a fit for everybody and not everybody is a fit for them. That’s the beginning of their inklings about standards and getting smarter and more self-aware about who they work best with. They learn through their experiences the kind of clients they want to avoid working with in the future.

In response to this post, Kellye Dash (who permitted me to share the convo with you) wanted to know this:

How do you terminate a client? That’s my challenge. I had a client that questioned every task, every minute billed. She had very little patience too. Every month, I found myself crediting time just to satisfy her. Every month! Yes, I know bad-bad-bad! I let it go on too long and, after several months, the client terminated me! It was not a good situation and I was very upset about it as I felt that I bent over backwards for her. I knew it was bad after about a month in, but felt tied. I wasn’t sure how to end the agreement already in progress in the best possible way. I struggle with how to avoid it from the very beginning. I always meet/speak with potential clients, assess their needs then follow up with the proposal/agreement. How do I decline servicing them if I can tell its a bad match?

So, what Kellye wanted to know wasn’t how to terminate clients, but rather how to avoid bad clients in the first place. And I’ll share with you what I shared with her:

  1. Have a consultation process. And I’m going to plug the ACA consultation guide here because it is the absolute best in our industry and will save you from a WORLD of hurt in the future. A consultation process isn’t just about the phone call itself. There are things that need to happen and be set in place before a client ever contacts you, as well as things that happen in the follow-up that make all the difference in the world in attracting and working with ideal clients and setting the tone for a successful relationship moving forward. My guide lays that blueprint out for you step-by-step, including how to follow-up and what to say in every kind of client scenario:  the ideal client you want to work with, the maybe client, and the unideal client you determine is not a fit and don’t want to work with. Mind you, I don’t just tell you exactly what to do, I explain why these steps are in place so that you gain a really deep understanding and knowledge of this aspect of your business and client psychology.
  2. Get conscious about your business standards and formalize them in writing. This includes clearly outlining your business policies and procedures as they are an important aspect in communicating your standards and boundaries, working more easily with clients and facilitating a more successful relationship. If this is an area you struggle with, my Power Productivity and Biz Management guide can help you. In it, I share my own business policies and management techniques that not only allow me to take exquisite care of my clients, but that also allow me to actually live a very flexible and freedom-filled life (one that most people only pay lip service to, but aren’t actually doing).
  3. Market more like an attorney. It’s a sad fact, but most people in our industry market thesmelves like employees, not independent professionals in a certain expertise. This creates the very first disconnect and misalignment in expectations and understandings. You want clients who treat (and pay) you not only as a peer and administrative expert. Instead, because of your marketing message, you get clients who think you’re merely some sort of substitute employee and want to treat and pay you as such.
  4. Stop making your marketing message all about the money. Besides marketing like employees, the other thing people do in our industry that is causing them problems is making their value ALL about how little clients pay. Think about it. Go to just about any website in our industry and see what the message is. It’s all about how much cheaper they are than an employee, how much the client will save, freebies here, discounts there… Is it any wonder they attract nothing but nitpickers and penny-pinchers? Their own message TELLs clients to think that way. That marketing message is a cattle-call for every cheapskate and freebie seeker out there, the worst kind of clients to deal with. Your value is not in saving clients a dime. Your value is in how much they gain from working with you, how your work and your unique, personal approach improves their business and life and helps them grow and succeed. Talk about THOSE things. (And if you can’t think of anything more valuable about working with you except that you are cheap, then you need to go back to the drawing board.)
  5. Raise your rates! Remember: you are not your ideal client. Price your services according to what your business needs to be profitable and the ability of your IDEAL client to pay, not what you can afford to pay yourself. You can’t afford to work with anyone who can’t afford you. Not charging enough attracts all the worst clients. It is an immutable law of business:  the higher you price, the better kind of clients you attract. This is because your pricing is also part of your marketing positioning. Cheap pricing you get cheap clients.
  6. Stop selling hours and instead price the overall solutions and results. When you use time as the measurement of performance (instead of results), you are training clients to focus on time and so they naturally end up nitpicking your hours. I’m going to point you to my Value-Based Pricing Guide because it is the only one in our industry that can truly teach you how to stop selling hours entirely and instead price and package your support based on value and expertise (the concept and adaptation of this methodology for our industry originated with me).
  7. Use your website as a tool for attracting and prequalifying ideal clients. Your website shouldn’t be just a pretty placemarker on the internet and it shouldn’t be parroting the same industry rhetoric that clients see on everyone else’s website. It should be working to support you in your standards, educating your prospects (to find more fit), setting expectations and understandings for a successful relationship, and prequalifying ideal clients (and avoiding unideal ones). When your site is set up properly for these purposes, you will attract more clients and better, more ideals ones at that. If this is an area you struggle with and your website just isn’t doing much for you, I recently released my proprietary web design blueprint and conversation system for building a website that actually works in our industry. It also includes a plug-n-play process for creating your own unique, compelling marketing message.

Now, all that is about how to avoid bad clients in the first place. But how about when you need to terminate a client? What do you say?

Well, if you use the ACA Retainer Agreement, there is language included that gives both you and the client the option to end the relationship with 20-30 days notice (you decide which).

If you decide that a client relationship is not working for you any longer for whatever reason and you want to end it, you simply exercise your option to terminate the relationship.

I have ended a few client relationships over the years and for me, I’ve found that being honest, to a degree, is the best approach.

What I mean by that is, maybe you absolutely can no longer stand or tolerate a client. Hey, it happens. You chose wrong, ignored red flags and then lived to regret your choice to take on a wrong client.  Does that mean it’s a good idea to tell them exactly how you feel about them? Of course not. It wouldn’t serve you or them.

You don’t have to elaborate or go in-depth. Keep it professional and be heart-felt where/if you can.

There are lots of reasons why a client is no longer a fit, all of which are perfectly legitimate and can be framed in the nicest, most professional way.

For example, maybe they are growing in different directions in their business or you are making changes in yours and you can no longer support or accommodate their needs.

You can even just simply say (particularly if it’s a bad situation), “I feel we are no longer a fit for each other and I think the time has come to end our relationship. I will continue to support you for the next X days according to the terms of our contract.”

And you honor your end of the agreement, do what you can or are willing to do to be helpful and just let them (and all the angst) go. Quickly and cleanly.

Let me know how all this sits with you and any thoughts or questions that come up. I’m happy to continue the conversation in the comments as this is a topic many people struggle with.  :)

Want Better Clients? Do These Two Things

Want Better Clients? Do These Two ThingsWant better clients? Raise your rates.

The worst clients, the ones who create the majority of the problems, are the loudest whiners and least appreciative, are the ones who pay the lowest rates.

When you raise your fees (or simply charge properly professional fees period, not cheap employee level wages), you will get a whole other (higher) caliber of clientele.

Want better clients? Stop calling yourself a virtual assistant.

Assistant is a term of employment. And people who think you are an assistant are the ones who expect the cheapest rates.

That’s because they do not see you as an independent professional in the expertise of administration. They see you as their little “virtual worker” and expect to pay you like one.

Continuing to call yourself a virtual assistant is like calling yourself a teapot. You have keep explaining that even though you call yourself one, you aren’t one.

How much sense does that make?

Why make your conversations and relationships more difficult than they need in the first place by calling yourself:

a) something that you aren’t (and as a business owner, you aren’t anyone’s assistant), and

b) that sets all the wrong perceptions, connotations and expectations that make it harder for you to get the respect you want and the professional level fees you need?

Here’s what else happens…

When you stop calling yourself an assistant, you also begin to stop thinking like one.

It’s the beginning of a huge mindset shift that occurs and you begin to start thinking more like a business owner, administrative expert and leader in your own business.

That shift in your own self-perception and identity is what also leads you down the path to better clients and higher earning.

What Would You Do: Your Client’s Clients Are Driving You Nuts

What Would You Do?

So here’s a sticky situation that makes for some interesting conversation. I want to hear what your standards and boundaries are around this one:

You have a client you enjoy working with, who is easy to work with, who happily pays your fees and fits into your ideal client category on most things. However, that client’s UNideal clients are driving you nuts. Your client is far less selective than you are about taking on clients (indeed, doesn’t seem to have any standards when it comes to choosing them) and often takes on really annoying, crazy, sucky, uncooperative ones. Problem is you’re the one who is dealing with them most/a lot of the time and it’s making you miserable. You wouldn’t deal with those kind of clients for any amount of money in your own practice, but they are still bringing negativity and dissatisfaction into your business (and zapping your time and energy) by proxy.

What would you do?

Is this client still ideal? Do clients need to share similar values and understandings around standards and boundaries in order for you to be compatible business-wise? Do you put limits on who/what you will deal with for this client as far as that client’s clients are concerned? What kind of conversation would you have with your client when you need this situation to change?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Refuse a Client without Getting Into Legal Trouble?

In this episode of What Would Danielle Say?, LH from the United States writes to ask:

Dear Danielle:

I am in the process of starting my Administrative Consulting business and am at the point where I need to develop policies and procedures. I was reading your post of Oct. 23, 2012 (You Do NOT Have to Take the Good with the Bad) about being able to choose which clients you want to work with and having the right to refuse any client you choose. How exactly do you go about refusing a prospective client diplomatically and without setting yourself up for legal troubles? Have you ever had an experience like this? —LH

I asked LH to elaborate a bit more on what legal troubles she was referring to:

I’m thinking, for instance, if I were to say to a prospect that I didn’t think we were a good match for a business relationship because of the type of business they are in. I have not run into this problem and I’m just thinking generally and hypothetically because I know how crazy people can get over the least little thing. I wouldn’t want to end up being sued for “discrimination” when it would be a simple matter of conscience. I hope that as I continue to narrow my target market (I’m still in the startup phase) that problem would be eliminated. But I like to consider all the random “what ifs” just to make sure my bases are covered. I guess you can say I have the “prepare for the worst but expect the best” attitude.  I would love to know your thoughts on the issue.

So here are my thoughts on this:

Basically, it’s a non-issue and you’re borrowing needless worry. Don’t do that. ;)

Let me put your mind at ease. You are not obligated, legally or otherwise, to take on any client who is not a fit for you. As you stated very well yourself, it’s a matter of conscience and ethics.

You can’t do your best work or have a mutually happy-making relationship with any client who foundationally is not a great match for you. It’s for their benefit as much as yours that you decline clients who are not ideal.

You already understand this. I think you maybe just needed some confirmation and validation. Amirite? :)

So how this would normally play out is that you present lots of in-depth, educational content on your website so that your ideal clients are drawn to you, recognize themselves in your descriptions and see that you are just the right person who knows how to help them with their administrative needs, goals and challenges.

In this way, your website content also becomes part of your front-line pre-qualification system because it organically helps weed out those prospects who are not a fit at the same time it is attracting your ideal prospects, getting them interested and moving them to the next step.

Next, you have a consultation and part of your consultation process might entail that potential clients complete a form or preliminary questionnaire so you can gather information before you meet and further determine (again, as part of the whole pre-qualifying process) if this is a prospect who fits your ideal client profile.

If they do, that’s when you proceed to meet in a consultation where you ask your questions and talk, see if there’s good chemistry and get the info you need to find out whether this is someone you can help and want to work with or not.

If after going through all those steps, it turns out you don’t want to take that person on as a client, that you’re not a fit for whatever reason, you simply inform them that after considering all the information, you aren’t going to be the best person to meet their needs.

I also like what you also said about it being a matter of conscience. It’s diplomatic and it’s the truth so include that. It let’s them know you’re looking out for their best interests and that it’s nothing personal.

Be sure to provide them with the links to the ACA Directory and the Client Guide so that they can continue in their search. And if you happen to know of a specific colleague who might be a better fit, refer them to that person as well.

Perhaps you’ve discovered they were confused entirely about what you are and do and need another kind of professional entirely so be sure to give them that advice to  aid them in their search. (And if that is the case, it means you need to go back to your website and improve the message because it is clearly not doing it’s job of thoroughly and properly educating visitors about what you do, who you do it for and how you help them.)

Now, ideally, your prequalifying processes weed those folks out and determine whether someone is a good client candidate long before you expend your valuable time in consultation. That is the purpose and goal of having a system of intentional prequalification. This will be particularly important later in your business when you are more established and have less time to spare in what I call “practice” consultations. You will want to reserve your time and energy only for the most ideal of prospects so always be honing and improving upon your prequalifying systems.

This is another one of the places that having a very specific target market is going to make a dramatic difference in your success. When you know specifically the profession and the profile of the kind of client you want to work with, you can create much more extensive, compelling copy to attract them to you and move them through the process of becoming a client. And when you know who you ideal AND non ideal client is, it will be easier for you to recognize the red flags that start waving when you are dealing with a non ideal potential client so that you can head things off before you waste any time in consultation.

I have a couple of products that will help you tremendously in these areas.

I’ve explained the basic outline of consulting for retained clients, but there’s obviously much more to the entire process and a certain methodology to things that makes them effective. You need to know how to talk with prospects, how to set up your prequalifying systems, how to lead the conversation and what questions to ask that will best facilitate moving your ideal prospects to becoming monthly-paying retainer clients.

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients (GDE-03)

You also mention needing to establish policies and processes and I have a product for setting up a lean, mean, streamlined biz mo-chine that both enables you to take better care of clients AND gives you more time, freedom and flexibility for your own life. This guide gives you policies and processes and shares some standards to adopt for streamlining and simplifying your administration and operations:

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients (GDE-41)