Archive for the ‘Bad Clients’ Category

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do?

Dear Danielle:

I’m sitting here waiting for a local client to show up in my office to pick up their “rush” job that they wanted me to drop everything for yesterday. I worked on this project for them until well past midnight. They said they would be here to collect my work at a certain time. I’ve been waiting now for over three hours with no sign of them, much less a phone call. I’m fuming! And this isn’t the first time this has happened. How should I handle this? –NT

What I don’t understand is why people in our industry seem to think “local” has to mean “in-person.”

Why treat local clients differently than you would clients in any other part of the world?

It shouldn’t matter where the clients operate or how you initially met them.

None of your business and transactions require you to have an office or do anything in-person. All of your business, local and otherwise, can be conducted “online” (i.e., via email, shared file drive, Skype, delivery, etc.).

I would even tell you it should all be done that way if you want to manage the business efficiently and have more time available for billable work and clients.

Think, really think, about just how much of your business resources are used up doing anything in-person for one client: the scheduling time, the travel to and from, time preparing, time spent getting professionally presentable, the time it takes away from your other clients and paying work, the loss of concentration and interruption of workflow…

In-person work and meetings cost vastly more in any business, even more so ours, because they take up much more time and energy. You can work with 10 x the number of clients — and make more money — in one hour of online time vs. one-hour of in-person time with one client.

If you’re going to do anything in-person with clients, you can charge a MUCH higher premium because it is a special service and consideration outside your normal operating procedures.

Doesn’t matter if a client is local. I don’t allow them to come to my home/office to drop off or pick up documents.

That’s what couriers, delivery services, the mail, and online shared document drives are for.

And I set those expectations upfront before I ever work with them.

I accomplish this by having a client intake/onboarding process.

This involves giving them a New Client Welcome Kit that explains things work in my business and what the policies and procedures are for working together, and then going over these things with them in a new client orientation meeting (which is done over the phone or Skype).

I certainly wouldn’t allow a client to continue to disrespect and abuse my time. Remember, we train people how to treat us. Trust me, you and your business will benefit greatly by nipping this practice in the bud.

So here’s what I would do:

  • Be direct and let this client know that you have an expectation that your time is respected in the same way you respect theirs.
  • Discontinue this ill-conceived idea of doing in-person work and transactions.
  • Draft a letter to your local clients and let them know that you’re implementing new policies and procedures in your business that ultimately allow you to serve them better. Point out that you are discontinuing the policy of office pickups and drop-offs, and that anything that can’t be sent back and forth electronically or via online shared directory in some way, may be couriered (or mailed, or whatever) to and from your office.
  • Adopt a special rush fee policy and get that into your contracts (this is already included in our contract templates from the ACA Success Store).
  • Send an official communication out to all your clients that rush projects may incur extra fees at your discretion.
  • Alternatively, you can also make it a standard in your business not to accept any rush work and require clients to plan ahead within your specified guidelines. (That doesn’t mean you can’t still help out a great client in a pinch if you so choose, but you want it to the exception, not the rule.)
  • Reevaluate your clients and consider firing the bad ones who can’t get with the program and consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation and respect for you. Just because you have a policy to penalize bad clients doesn’t mean you should keep working with them. They are demoralizing and de-energizing to your business and exact a heavy toll that none of us in solo practice can afford. 😉
  • Start an Ideal Client list and an Un-Ideal Client list. Write down all the traits and characteristics of an ideal client for you (e.g., has no problem working together virtually, respects my time, follows my policies and procedures). Then write down all the traits and characteristics of all the bad clients you’ve had (e.g., disrespects my time, doesn’t show up or follow through when they say they will, is constantly disorganized and in a rush, always wants me to do rush work, but then doesn’t appreciate it when I do, wants everything yesterday…). You get the idea. Keep updating and honing these lists throughout the life of your business. Pull them out anytime you need to remember why you are in business for yourself and what you want for your life and happiness, and any time you are tempted to step over your standards and take on a client who exhibits any of those red flags.

Rant: I Have Never Seen Bigger Crybabies

Rant: I've Never Seen Bigger Crybabies

Rant warning here. This has been brewing for a couple months now, and I just have to get it out of my system, lol.

There is this crybaby series of articles that Freelancers Union puts out that have been driving me a bit nuts.

Every ezine issue, they feature some sob story from a freelancer about how a mean, evil client stiffed them hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Omg, I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of professional victims.

And now they’ve got this ridiculous “Freelancing Isn’t Free” campaign to get some new laws on the books to protect freelancers from deadbeat clients, as if they themselves play no role in why they aren’t getting paid.

The one thing, the ONE SINGLE PROBLEM at the root of all of this is that these people can’t seem to grasp or get it through their thick skulls that as freelancers they are in business for themselves.

And business owners decide how things work in their relationships with clients. Business owners choose who they work with and who they don’t. Business owners determine what they are paid, when they are paid and how they are paid.

Business owners can either run their business like a business, or they can be morons. The choice is theirs.

What contributes to this mindset of idiocy and victimhood is the word “freelancer.” That word needs to be abolished.

In society at large, people don’t understand that freelancer is merely another word for business owner.

It doesn’t matter if you have a day job and do a little work on the side. When you are doing that side work, you are being in business for yourself and wearing the hat of business owner. There is no in-between classification. It’s either/or. One or the other. That’s it.

So when you’re working your day job, you’re wearing your employee hat and all the rules, laws and taxes that apply to employment are in play.

And when you work for yourself and hire yourself out to people, you are wearing the hat of business owner. Doesn’t matter if it’s part-time, full-time or just a little here and there; doesn’t matter if you use the term freelancer, independent contractor, self-employed or whatever—these are all terms for the same thing: BUSINESS OPERATOR.

The sooner you get that through your head, the better off you will be because THEN you can start running your business like a business the way you should be.

Let Me Demonstrate

There are some common themes running through all of these stories. Here’s an example from the most recent victim article. This “freelancer” says:

“In 2015, I agreed to do some editorial work for a client. The agreement was verbal and, because I trusted her to some extent, we did not have a contract. Shortly after I completed the agreed-upon work, she slightly altered the work I produced, claimed everything as her own intellectual property, and failed to pay the $500 she owes me.”

Her first mistake was not formalizing the agreement in writing with a proper business contract. Whose mistake is that? It’s not the client’s job to do that, it’s hers. And she made the choice not to use one.

While a verbal agreement is still a legally binding agreement, it does make it more difficult should you have to take things to court. So, when you are a freelancer, you are in business, and that means conducting business properly and using proper legal business contracts — upfront, every time, with every client, no ifs ands or buts.

The other problem here is that this freelancer’s client seems to assume that their business arrangement was a work-for-hire one.

This is another reason you always, always use a proper business contract. It’s why I always rail against work-for-hire agreements as well, which is different from a business contract.

When you blindly and ignorantly enter into a work-for-hire agreement you can be giving away all your intellectual property, which you may or may not have bargained for.

The work you do and the ownership of a creative work are two separate legal values. This is why they are stipulated and charged for separately. And ownership of a work cannot be given away without express legal written permission.

If you don’t know what you are doing, are using the wrong kind of contract, or haven’t had an attorney draft or approve your business contacts, you could be signing away all rights to the creative works and proprietary intellectual property that you created!

Because of these critical distinctions in the law, it’s imperative as a business owner for you to get yourself some basic intellectual property education.

For example, let’s say as a business, I have a client with a particular need. I end up developing a tool for that need that ends up being useful for any number of my current and future clients. I realize that I could license use of this tool to others and add a lucrative additional revenue stream for myself, and decide to put it out to market.

However, if I entered into a work-for-hire agreement with a client, that tool could actually be owned by them automatically. Meaning, they could be free to sell it or do anything they want with it, including telling you that you may not sell it or use it with anyone else, and that it belongs to them because you were in a work-for-hire agreement and anything you create in the course of working with them belongs to them.

How would that sit with you?

As a business, I am damn sure not going to hand over ownership of my creative works, inventions and intellectual property or proprietary processes lock, stock and barrel. That would mean I couldn’t continue to profit from them, use them with others, or in any other way adapt them for other uses.

Even if I was a mind to do that, I wouldn’t be giving away that ownership for free. Oh, hell no!

But there would be nothing you could do because you were the fool who entered into a work-for-hire agreement instead of a proper business contract and didn’t set the terms properly.

This is why it’s so important to NEVER blindly enter into any blanket work-for-hire agreement, or ANY kind of work-for-hire agreement in my opinion, and to use proper business-to-business legal contracts that contain the proper languaging and terms when it comes defining the relationship and who owns intellectual property.

Here’s another excerpt:

“Although $500 may not sound like much, I’ve put together many small deals for less than a thousand dollars. If all my clients were to behave this way, my life would be a constant nightmare of living in fear of being shortchanged. Though it may seem disadvantageous to go through the stress of chasing down a couple hundred dollars, that couple hundred dollars could cover my electricity bill, or even groceries for a couple weeks.”

Wahwahwah. Then don’t do things that way. You act like you were prevented from doing things any other way.

Wrong. You made a choice.

On top of running your business like a business and using proper business contracts, upfront, every time, as a business you also have the CHOICE about who you work with.

Vet your clients properly. Put them through a consultation process so you have at least some idea of who you are doing business with and what they may or may not be like. You get to screen and prequalify clients as a business owner.

A proper consultation can help alert you to red flags that indicate someone may not be worth working with.

Stop rushing or bypassing these vital and important business protocols which also, by the way, help clients understand the CORRECT nature of the relationship and give it proper professional respect. These steps play a big role in setting the stage to make sure you get paid, in full and on time, every time. HUGE!

Likewise, who says you have to wait until work is done to be paid? You can charge the full fee upfront if that’s what you want to do. It’s a perfectly usual, legal, established standard business practice and option.

You can also split a project into phases with the payment for each phase due upfront before beginning work on any next phase. Or, you can charge a deposit or a percentage upfront.

Mitigate your losses if you are taking a chance on a client you don’t know and have never worked with before by getting some kind of payment upfront. Likewise, they’re going to take the business more seriously when they have skin in the game.

There Don’t Need to Be Any New Laws

There are already laws on the books to protect you in these matters and you’ve always had the choice to avail yourself of those recourses.

The problem is being a business moron and not conducting business according to how business is conducted.

It’s that YOU don’t understand that as a freelancer you are a business, and that YOU define these things in your contract that you should have been requiring clients to sign upfront.

You’re not a temp, you’re not a “contract worker.” (Tip: A contract worker is an employee, not an independent self-employed business owner.)

Stop letting clients tell you how things work in your business.

And stop accepting “positions” with companies that should be paying you like an employee but instead are stealing from you by illegally classifying you as an independent contractor. (Hint: Business owners don’t work in positions; that’s an EMPLOYEE.)

If that’s what they are doing, turn their asses in to the IRS and your state Department of Revenue and Employment Security Department.

Because if you really are an employee (which is determined according to the federal laws that define these two distinctions and which employers don’t get to just decide arbitrarily), then they are stealing from you your rightful wages and employer-paid share of taxes and benefits.

By not understanding these distinctions, by not educating yourself, by willfully disregarding these things, YOU are equally guilty of perpetuating the problem of deadbeat clients.

Stop being a bunch of wishy-washy, crybaby pushovers who whine about being victimized all the time. You have the power and the choice to do things differently!

Sure deadbeat clients are shitty people; there’s a special place in hell for them. But guess what? You allowed them to treat you that way by all the choices you made.

No one can take advantage of you without your permission. Stop acting like a victim and like you had nothing to do with it, and start running your business like a business.

Take responsibility for the choices YOU made to not run your business like a business, rushing processes, not conducting proper consultations and due diligence, choosing crappy clients, not using contracts, and not getting at least some money upfront. It’s really simple.

Until you take responsibility for that, nothing in your business and life will change.

And listen, I don’t mean to be picking on anyone personally.

It’s one thing to be new in business and learning the ropes and making newbie mistakes. There’s a learning curve. We’ve ALL been there.

Beyond that, though, there is just too much information out there any direction you look to remain ignorant long. These aren’t people who are new making these dumb choices; these are people who knew better and what they should have done and chose not to do it.

I’m equally annoyed with organizations like Freelancers Union that don’t do their job as a professional organization which should be to properly educate their members and the marketplace, so the stupidity continues.

Because 99% of these problems wouldn’t exist if these people understood how business works, how it is properly conducted between two businesses, and that as freelancers they are business owners (not “contract workers” or employees).

I’m sick to death of all these whiny articles collectively because they don’t empower anyone, they just keep them acting like victims who blame others for their problems and many of whom are going to keep doing the same bone-headed things over and over.

Want More Dissections?

Here’s another example:

“Because I knew and trust my contact in NYC, I went ahead and started work without a contract, though I did send my salary requirements and scope of work via email for their records. I was told the contract was in the works.”

Same ol’ song and dance. You don’t do business without a contract and you don’t start work until that contract is signed and everything is agreed upon.

The other problem here is this freelancer uses the phrase “salary requirements.” Um, business owners – which again, is what freelancers are — are not paid a salary. EMPLOYEES are paid a salary. Someone who is in business for themselves charges a fee or rate and tells the client what, how and when they are required to pay, not the other way around.

And another:

“I proceeded to organize vendors, source supplies, find caterers, etc. There was some drama around whether to have the launch party in the office or at a venue nearby. They changed their minds about 6 or 7 times. The indecisiveness was alarming, but I rolled with it and did my work. The entire time I kept asking for the contract.”

You should haven’t kept asking. You should have stopped working and told them that the contract was required before any work was to begin or continue. Period.

This also hints that there was either no consultation conducted or it was a sloppy, not very thorough one. Otherwise, you could have established all the specifications about how the work and decisions were going to be made, who the ONE contact person was that you would be dealing with, etc., and avoided all their internal drama. There is no reason you needed to be part of that.


“Finally, the week of September 21, the majority of the folks from Europe came to town. I had a few meetings and eventually received the contract. The rate was correct, but the terms and conditions were way out of line. I wasn’t about to agree to a six-month non-compete and 90-day payment terms. It just didn’t make sense for the scope of my work! So I redlined the contract and sent it back.”

So let me get this straight, you let them write your contract for you? Ridiculous!

You’re the business owner; your contract is YOUR job. You don’t abdicate that responsibility to clients. Your business requires YOU to set the terms. Clients have only to agree and sign or suggest changes. Or you don’t do business together, simple as that.

Instead, you let the client treat you as if they were your employer and it was their role to call the shots here. WRONG. And stupid. NOTHING should have moved forward until the terms were finalized and YOUR contract signed by the client.


“At this point, I was told that I was only hired for the month of September and not October. They hired an office manager and I was to give her a download on everything I had set up, which I did without complaint. I was now a week out of the job and still hadn’t received payment. When I followed up, I was told there was an issue with my invoice and that the company wanted a work log. I had never been asked to submit my hourly tasks and my rate was a day rate. Furthermore, I had clearly stated overtime fee after an 8-hour day.”

This person clearly doesn’t understand that she is not an employee. She uses employment terminology, lets the client operate as if they were her employer and isn’t understanding how she herself is allowing the lines of employment and business to be blurred.

You aren’t “hired” by clients, you are “engaged” by them. And you don’t get “overtime” as a business owner. Overtime is something employees are entitled to, not business owners.

Instead, business owners stipulate IN THE TERMS OF THEIR BUSINESS CONTRACT BETWEEN THEMSELVES AND THE CLIENT when late, rush or after-hours fees and charges will be incurred.

If you don’t want to be in business for yourself, and you are working with a client as if you are an employee, then you ARE an employee, and they legally need to be putting you on payroll and adhering to employment laws.

On the other hand, if you do want to be in business (which you are, automatically, if you work for yourself at any time), then you have to run your business like a business. There just isn’t any way around this.

But here again, this is yet another freelancer who doesn’t understand that they are a business owner and is letting a client operate with the mentality that they are some kind of employer and dictating things to her, which they have absolutely no legal right to do. She abdicated her own business responsibilities and now that she’s having problems with them is her own damn fault.

I know YOU are going to be smarter in your business, right?

PS: If you want to save yourself these problems and learn how to conduct business properly, be sure to also read my article How to Avoid Getting Stiffed on Payment

Too Bad, So Sad

Too Bad, So Sad

Seen around the Internet:

Hi All! I would appreciate your input and opinions on my current scenario.
I have a potential new client starting next week who is guaranteeing me 20 hours of work per week. Because he is guaranteeing 80 hours per month, I’ve reluctantly accepted a rate that is less than my typical hourly rate.
I operate on a monthly prepaid retainer that’s worked into my contract, as most of us do. The client is not willing to prepay and would rather pay “immediately via Paypal at the end of each week for hours worked”.
I’m having a hard time accepting this. How would you respond? Would it be fair to respond by asking for prepayment for each the week? (rather than at the end of the week)
I don’t want to lose the opportunity but I do need to hold strong on my policies. I should mention that this client was referred to me by someone I trust and who also works with him.

Fuck that guy. 😉


All snarkiness aside, you’ve answered your own question: “I do need to hold strong on my policies.”

So what’s the problem? Why are you trying to talk yourself into stepping over your own standards?

This is a bad client waiting to happen.

And by acquiescing when you’ve already made your policy clear, you are teaching this client that you will simply roll-over at the first hint of objection. Hell, you already let him put you on the sale rack in the bargain basement. Not a good precedent to set in the relationship whatsoever.

Stop letting clients tell you what to do in your own business.

You simply tell him pleasantly and matter-of-factly, without any angst, anger or apology, “This is how I work with clients… This is how things work in my business… This is who I’m looking to work with, who is a fit for my practice… This is who I do my best work for and who gets the most out of working with me… If that works for you, great. If not, I’m afraid we won’t be able to work together and I wish you well.”

(HINT: And who is it you work best with? People who don’t try to bargain down your fees and who pay upfront according to your billing policies without trying to haggle and dicker and argue with you over them.)


If you want a business that makes you happy and doesn’t cause you a bunch of problems and headaches, stop letting wrong-fitting clients talk you into things you don’t want to do.

Stop talking yourself into doing them and being a self-sabotager.

Even if you decide (or rather, talk yourself into being okay with) getting paid upfront each week instead of each month, and assuming this prospective client agrees to that, you’d be making an exception in your business that is only going to make more work for yourself by complicating your business and billing—for this one client with whom you’ve never worked before and who hasn’t earned any reason for you to be bending over backward to twist your policies and administration into pretzels for him.

There are PLENTY of clients in the world… ones who will happily and easily work with the standards and policies you’ve set for your business.

Focus on that fact and those clients.

Because if you keep yourself stuck in poverty/scarcity mindset, all you’ll ever have are un-ideal, pain-in-the-ass clients, and you will forever be held hostage by them in your business (and your life).

I want you to sit down right now and start a list of all the traits and characteristics that make up an ideal client for you. Every time you work with a great client, update this list. Do this throughout the life of your business.

HINT: Working easily with the standards and policies you’ve set in your business should be item #1. Being ready, able and willing to make the commitment to working together in whatever way you’ve decided works best for you (e.g., upfront monthly retainer) should be item #2.

Then, start a list of all the characteristics of an UN-ideal client for you. These are all the red flags that tell you when you are dealing with someone who is going to be a PIA. And write down WHY those traits and characteristics make for an un-ideal client. Every time you work with a less than ideal, unhappy-making, pain-in-the-ass client, update this list. Do this throughout the life of your business. This exercise makes you more conscious of all the red flag signals your intuition starts waving at you when you find yourself dealing with someone who is not going to be great to work with.

Then, next time you are tempted to step over your standards and be your own worst enemy, pull these lists out to remind yourself why it’s not a good idea and why it’s always better to hold out for what you want in your life and not settle for anything that is less than ideal.

Of course, the other way to really learn this lesson is to take on every client who comes your way without barrier, without discernment, without any thought or prequalification for whether or not they are ideal or un-ideal for you. Let each of them individually dictate how you run your business and what your standards and policies will be.

You’ll find out real quick why it’s not a good idea to step over your standards and ignore what your gut is telling you.

See also: Dear Danielle: I’ve Lost All Boundaries; Is this Relationship Salvageable?

(You also would get some serious benefit from my pricing and packaging guide, which also teaches you how to present support plans and talk about fees and navigate that whole conversation around getting paid.)

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishing clients with the threat of charging them more money to get them to stop doing something you don’t want is a terrible business practice and a rotten dynamic to create in your relationship.

Paying you should feel good. It should feel like a reward for getting something great that they gain from, that improves their life and business.

Instead, you are training them to view paying you as a negative experience, a punishment.

I get that sometimes we take on bad clients. Sometimes when we are new, we sometimes expect clients to just “know” how our business runs and how they are to interact with us. And yes, you do need to put certain terms in your contract (such as late fees and interest rates and in what situations they will be applied) in order to have legally enforceable contracts.

But here’s a better idea:  choose better clients. 😉

Don’t take on just any client, and never take on clients just for the money. That never ends well.

Get clear about who an ideal client is in your business and who is not. Write those things down.

List what red flags to watch out and listen for that tell you someone is likely to be a pain in the ass who doesn’t respect you or your business. And then don’t work with those people.

Pay attention to your gut when it tells you someone isn’t going to be a fit. Don’t ignore it and step over your standards.

Stop being desperate. Be more discerning about who you allow on your client roster.

Do more prequalifying.

Conduct more thorough consultations (get my guide that shows you EXACTLY how to do that).

Get clearer about what your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures are in your business. 

Then do a better job of communicating those things to clients by writing them down in a Client Guide, giving it to every new client, and then going over that information with them (in the case of retainer clients) in a New Client Orientation before you begin working together.

Fire any client who can’t get with the program and continues to ignore your policies and processes and/or disrespect you.

Bad clients are unprofitable. Working with bad clients is never worth the trouble. It’s also unethical to work with bad clients because you can’t do your best work for any client you don’t have good feelings for and are drained by.

They eat up far more space in your business than you realize with the negative energy and problems they create. The psychological toll that takes costs more than any money you might be able to recoup. 

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 More Ideal, Well-Paying Clients


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, un-ideal 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 help your business grow and thrive:

  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 instantly 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, and a process helps screen those folks out. Better clients know and expect that there will a process and that it’s essential to getting the best help and making sure there’s a mutual fit.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is where 90% of the problems start in the first place.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work only with 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 un-ideal because you haven’t properly managed their expectations. When you don’t thoroughly inform them about how things work in your business, they somehow think it’s their place to make up their own rules (wrong!). Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, or establish policies that we can’t humanly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients 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 burning you out in the process because you have no room to breathe or have a life? Set your policies accordingly.
  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 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 9 am and 5 pm 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’re often our own worst enemy. We go to the trouble of identifying our standards and boundaries, and then step over them or allow clients to. Stop that! These things are 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. Anytime you are tempted to step over your standards, pull this list out to remind yourself why that’s never a good idea.
  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 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 un-ideal 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 want to pay peanuts and 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 (attorneys, accountants and consultants are good examples). Just like you, these are people who have a specific expertise and solve specific problems. In our case, you want to position yourself as an administrative expert who can get results and help them accomplish their goals, not some order-taking worker bee. Why? Because people don’t see worker bees as experts. They see them as pawns. And experts aren’t pawns, they’re partners. The marketplace doesn’t expect to pay much for a pawn, but they DO expect to pay well for an expert who has valuable skill, expertise, insight and support to share with them. So reframe your marketing message to position yourself as their administrative expert (not their gopher), and you’ll get better, more well-paying 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 you and respect the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, un-ideal 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 un-ideal 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. Un-ideal 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; you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and un-ideal 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. And what is the essence of marketing? Words: the words you choose and the way you use them. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and getting the right clients to see and understand you and the relationship the way you need them to. The words you choose to call yourself have a direct influence in that. 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 that message. When you do, you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Jump Off a Cliff


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.


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.