How to Manage A Difficult Client

When I went out on my own as a Solopreneur marketing consultant, my debut project was with a client who was a terrible human being and as a result, the experience was a difficult one. I did the best that I could to satisfy client expectations that were completely unreasonable in the context of the limited time-table and budget allotted.

I quickly acknowledged the rookie client management mistakes I had made, chiefly, failing to confirm in writing the complete project specifications, time-table and budget. I also learned how to recognize prospects who might have the potential to become bad clients (not a fool-proof science, but it remains helpful to this day).

Furthermore, I now have the inner strength to fire a bad client, because they just aren’t worth the money. If you find yourself in an assignment and client neuroses suddenly emerge, you’ll need tactics that will help you exercise some measure of control over the situation and preserve your dignity and sanity and perhaps even the client relationship as well. Presented here are two examples of difficult client behavior.

The nit-picker

There are two types: one who is willing to pay for the time it takes to second-guess your work and those that want to abuse your time. The only good thing about a nit-picker is that s/he can make you more precise in your work.

Setting boundaries is the preferred defense, but be advised that a client has every right and in fact a responsibility to scrutinize your work, especially if this is your first project together. If your nit-picker client is OK with paying extra, then pretend to welcome his/her suggestions and involvement. Call it a lesson in meeting or exceeding client expectations and building trust. Maybe the exacting attitude is rooted in a previous bad experience? Reassure the client that getting the job done right is your goal, too.

If your nit-picker does not want to pay extra for the second-guessing, then apply boundaries. Allow at no extra charge two revisions of your work and make it clear that beyond that, there will be a surcharge for your services. Consider declining future projects offered by this individual. Going forward, write into the contract a surcharge for revisions that you would find excessive.

The meeting maven

Meetings are useful in that stakeholders can convene to discuss the progress of the project and make any desired refinements along the way, while verifying that milestones will be met. Progress meetings can be held periodically, but too many are a waste of time.

In the project specs meeting, it is useful to address the subject of progress meetings and suggest tying them to project milestones. Include meeting time in your project fee. It’s difficult to address the number of meetings after the fact if you encounter a meeting maven who thinks that you should not be paid extra, or who likes to stretch meetings out to much longer than necessary.

That client has you by the short hairs if numerous meetings are demanded, or pre-scheduled meetings drag on. You may need to decline future projects and chalk it up to a lesson learned. Going forward, anticipate the need to meet and discuss it beforehand. Some long meetings may be beneficial to you as well as the client, but make it known that you will be paid.

Thanks for reading,