There will always be that one (or two) client that will make you feel like they came straight out of hell and you have no choice but to deal with them – it’s part of your professional life.
When you work freelance or run your own business, when a client gets angry or is being particularly difficult and upset and says bad things, it’s your work, your business – your own blood, sweat and tears – that he is insulting.
Whether you like it or not, it is inevitable that as a freelancer or small business owner you should be equipped to deal with the best and the worst of clients.
Difficult clients can hurt your business. They can burn you (or your employees) out, tell their friends bad things (that are often not true) about you and your business and it can get very frustrating. You will eventually encounter one and you can do any of these three things:
1. Smile, say sorry and agree with them to avoid confrontation.
This will be an easy one at first but you risk being treated the same way the next time.
2. Confront the client; tell them the truth (that they are being unreasonable, difficult or frustrating) and risk losing them.
This will potentially lead to a fight where you will ultimately lose even if you are right because customers can do things to hurt your business like talk bad publicity.
3. Bear it all out, finish your work in silence and never accept to work with them again.
This will be like the first but you will risk confusing your client in case he hires you again.
There really is no perfect choice.
Dealing with clients from hell is messy and while we often hear that customers are always right, from a business standpoint, when it’s your own work, integrity and business at stake, you normally wouldn’t see the situation in the same perspective.
How to Deal with Clients from Hell
1. Stay Calm and Do Not Answer Right Away
This is easier said than done especially when the confrontation gets too personal or insulting, as difficult clients usually are. But it will never do any good if you react out in anger too. Whatever you decide, do it with a clear and calm head. Don’t answer that e-mail, cut the phone call short, adjourn the meeting – walk away and clear your head so you can decide what to do next.
Stay calm. Don’t take their feedback personally.
2. Come up with a Solution
Once you have cleared your head, talk to your client and explain your solution. This is the time where you can educate the client on what is the best solution for both of you – why their requests might not be best and what your solution as the professional is. Remember, they worked with you because they don’t know how to go on about doing it by themselves. You are the expert. You can backup your solution with proof that it is the better route – show mockups or quote reputable sources that prove it so. Educate them in your solution.
There is bound to be more confrontation but try to respond with confidence and show them that you are reliable. Remember to make sure your responses are always solution-oriented and not defensive.
The best thing that could happen is that the client will understand, value your professional opinion and agree with what you think is best. The worst thing that could happen is that your client will remain stubborn and insist his way.
3. Do Your Best to Work with Changes
Ultimately, it always is the client’s decision (it’s his money). Sometimes you just have to work with the client’s ideas.
If the ultimate product displeases the client and complains about it, even though it is EXACTLY what and how he wanted it to be, then show him proof that this is what he wanted and you have tried to show a better solution.
Document every conversation, have revisions on the contract signed, minutes of the meeting annotated – you need backup to show that it is NOT your fault.
What if the client insists that it’s your fault that you should have insisted to do something else (shifting the blame on you) and demands a refund or revision?
4. Learn to Let Go
If you are completely against the client’s requests or changes, you have every right to back out.
Be honest when doing this. Tell them you don’t believe that you can’t be a part of a project that is against everything you are trying to stand for and believe in.
Recommend them to someone so they don’t feel that they are left hanging without any second option.
5. Have Self-Respect
This should be the first advice but can often be repeated all throughout the tips mentioned above.
Remember that it will only go as far as you allow it to go.
Respect yourself. If you believe that you have done a great job, but the client keeps being difficult, overbearing and a bully, then by all means, stand up for yourself. Remember you are alone and no else will defend you – no boss or company that can take your side. There is a difference between being calm and allowing yourself to be belittled.
Clients from hell are tough; some are worth it, some are not. The best thing about being a freelancer or a business owner is that you have the choice whether you want to stay with them or not. It’s all about choosing – choosing whether to keep or let them go; stand up or walk away. Learn to choose wisely.
Have you had your share of clients from hell? How did you deal with them? Share your stories in the comments.