Difficult clients don’t always have to be hard to work with. In many cases, the reason your client appears to be difficult to work with is that a lack of proper communication exists between the two of you. Proper use of effective collaboration tools can go a long way toward improving communication between you and your clients and, ultimately, can turn what would otherwise be a difficult contract into a valuable business relationship that can benefit both of you in the future.
The Difficult Client
Every single business owner has experienced the nightmare client in some way, shape, or form. Whether they are unimaginably needy, rule abrasively as a micromanager, or just feel plain crazy, we’ve all had business relationships that we wanted to walk (or sprint!) away from.
Sometimes firing a client truly is the right decision for you and your business.
More often than not, though, you may not have the option of firing them in your arsenal, so it’s important to explore alternative ways to cope with the situation. Even the most difficult client brings revenue to your business. You just need to explore a new perspective and apply a few tricks and tips to bring the project peacefully to closure.
Adopt A New Mindset
When you’re dealing with a difficult client, there is only one person you can truly control: You!
Similar to a lot of other areas of life, we often need to work on our own mindset to help us navigate difficult relationships and other perceived obstacles. Always start out by giving the benefit of the doubt…ALWAYS. The reality is that most freelancers are hired because their clients are either strapped for time and need an extra set of eyes (hands, brains, the works) or, even more frequently, because they are completely out of their depth and have no idea how to accomplish what they’ve asked you to do.
Remember to put yourself in your client’s shoes every once in a while, so that you remember why they asked for your help and take extra measures to patiently explain the process.
New client relationships are often like bringing on board a new pet. A puppy can be an absolute joy, but there is also a huge learning curve and some really rough times where you’ll wonder what you were thinking by bringing this new ball of chaos into the family. Acknowledging the limitations of the puppy (youth, inexperience, immaturity), you acknowledge your role as a teacher.
It takes time (and a toolbox full of collaboration tools) to develop a positive working relationship, especially when your client is not as familiar with your industry as you are. You have to patiently teach, knowing that your hard work now is paving the road for a powerful relationship later — just like the most rambunctious puppy can become the loyal family dog that you can’t live without.
Remember That It’s Not About Price Tag…Or Is It?
When you have a difficult client, one that is demanding an exorbitant amount of your available time, it may be time to consider renegotiating your compensation.
If a freelance writing piece is expanding beyond the normal budget for time and creative energy, and you find yourself spending additional hours communicating and developing your topic and goals, think about adding concierge hours or add communication time as one of your line item charges. When they see how the extra time and correspondence adds up, they may become less demanding of your time and attention or take extra measures to work efficiently and communicate effectively.
It’s important to value your time and energy properly. Always make sure you are being compensated for the time you are putting in. Otherwise, your profitable business may not be so profitable after all! Make sure to let them know of any updates or changes in your policies and billing, and have your contracts reviewed by a legal team to account for any verbiage that discusses what will happen in the event the project exceeds the original expectations.
If you consistently feel that you are investing more time into a project than it is worth, then it may be time to consider dissolving the partnership.
Give it your very best effort to communicate your expectations, make sure you are using good project management and collaboration tools, adjust pricing and workload to account for the extra burden, and take measures to protect your time.
If all else fails, acknowledge that this partnership is not the right fit and graciously move on.
Communicate Better With Collaboration Tools
A new professional relationship always has a few bumps and hiccups at the beginning. You need to learn the language and develop a comfortable routine in your communications to and fro. Remember, the client may have no idea how to communicate with you. Avoid using jargon or industry shortcuts that will confuse and devalue their role in your work together and always make sure to explain things in detail, be descriptive, and paint a picture with your communication.
Selecting good collaboration tools that are easy for your client to understand and navigate is also helpful.
Tighten up your communication style and be sure you are setting the stage for clear, direct dialogue. Make sure all emails stay on task and drive straight to the point, highlighting the relevant information and avoiding rabbit trails. Many people cannot switch gears between topics, which will lead to more and more emails back and forth and more frustration and disorganization on your end.
If you do find yourself feeling frustrated, take a step back, let the client know you’ll get back to them very soon and then do something else for a while to shake off the dust. You can circle back around later when you’re ready to give it another go.
Accept the reality that your clients are going to ask questions, you are going to answer them, and then they are probably going to ask them again.
If you find yourself constantly fielding the same set of questions, consider making a graphic or template that outlines the information they are most likely to need an extra minute or two to digest. Avoid responding with a frustrated “see previous email,” and remember it is your job to deliver excellent service at every turn, even if they are driving you batty! Customer service is a huge part of your professional experience. Commit to being the bigger person and always serve with patience and grace.
Here are some tips for better communication:
- Explain important matters in detail. Be repetitive and direct.
- Avoid covering several topics in one email. Stay on task and stay relevant!
- If the client is still confused, consider how you can improve your messaging before you go on the attack in frustration.
Understanding how your clients communicate is a key strategy in effective business. If at all possible, try to use collaboration tools that fit well with your client’s communication style.
If you notice that they are a serial “skimmer,” and they are constantly asking questions you have already answered, consider a bullet point approach or lean toward conference calls over email dialogue. Some clients do require a bit of training to get them to see the value in what they consider the “fine print.” Set the standard for your relationship with gentle, direct reminders that your communication will be very thorough and pivotal to your collective success, that you are available for any questions, and that it is your goal to make sure they have access to all of the information they need.
By taking active steps to communicate better with your clients, making sure you implement pricing standards that allow you to feel valued and fairly compensated for your work, and by approaching a difficult client with a more positive mindset, you may be able to salvage a relationship that could be worth a lot more to you in the long run. Try to focus on what helps establish the trust required to transition a needy client toward a more independent one. Pick up on the little things that show promise in the relationship and consider how you can adjust your attitude and approach to bring more of those positive attributes to the partnership.
Dealing with a difficult client who has to be in constant contact or who is a serious micromanager can be extremely frustrating. Approach the situation a little differently, talk to them about your frustrations, and remember that open conversation can solve a huge number of issues. You may be surprised to see how some partnerships can turn around, and you’ll find yourself grateful for the money and the opportunity to work together. It doesn’t always end well, but by doing your best and taking every effort to establish a fruitful relationship, if it does come time to walk away, you can do so with pride, knowing you did everything you could.
While you may already have a few favorite project management tools that work well for you, consider looking into alternative collaboration tools that will help to smooth communication between you and your clients. After all, they’re the ones that ultimately pay the bills, so it’s a good idea to have them on your side, even if you don’t always like them.