This article first appeared in Entrepreneur.com
Do you have a client that’s dragging you down?
Many freelancers and entrepreneurs take on every client that comes their way. After all, there are bills to pay!
Sometimes you do have to work with difficult clients. Maybe they’re overly demanding, nit picky, constantly asking for things at the last minute, or changing what they want.
Difficult clients are a fact of entrepreneurial life.
But there’s a difference between difficult and toxic.
A toxic client drags you (and your business) down. Yes, they’re a source of revenue, but they also bleed you dry of your much needed energy. Energy you could be putting into attracting amazing clients who help propel you forward.
Toxic clients are never worth it. Do yourself a favour and say goodbye. Here’s how:
How to recognize a toxic client
Everything starts with you. Start by taking an honest look at your own role in the relationship.
Is this a truly negative person, or is there something you need to change? Is there something you can do better? Are you bringing your very best self to this relationship?
Once you’ve taken this honest look and ruled yourself out as the source of the problem, consider these toxic behaviours:
- They consistently disrespect your schedule and expect you to be available whenever they demand it
- They keep adding to the terms of a project, but expect you to stay within the original budget and timeline
- They belittle or unfairly criticize your work (possibly in an attempt to get out of paying)
- They constantly dispute invoices or delay payments
- They are aggressive or abusive in their communications
- They use threats of bad reviews to coerce you into lowering their bill or going beyond the agreed project terms
- They are overly picky and nothing is ever “good enough” for them
- They disrespect your expertise and insist on telling how to do your job or how to do things “right”
If you are still uncertain, discuss the situation with a colleague, mentor or coach. An outside perspective often helps you see a situation more clearly. Try to keep names out of it though. You don’t want to add fuel to a fire!
How to end the relationship
Above all, keep it professional
You’re doing your best to build your dream business and someone has dragged you down. You will understandably have some powerful feelings about that!
Do your best to keep those feelings out of the actual break up. Keep everything professional and stick to the facts, nothing else.
Make a last ditch effort to save the relationship
There is always the possibility that your client is unaware of their behaviour. Unless they have been abusive, threatening or you otherwise see no possibility of continuing to work with them, make one final effort.
For example, if your client is constantly asking for more, remind them of the original project terms and show them a list of everything they’ve asked for beyond that. Tell them you’re willing to help with the extras, but give them a new estimate and timeline for the additional work. Perhaps they were simply unaware of the scope of all their add-ons!
No one likes getting fired. Even in a professional relationship, people take things personally. To soften the blow, avoid using the word “you” as often as possible.
For example, instead of saying “you violated the terms of the contract”, try “the terms of the contract were not respected”.
Close the door, but leave a window open
No one knows what the future holds. Your client may be in a difficult situation themselves, which could improve down the road. Maybe they’re short on funding or overworked.
If you think there could be any possibility of working together in the future, keep that possibility open with phrases like “perhaps down the road we may be able to work together again” or “if circumstances change, I would love the opportunity to collaborate again.”
Give them a referral
It isn’t working for you, but it may work out with someone else. Give them some alternative names or other companies they could work with, or resources like helpful blogs, whitepapers or online tools that could help them complete the work themselves.
This way, you aren’t leaving them high and dry.
End on a positive note
Think of at least one positive aspect of the relationship to end the break up with. Something like, “I appreciated the opportunity to work with you” or “I enjoyed learning about the work that you do”, leaves them with a good thought.
Put it in writing
You may want to do the actual breaking up in person or by phone, but do follow it up with an email so that, should you need it, there is a record of the event for both of you.
No one should have to tolerate toxic behaviour. As an entrepreneur, it can be hard to cut a client lose. But remember the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” If one client is taking the majority of your energy, you have less available for other clients, for attracting new clients and for taking care of yourself.
Here’s to you becoming the CEO of your life!