We've all done it...hung on to the client who makes unreasonable demands on our time and resources. We may hang on out of the fear of letting go of the revenue, or we may believe that the impossible client is going to change, so why not wait it out?
This is the client who often pays late or argues about the amount of the invoice. This client calls or emails more frequently than the rest and demands that you have an answer for him on the spot. She expects last minute changes and somehow has a direct line of communication to your stomach because it's always tied in knots when her number shows up on caller ID. This is the client who pays the least but expects as much, or more, than your top-paying clients. And just when you think you've had enough and it's time to do something about it, this client's radar goes off and he says something really nice and tells you how much he appreciates you!
As a solopreneur it feels really scary to even think about letting go of that $500 a month (or whatever this client represents to you financially). On the other hand, our reaction to this bullying client is often strong enough to result in self-doubt, physical discomfort, frustration, and diminished belief in our ability, service or product. So let's look at what this client will cost in the long run, as well as some possible solutions.
There really is no way to put a dollar amount on the physical and emotional pain resulting from your encounters with the bully-client. But it is important to pay attention to that. If you are upset or distracted after a conversation with Mr. or Ms. Bully, how does it effect your attention span, mood, and productivity? Do you shake it off, stuffing your feelings so that they can manifest themselves in an ulcer at some later date? Or do you address the problem and go for a run or take some calming meditation time? At the very least, we want to make sure that we are discharging our negative emotions in a positive way so that our body and mind stay healthy. But it's best to find a way to take care of the bully client situation once and for all.
If you spend, say 4 hours a week, conversing with this client, but a comparable account takes only an hour a week, that additional 3-hours represents a cost of service that is not showing up on the books. Don't diminish the value of your time. It may be time to have a conversation with the problem client and honestly reveal the problem at hand. Too often we start out trying to please a client, giving more than our charges merit, and it sets the bar for our service to this client. We must take responsibility for our part in this mess! Schedule a call or a meeting to "apologize" for the miscommunication and to discuss higher billing or lower demands on your time. Explain that what has become status quo is no longer possible and open the conversation up to redefining your services and the cost associated with them. You may be surprised at your client's reaction to your willingness to shoulder the responsibility and to the fact that you are treating your business like a business.
Once you have redefined the relationship, you may have to gently remind the client of the new rules from time to time. Change is change, and not everyone takes to it immediately. This person is also accustomed to pushing the envelope and will most likely test your limits. Be diplomatic about it, offering solutions resulting in billing for the extra time or setting one brief meeting a week to address his or her concerns instead of the frequent, time consuming phone calls and emails.
Of course, not everyone is going to understand or agree with your new rules. If that is the case, try tracking your time with this client. Write it down on paper and pay attention to what you're actually giving this client. At the end of the week or month calculate the time and resources and put a price on your services. Now subtract the actual invoice amount. What has this client cost you? Also look at the number of hours you've put in on this account. If you could have those hours back and you were to devote them to some form of marketing, how quickly could you replace the lost revenue if you were to "fire" this client? Even an additional 2 hours a week dedicated to marketing will most likely lead to at least one more client. If you don't believe that, then think about upselling some of your other clients. If you were to offer your existing clients an upgraded service or additional product, how would that impact the bottom line? How many hours do you need to implement a plan like this? Also a good way to utilize the extra time.
Do you have a bully client? Or have you resolved such a situation in the past? Tell us about it here on The Solopreneur's Million Dollar Mi
Last updated: Feb 16, 2010
MARLA TABAKA is a small-business adviser who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness. @MarlaTabaka