When I spoke earlier this month at Digital Summit Atlanta, I was lucky enough to see the amazing keynote from Seth Godin, a marketing legend and the author of more than countless best-selling marketing books on including "Purple Cow," "Linchpin," and "Tribes."
In his keynote address, he gave some unconventional advice to an audience member who asked what to do when clients don't let you do your best work for them. I'm paraphrasing but Godin essentially recommended she break up with her clients, find better clients, and then do better work for those clients.
As an entrepreneur, it's incredibly hard to say no to money, or to otherwise turn away business or clients. You never know when your next opportunity will come, so the inclination is to take whatever you can get, even if the client isn't a particularly good fit or they're proving difficult to work with. But Godin's advice serves as a useful reminder that the best work can only be done for clients who are willing and ready to work WITH you and pull their half of the weight in a relationship.
Here are some signs that it may be time to break up with a client.
They Have Unreasonable Expectations
An important part of client work, of any kind, is discussing and managing expectations. Before the work begins, it's vital to make sure that everyone is on the same page, not only about what the overarching goals are, but about who will be handling which parts of the process and about what can reasonably be accomplished with the available budget and the desired timeframe.
It's natural for clients to push those boundaries; we all want the best bang for our buck, and we want to see results as soon as possible. But if you're working with a client who doesn't seem to understand the limitations of a budget or a timeline, you're setting yourself up for a lot of heartache, even if you do the best you can, given the circumstances.
They Don't Trust Your Recommendations
With any new client relationship, it takes time to get to know one another, to align your work styles and build trust. But if you're finding that that trust isn't coming after a good amount of time, you may need to cut your losses.
Clients who consistently ignore recommendations, routinely refuse to take action on proposals, frequently disregard cautions you provide, or often overrule your best practices will be unlikely to benefit from your experience or expertise. This is a drain on your time, as it requires you to spend extra effort to convince them of the best course of action, something they hired you to provide. Look for clients who see and acknowledge the value you can bring to the table, and who are ready to make the changes necessary to see your recommendations through to successful implementation.
They Don't Respect Your Time
Client work requires a mutual commitment to pursue your goals, and mutual respect as well. If you're finding that your time is not being respected, and the commitment doesn't seem to be a two-way street, you may be better served finding new clients.
If meetings and calls are routinely being canceled at the last moment, attendance is not consistent, or the client is not following through on their part of a deal--not reviewing documents, not returning calls or emails, failing to provide requested information in a timely fashion, etc.--then they're not getting the most out of the engagement, and neither are you. With a relationship like this, you're unlikely to accomplish the work you set out to do, and that time would be better served with other clients, where you'll be able to accomplish your goals in a shorter timeline and secure payment for a job well-done.
And speaking of payment...
They're Not Timely With Payments
Working as an entrepreneur or freelancer is hard enough without having to chase down payments regularly. If you're working with a client who routinely misses payment delivery deadlines by an unreasonable amount, delays payments without explanation, or outright withholds payments for invalid reasons, then it may be time to have a tough conversation about your future relationship.
If you're not being paid for your work in a timely fashion, that the work is likely not worth your time. Not only is it a sign of disrespect to miss agreed-upon deadlines --they certainly wouldn't want you to withhold the work that you're doing beyond the deliverable dates--but it adds unnecessary stress to your plate, increases the chances that something will slip through the cracks, and forces you to spend additional unpaid hours on follow-up emails, calls and more to ensure that payments are truly being processed.