”How many 16 hour days is this project going to take?”
“My client has saboteurs working with me on this project,”
“This project started with an unrealistic deadline and has gotten crazier every day since.”
If you have said any of these phrases out loud to yourself recently – you are not alone. Professional service businesses, particularly creative service businesses can really get abused and lose profit margin to rework.
Unanticipated hours spent trying to please a client that is never satisfied can drain you and your business like a vampire. From the countless unnecessary revisions to the “I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want that” dance or too many people allowed to influence the look and feel of your project. Then there’s the real kicker– the client beat you up on the price in the first place. After more than a decade in business, I have seen that devil more than a few times and now I have strategies to cope.
When it seems like nothing that you do is right, forget about preserving the relationship – save your sanity instead. With a client who just won’t be satisfied no matter what you do, you need to operate defensively.
Smallbizlady’s Rules for Managing Difficult Clients
- Never start work without a signed agreement and at least a 50% deposit.
- Don’t accept less than your standard fee without a good reason.
- Reserve the right to adjust the budget if the scope of the project changes.
- Make sure the budget is significant enough to hire a project manager to help you.
- Have a kickoff to meet all the key stakeholders.
- Create a project timeline and then have the client sign off.
- Develop a detailed project plan with assigned tasks and deliverables.
- Praise stakeholders openly who are helpful.
- State clearly in your contract agreement, and every time you send over a draft how many business days the client will have to review the draft based on the project timeline.
- Insist on a single point of contact.
- 1 edit, 1 revision -That’s it! All additional charges are billable for time and materials hourly.
- Use a signed work order for revisions. Before additional revisions are made, make the client sign a work order to approve any additional charges.
- Over-communicate with status reports.
- Document all communication, just in case you need to prove ridiculous directives after the fact.
If you are a project-based company it may make sense to invest in a project management software/file share program such as GoPlan, Microsoft Sharepoint, or SharedPlan Central. These programs allow you to give restricted access to clients and your project team 24/7. It will also keep you from having 42 emails back and forth about the same project.
Always make time to fill your pipeline. Do not fall into the trap of spending all of your time on one extremely demanding clients to the point where you can’t devote yourself to any new opportunities. Say “no” or “that’s impossible” when necessary.
Take great care of customers, who love your work and acknowledge your dedication and professionalism. They are rare, but they are the backbone of your long-term business success.
You will not love all of your clients; not everyone is a good customer. The great thing about being in business for yourself is that you can move on from difficult clients after their nightmare project is over. Never be afraid to cut your losses and move on.