Disclaimer: This post involves a heavy dose of tough love as we re-examine your ideas on difficult clients. But we all need some strong medicine now and again, so I know you’ll forgive me.
I’m going to start off with a pretty radical statement: the reason your client is difficult is your fault. We can look at this in a positive light, however; if it’s your fault, you can fix it. Yes, I know not every situation is able to be salvaged (been there). But it’s worth exploring what we can do so that we can learn to work our way back from the brink and restore a productive and positive relationship with our clients.
The benefit of a program like Agency Mavericks is that everything we learn serves as “preventative medicine” to avoid these painful places. In WPE we build up our businesses with processes, boundaries, and procedures to prevent our working relationships from becoming difficult. So when we feel like we prepared and we still fall into a difficult client situation, we often ask ourselves, “did I do this to myself? What could I have done to avoid it?”
As much as we’d like to say we no longer work with difficult clients, often times just ending a working relationship knee deep into a project is an extreme measure. Running away from a difficult client doesn’t address the role you played in creating the mess. We should learn from our mistake, grow, and become a better business owner.
In this post, I’ve highlighted 5 scenarios that give birth to difficult clients, why these scenarios are your fault, and how you can fix them! I have personally experienced all these myself and explain how you come back from them fully intact so the client can remain a client.
1. You think “This client has no idea what they want” when in reality you rushed through the quote process and never took the time to understand their needs.
You’re halfway through the design (or even development!!) and all has gone sour. Neither you nor the client is happy with the direction of your working relationship and where the website is headed.
The client is now going in fifty difficult directions with what the website is suppose to be and your heart is racing with every email that comes in which seems to negate all the work you’ve done.
Solution: Pull the reigns and slow this puppy down. The client may not have been ready for the website. Sometimes clients use a website build as a way to figure out or work through a business startup or transition. If you didn’t take the time to discover this in the beginning, you have the option to tell the client to take some time to work on this and circle back, or steer them into a Discovery session since the needs are not clear. Barreling ahead and hoping for the best will only make this situation worse.
*Preventive Medicine: Understand the client’s needs to the point where you can comfortably repeat them back to your client. If you can’t, work with these “unclear” projects in a separate Discovery session so that your time to work through it is paid for and wrapped up as its own deliverable. This will help you AND the client decide if they need more time to work on their vision.
2. You think “The client just won’t go away” when in reality you under-quoted so you checked out early and want this project over with.
The quote seemed right at the time, but now eight weeks into the job you realize that you under-quoted and the build is eating into the profits.
Now client is unhappy with elements of the website and wants changes before launch. Your blood boils since you feel they can’t understand what they got you to agree to do this website for and that they are getting this site (and your time) for a steal.
Solution: Take a deep breath and finish the scope of work. This is what you and the client agreed to and you need to finish the project on time as if the quote was 2x what you quoted. The scope is the scope. If you are strapped, select an out-of-scope item to add on that will improve the site, maybe something they are asking for, but singling it out as an additional price. That extra cash may help give you the boost to round this site out and give it the extra attention it needs.
*Preventive Medicine: Get your pricing structure together. Start logging your time on projects so you are clear about the time it takes to complete and use those numbers as a baseline on your quotes adding in additional “value” adds so you feel confident. Bottom line – don’t just quote the number you think the client will accept.
3. You think “The client has unreasonable expectations” when in reality you overestimated what you could deliver.
So excited to get the job, you said yes to functionality that was more complex than you anticipated. “Surely a plugin can do that,” you thought.
Now the client won’t let go of wanting this specific functionality the way he envisioned and can’t understand why he isn’t getting it. Tensions are rising as he presses you on why you aren’t delivering.
Solution: Honesty. You were in over your head. You have to pony up and say that you felt this functionality would be within the limits of the scope but it is too advanced for what they are asking. Explain that you are a “general practitioner” and they are asking for a “heart surgeon.” Offer up the modified solution as in the “in scope solution” and succumb to presenting a compromise of “x” extra hours of development work for free, or complimentary SEO research – whatever you can give to win back their trust. If this function under-performing is a deal breaker for them, don’t be afraid to hold firm if you felt you delivered a modified version that works and are giving them something of value outside the scope as a means of appeasing them.
*Preventive Medicine: Get comfortable with your limitations and know when to say “no” to a job that is over your head. Use a Discovery session and prototype website to show a client a modified version of what you can offer so that this is agreed to early on and during a phase where you both can part ways.
4. You think “This client is micro-managing” when in reality you don’t have processes in place and take longer than it should to respond and deliver.
You have no content, the design notes have taken weeks and now you are swamped with other work and can’t address working on their website for another week or so. Client starts emailing about deadlines, launch dates, deliverables, and additional scope, demanding to see something in progress. You don’t reply because you don’t know what to say. “Was it his fault or my fault?”
Solution: First, get your process in place and map out a timeline for the project and deliverables. Then, reply by apologizing for not making your process clear from the beginning. In your email, Map out the timeline of the deliverables and show how they are affected by the response time of the client. It’s never too late to educate the client on the process. It is up to you to be prompt and honest with the client about your time. They don’t know you have other clients and projects and that waiting a week for notes may delay you two weeks.
*Preventive Medicine: Get your processes together! Have an onboard document to email clients once they sign your initial agreement laying out the process and what is expected of them. It’s up to you to manage the deadline and the project, not the client.
5. You think “This client won’t stop asking questions” when in reality you assumed they were capable to update the website themselves.
“WordPress is easy to understand and the learning curve is short,” or so you said when you sold it. After the tenth email in a week of “ I can’t find how to make a link” you are starting to regret even giving the client a login.
Solution: Reality check, some clients are not WordPress savvy out the gate. Find the way they learn. Surprisingly, video tutorials are not for everyone. Ask them if steps broken down into a Doc or PDF is easier than video, or if live training is their thing. Make sure your time is covered with a monthly care plan that compensates you for this training. Dig into how they learn and offer additional services to help lighten their load, like care plans and training sessions.
*Preventive Medicine: Gather up your Video User Manuals plugin and your off-boarding documents for post-launch. If you assess from the proposal process that the client is not tech savvy, budget in screen-share training sessions and insist on ongoing training after launch until they are comfortable with the platform.
I have experienced every one the five situations above. They were all learning experiences for me. Well, at least that’s what I tell myself to sleep better at night! I try to remember that “clients don’t know what they don’t know” and set the tone of the whole working relationship from day one.
So let’s avoid difficult clients as best we can, shall we? Aim to get clients on the same page with expectations and processes so that clients can describe you as:
- Gets the job done
- Good communicator
- Completes deadlines
And you describe them as “my dream client.”