How to deal with clients who won't listen

When you work in the creative industries, you're often hired by firms to provide consultancy support, helping to steer them in the right direction. But what if they're not listening to your advice? What if they're fighting you on every suggestion you make?

It's very common to come across clients who won't listen. They're a dangerous breed because they originally hired you to achieve an objective but because they're not allowing you to do your job, you can't help them. This not only impacts your job satisfaction – it could also damage your reputation, because you just know, at some point, the client will turn around and blame you for failing... and then moan about you to anyone who'll listen.

So how do you help those clients who don't listen? The following top tips will set you on the right track...

Get it in writing

When you first put together a proposal for a new client, outlining how you're going to help, make it extremely clear that certain things need to happen if you're going to achieve their objectives. It might be that you need significant budget to develop a website that will do its job. It might be that you work in PR and need additional budget for competitions or advertising. Whatever you need, write it down so you can always refer back to your proposal in future.

Create a status report

To keep track of progress, create a 'status report' – outlining all the jobs on your list and where you're up to with each one. Send an updated copy of this report to your client at the start of every week, listing all the things you need to proceed. By keeping a record of ongoing work you'll not only be able to demonstrate that you're adding value – but that their input is needed to get the job done.

Have regular meetings

Nothing beats face-to-face communication to keep clients on track, so organise regular meetings to ensure you're achieving their goals. If there are any issues, obstacles or hold ups, you can raise them during these meetings and tackle accordingly. Don't be afraid to be bold and point out any reasons why you're not able to do your job.

Refer back to your original proposal, if necessary, and remind the client that you need certain things to happen in order to meet your targets. Keep reminding clients that they need to follow your advice if they're going to be a success.

Listen and consult

Sometimes the customer just wants support and reassurance, so always be humble and listen to what they are saying if they're fighting you on a certain point. Remember, you're a consultant and you're there to guide them in the right direction, even if you disagree with what they're saying. But when clients fight you, always explain why you disagree.

For example, if you're a web developer and you've requested a £5,000 budget to spend on hiring a web designer and they ignore you by hiring someone they already know for £1,000 (who happens to be god awful at web design) then you can gently suggest that quality web design is hugely important and that you don't think their contact is right.

They still might not listen, but at least you can refer back to that conversation (preferably written down in email) at a later date when the client comes back to you and wonders why their website isn't attracting customers. Always cover your tracks and never allow a client to turn blame around on you.

And if they still won't listen?

Let's face it! Some clients always know best. They fight you at every decision. They don't listen to your advice. They try to do everything 'on the cheap'. As a result, you can't achieve their goals. Even worse, the only person they blame in the end is you.

In which case, it's sometimes best to walk away before you give them the chance to point the finger, or worse – damage your reputation. If you've tried everything you can to help and it's just not working, inform your client that you can no longer work for them… but ensure you do this diplomatically.

Explain that you feel they're not ready for your services, that you want to save them money and that you care. Say how you'll always be there to help, then walk away. Don't leave them in the lurch – do an official 'handover' and keep things professional. Nine times out of 10 they will come back – often with their tail between their legs, at which point you might be 'too busy' to help...