How to deal with high maintenance clients without damaging the relationship

Image courtesy of Kaboom

There's always one – a clingy client that demands more attention than anyone else or continually chases.

The minute you put down the phone, it feels like they're calling you back to see how you're progressing. And then the same client calls just after 6pm on Friday evenings and think that's ok.

It's not that they're a terrible client as such – they're nice, pay on time and, for the most part, you enjoy and need the work. But their high maintenance tendencies only make you resent things, and it's stifling your creativity.

So how do you get them off your back? How do you get that crucial breathing space you need to get on with the work, embrace creativity and do a great job? And how do you do all that without alienating the client and losing their business?

It's a tough tightrope to walk, but there are ways to make it to the other side. If you've been experiencing this problem lately, here are our top tips on how to deal with high maintenance clients without damaging the relationship.

Communication is your secret weapon

First up, high maintenance clients are needy because they want to be reassured that you're doing the work for them. Their constant chasing could well be your fault, as you might not be handling the relationship sufficiently.

Communication is your best friend here, so create a system that will offer that reassurance. For example, if your client is likely to call at 9am on Monday to see where you're up to, beat them to it with a friendly weekly update email saying something like "Morning Bob! I'm just letting you know I'm working on X, Y and Z today and aim to get something over to you by the end of play Wednesday. I'll be in touch then".

By offering regular updates, your client will get the message and be reassured that you've remembered them and are working on their stuff.

Create progress updates and status reports

To build on your new communication, start or end each week with a progress/status report. It can be a simple excel spreadsheet with a list of tasks detailing where each one is up to and what the deadlines are. You can send a copy of this report to your client to demonstrate that you're on top of things.

It also gives clients a chance to add further tasks to the list – while ensuring everyone knows what's expected. It also means the client can't keep adding random jobs without any full thought process behind them.

Set expectations

Before a project even begins, it's a good idea to set expectations on how you work and when the project will be delivered. Be realistic with timescales – even if they try and push for unrealistic turnarounds. I always say: "Yes, of course, I can get the work done more quickly, but that would compromise quality and I wouldn't want to do that! It's bad for your business and mine! The project realistically will take X days/weeks to complete".

And when they chase by email for updates during the project, send them friendly reminders like: "As we discussed, the project will be completed by X. I'll be back in touch then" – that should do the trick.

Establish boundaries

Through the language on your website and email signatures, through to your business cards and verbal communication with all clients, you should make it abundantly clear that you only work Monday to Friday, between 9am and 5.30pm – or whichever days/hours you prefer.

You must stress that you're not available at weekends, so projects will need realistic deadlines if they're going to be carried out at all. It means if you have a client that always seems to send projects last minute on a Friday and expect them to be completed by Monday morning, it should be evident that you're unavailable to do so.

Also, if a client calls at 10pm on a Saturday – don't answer!! Ever! Call back on Monday at 9am on the dot and promptly respond to their enquiry. However, if you're a coder/developer and you're looking after someone's website, this changes everything - especially if there's an 'emergency'.

In which case, ensure you have a system in place that allows you to charge a higher rate during 'emergencies' and out of office hours.

Get a virtual telephone assistant

When you work for yourself, the phone can be such an unwelcome distraction. Especially if you have clingy clients contacting you all the time to find out what you're doing. In which case, hire a virtual PA or telephone assistant to screen all of your calls.

Provide strict instructions that you're only to be disturbed if it's an emergency. Nine times out of 10, it won't be an emergency, and a client will probably want a call-back. And that's something you can do when you've got the time and have completed your work.

Pre-arrange phone calls

Further to a virtual telephone assistant, it's worth pre-arranging all phone calls with needy clients. Arrange a specific date and time to catch up and discuss projects. It's a great way to reassure the client, keep on top of expectations and workload, and it also gives you sufficient time to prepare for the actual conversation. A weekly phone call should do the trick and keep high maintenance clients happy, and at bay.

Make yourself 'busy'

If all else fails, and all of the above hasn't worked - make yourself 'busy'. As in, don't immediately answer the phone, take some time to reply or call back and educate your clients that you can't be instantly available every single minute of every day.

Yes - you must be available, friendly and reliable. Yes - you have to reassure the client that you're there to help and you're doing your very best to service them and do a great job! But seriously, phone calls every hour? Unnecessary calls at 10pm on Saturday evenings?

A line has to be drawn somewhere - make sure you know the difference between true 'emergencies' and those that aren't.