Warning signs that say it's time to dump a client (or how to fix things so they can stay)

The honeymoon period is well and truly over. You've been with your new client for three months, but for one reason or another, it's just not working out.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

You're cursing yourself for not spotting the red flags early on. Those initial warning signs that scream, "this client is going to be a nightmare!" Don't sweat it. No matter how long you've been in business, you can't always predict how people will turn out.

But before you think about dumping them, consider whether you can fix things. And ask yourself honestly, is the relationship turning sour through any fault of your own? I've put together the following warning signs that say it's time to walk away, along with some last-minute solutions that could save the day.

1. They're not listening

You've told them on countless occasions that they need fresh branding or a better website if their marketing is going to work, but they've ignored your advice. Now they're blaming you for everything that's going wrong with their business.

The Solution

It's your job as a consultant to help your client wherever possible. But if your advice is falling on deaf ears, it makes your job impossible. In which case, visualise it for them. If you think their Instagram account could look better, show them how.

Sometimes clients need to see the bigger picture. But if they still can't visualise your gameplan and they're making the same mistakes with their business, you might have to consider how that reflects on your reputation.

2. They have strange payment methods

Every month it's a struggle to get paid by your client. They might have weird payment terms of 60 days. Or a purchase order number may be required before you can even raise an invoice. It could be that you have to go through 50 different people before someone pays you. And then they only pay by cheque.

The Solution

Find out who pays your invoice each month. Get to know how the system works. Understand every little requirement – from how you should date each invoice and the details that must feature to the exact people you need to email. But if getting paid is too much of a struggle, could your time and energy be spent on better clients?

3. They have ridiculously high expectations

I once had a client complain that I hadn't yet achieved the results he was expecting. I'd only been working with him for less than two weeks! It's one example of the ugly curse of clients with high expectations. They want the moon on a stick. And they get frustrated with you when you don't deliver.

The Solution

Clients are spending money with you, and they'll be conscious of time ticking. They also have pressures of their own. If they're throwing cash your way each month, they'll naturally want to get the best return on investment. If expectations are too high, organise a meeting and talk through what's realistically possible with the budget they have.

If you can afford to lose them, offer a solution that might better suit their needs – like hiring a designer in-house or using a website template solution like Squarespace. Yes, you've talked yourself out of a job but was the work there in the first place?

4. They don't communicate with you

You're working hard for your client and delivering great work but suddenly, out of the blue, they say they're not happy. You wonder where you've been going wrong because there is simply no feedback.

The Solution

Sometimes clients need to be educated on how a relationship with a freelancer or studio works. You have to stress how important communication is. Build it into the process from day one. For instance, I send a new status report to my clients every Monday and then list the things I'll be focusing on that week. I also allow them to respond, asking if I've missed anything.

In some cases, clients might feel uncomfortable providing feedback – they might worry about hurting your feelings. In which case, stipulate how important it is to hear their honest thoughts, as it will determine a successful outcome.

5. They don't work in collaboration or see you as their partner

Every great client relationship is built on mutual trust and respect. You work professionally in partnership. You collaborate. You're seen as "one of the team", not an external supplier that can't be trusted or welcomed with open arms. If you don't have that kind of bond, how will you ever be able to service them successfully? Sadly, in this case, you're not seen as part of their clan.

The Solution

During your next meeting, drive home the importance of collaboration. And how you have to know what's going on to be able to work with them successfully. Is there a marketing calendar or strategy they've not yet shared? Could you create one together?

Then, with every email and conversation in future, use the terms "we" and "our", as though you are part of the same company. Get as passionate and excited about their business as they do. Send the odd email saying, "saw this news article and thought of you!" They'll be impressed that you care.

Great relationships take time to build. They're often founded on face-to-face meetings, too. In which case, book a regular catch-up. If there's an opportunity to attend events – if your client is exhibiting at a trade fair, for example – show your face. In time, you'll have a partnership that could last for many years.

6. They have someone internally who doesn't like you

Politics are always at play in any business. Despite your best efforts, there is someone who doesn't like you. You might be doing the job they wanted. Or they might have preferred someone else – another agency, perhaps. Now they're putting a lot of energy into making your job as difficult as possible to jeopardise your work and get rid of you.

The Solution

Make your enemy look good in front of everyone else. Become their best friend. Respond to any comments or emails with grace. Never give that person any ammunition to hurl back at you. Tread carefully and always do your best.

Whatever you do, never complain about that person to anyone else. You should never stoop to their level. If you concentrate on doing an excellent job for your client, the person in question will get found out in the end. True story.

7. They're angry and rude to you

Emails are passive-aggressive. Meetings are a little too confrontational for your liking. You're the scapegoat for everything that's not working in their business. You dread working on their account. You get anxious before you speak to them. There's no respect or love in the relationship.

The Solution

Walk away. Seriously. The minute a client becomes aggressive or rude; there is no solution to fix the relationship. You're potentially dealing with an egomaniac or just someone who has a lot of pressure from above and is taking their stress out on you. Either way, life is too short to work for angry people. It doesn't matter how much they pay you; you deserve better.


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