I Cancel Problem Clients and Here's Seven Reasons Why I'll Do It Again

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"Letting go is one of the most difficult challenges human beings ever face. I've always pictured letting go as transformation moving from a closed fist to an open hand. As we take an open-handed attitude toward life, we can be free of the self-made obstructions that litter our path. This process requires a willingness to shed our persona--those inauthentic trappings we hold onto for identity but that no longer serve us. The choice to let go frees us to follow the pathway to our soul."

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

I never wanted to be "that" business owner. You know the one that only works with "exclusive" and "special" persons.  You know the one who sets their price in a way that guarantees the average person can't afford them in an attempt to guarantee that they only get "top" notch clients. I wanted to be a "peoples" consultant, but that was quickly ruined after two years of client hell. Yes, I said it.

Within the two years that I was aggressively building my name as the go-to Brand and PR strategist, I found myself throwing back more glasses of wine than I care to admit. I wasn't alcoholic level with it, but I wouldn't be surprised if I was close to it.

The beautiful thing about working on your own time is that you have the luxury of hand selecting your clientele. The longer you have been in business the more you can narrow down on who you are or aren't willing to work with. Unlike with traditional jobs, where you have absolutely no control over who you choose to work with, working for yourself grants the opportunity to decline and/or dissolve business relationships with clients who are a continuous problem. I have had my fair share of difficult clients who I forced myself to work with only to find myself completely drained. Honestly, it is one of the reasons I chose to pull back on consulting and focus solely on producing content ready solutions instead. 

Once upon a time I thought that it was my duty as a "legitimate" business professional to find a way to work with anyone. Because money doesn't care about an attitude. Money is universal. But like with all things, I learned real quick that boundaries are a thing necessary in all walks of life and business is no different. Life is far too short to be dealing with P.I.T.A.C. (Pain in the ass clients) for a buck. Literally. If I wanted to be screamed at or told I don't know what I am doing I would have joined the military.

After several "push-throughs" I vowed to never stick around for the sake of a dollar no matter who the client was. I sat down and created a list of red flags to use as indicators that I may need to sever ties with a client. 

1. Dreading every phone call from the client.  

This is real and every service based professional can attest to this. You literally sit there and watch the phone ring. Or you intentionally skip over that email until the end of the day. I found myself doing this with one client who emailed me literally three times a day requesting a status update. 

If you're constantly ducking someone's call because you find it painful or exhausting to speak with them, or the conversation invariably makes you angry or resentful, it's time to take some action to remedy the situation.  How much more would you enjoy your day-to-day client interactions if you looked forward to taking your client's calls?

2.  The client nitpicks every single expense and insists that tasks should take anyone else as long to do.  

I've had clients who "knew" I was shortchanging them and insisted that what I was doing for them wouldn't take others in my field as long to complete, and I should adjust my bill accordingly.  Honestly, I don't place all the blame on the clients for this. This is what happens when markets become over-saturated with "new" professionals undercharging clients either due to lack of experience to justify market value prices or trying to appeal to clients who are looking for a quick fix for a small buck. Clients get use to getting work done for a small fee elsewhere and expect every other professional in that industry or niche to price accordingly to "fit there budget". I'm not the one.

I've discovered that this lack of trust is about the client, not about me, and that I'm more than competent and skilled in what I do.  Don't let a "nitpicker" make you doubt yourself --there are other client fish in the sea.

3.  Emergency requests are the only type of requests your client makes of you.  

Let me emphasis this: I hateeeeeeeeeee last minute requests. 

Let me be clear, I know that things come up and sometimes you can't help that. But I have learned that about 90% of clients will wait until the last minute to request a change to an already existing project. I have even had clients who took me all the way through the final stages of their project to suddenly "not want to go that direction" anymore, thus expecting me to suddenly rearrange my schedule and workload to accommodate their changes. 

No one likes to be under the gun, and trying to do something quickly and under pressure stifles all creativity and thoroughness.  Some people are addicted to adrenaline and like to stay in the urgent all the time.  However, living the urgent is a high-stress way to live your life, and the toll it takes on body and spirit is substantial.  A better client choice is someone who adequately plans and prepares their time, so that emergencies are rare.

4.  Lack of client follow-through prevents any progress from being made.  

Nothing is more frustrating than having to spend all of your time with a client in review of plans and what's supposed to be done, yet seldom ever get to the point of completion so that you can move to the next stage.  Nothing is more frustrating than a client who says she wants to achieve a certain result, but seems to be immobilized in the planning stage.  Consequently, you spend all of your time with the client in review rather than in action. Perhaps you're able to put on a "coaching" hat and help the client see the roadblocks she's facing.  However, if she's unwilling to discuss what's stopping her and your frustration level is growing at her lack of action, it's probably time to cut her loose and let her go.

5.  Your client loves to micromanage.

Typically, when I'm hired by a client, they have a problem to solve and I offer the perfect solution to their problem.  However, I've had clients who don't let me solve their problem in the way that I think is best.  They insist on having to approve every step along the way and must be involved in every single detail.

Literally.

In many cases, they are accustomed to having employees and erroneously believe that good management entails micromanaging each step an employee takes.  I can't work like that and never have been able to. I have quit jobs where I am constantly being micro-managed.  If you hired me to do a job it is assumed that you are doing so because you trust that I am capable of handling the core of the tasks by myself. I mean that is the purpose of hiring help, right? To delegate the work that you don't have the time or educational background to do yourself. It is completely counter-productive and a waste of resources to hire someone only to hove over them like the smell of a dead skunk in the middle of road.

A great client is someone who hires you to solve a problem and doesn't really care how you resolve it -- they are willing to give you the room and latitude to bring your experience to the table and help them resolve their issue.

6.  Delegation is a skill completely foreign to your client.  

Most business owners know that in order to be successful in your business, you can't do it all alone.  A successful business owner has a great team to which she consistently delegates tasks that she doesn't have the time to do, while she is out there looking for new business opportunities. If your client refuses to let go of anything and insists on doing the very things you were hired to do, your client hasn't grasped the notion of "lost opportunity costs". Sometimes it's simply easier for a business owner to work "in" the business rather than "on" the business, as the latter usually means that you have to be in the marketing and sales mode -- a mode that many business owners hate.  A great client does what she does best and delegates the rest.

7.  Money issues plague your client.

Can your clients really afford to hire you?  Sometimes they're in a start-up phase, or they're just experiencing a cash flow crunch.  They obsess over your fee in every conversation that you have, and are usually slow to pay your invoices.  The time and energy you spend in chasing their payment is very draining.  A better client is one who understands your payment requirements and is easily able to afford and pay your fee.

I realize that it takes time and a visit to the "school of hard knocks" to finely tune your ability to choose clients that are a perfect fit for you. Let go of those clients who are causing you pain, and new clients that are a better fit will show up in their place -- guaranteed!