Bad Clients

Every small business manager or owner has a story or few encounters with bad clients – someone who demanded the impossible, nickeled and dimed a project, used profanity during business calls, and threw tantrums about deadlines.  If you ask around, no doubt you will hear about client encounters that may shock you for their audacity and unreasonableness. 

So what are the early signs of a bad client?

  • The client starts making unreasonable demands from the beginning and continues.
  • Early in the relationship, the client is skeptical of your abilities; this happens twice as often for women than men.

Some of the most common types of bad behaviors include:

  • Being mean and/or abusive to you or your team members
  • Being dishonest
  • Not paying on time or at all
  • Costing more time and effort than the revenue/profit they bring to your business

All are unacceptable, but only about a third of small business owners fire their clients, and the majority continue to work with their bad clients.

If you decide to fire a bad client, here is how to do it professionally.

  • Finish any work in progress.
  • Use email to put it in writing that you will no longer provide your offering(s) to the client.  Thank the client for the opportunity to work together and then provide a reason for not doing so going forward.
  • Then follow up with a telephone call to ensure your client reads your email and understands that you won’t work together anymore.  Your call is also an excellent opportunity to discuss the next steps, such as returning any necessary files and/or collecting an outstanding balance.

Remember, never fire a client when you’re angry. If you are tempted to have a heated conversation with a difficult client, sleep on it before making any rash decisions.

If you decide to keep a bad client, here is how to manage better.

  • First, identify what makes your client so difficult to work with.
  • Then, create and implement the right strategy to transform your client.

Here are some common issues and how to handle them; hint, the primary tool is communication via email:

  • Late Payment – send reminders at specific intervals (5 days, 30 days, or even 60 days) of when payment is due.
  • Having too many Chiefs on a project – via email, designate the lead person in your business and in your client’s.
  • Not respecting your time by expecting you to be available 24/7 and/or the client runs on tight deadlines – again, a carefully crafted email that sets boundaries and establishes workflow with time frames helps.
  • Poor or lack of communication – give your client a gentle nudge via email.
  • Out-of-scope requests – inform your client via email of additional fees associated with additional work.

Finally, here are some steps for you to get better clients.

  • Define your perfect client – this will give you criteria that you can use to assess all future clients.
  • Discover where your ideal target clients hang out – determine what social media platforms they use and/or in-person events they attend.
  • Find and connect with better clients – consider writing content that establishes you as a thought leader or that is relevant to better clients, be active on your target clients’ preferred social media platforms, and attend gatherings where you can interact with target clients.
  • Perfect your pitch – be sure it is on-point, tailored, and directed to the right person.
  • Offer unique value – communicate your unique merits, and include them consistently in all your communications, such as on your website and when speaking with potential clients.

Clients bring in revenue and can make referrals for your business.  Dealing effectively with bad clients and preferably finding better clients is essential to your professional well-being and the success of your business.


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