How To Deal With A Difficult Client
When you work with a difficult client it can take a toll on your confidence as an entrepreneur. There are ways to handle and navigate difficult client relationships. In this blog post, I talk about how setting boundaries, keeping control of the project, and other strategies can help when you find yourself working with a challenging or complex client in your web design business.
Let’s cut to the chase – sometimes you find yourself with a client who is so difficult that you just want to fire them! But since you’re a professional who signed a contract and is good on their word, you can’t bring yourself to do it. Instead, you vow to yourself that you’re going to finish the project and then never find yourself in that situation ever again.
You just need to survive this project and then your life will be so much easier, so less stressful.
If you miss the warning signs and red flags that a lead is going to be a difficult client, then here are some strategies you can use to deal with a difficult client when all you really want to do… is fire them!
Strategies to Deal with a Difficult Client
Take Back Control of the Project
Typically, when a project goes wrong and a client starts to get out of hand it’s because you’ve lost control. You may not have any idea when or how that happened or you may be able to pinpoint that exact moment in time when everything went from rainbows and butterflies to thunderstorms and mosquitos.
Working with a client to build them a website requires a professional, mutual relationship but remember – you are the web design expert. You should be in control of the project and guide your client to make the right decisions. If you’ve lost your control, it’s time to get it back.
First, tell yourself that you are in control. If you don’t believe you’re in control then you’ll never really be in control. Tell yourself that you’re in control, that you’re a business owner and you were hired as an expert to work with your client, not as an employee working for your client.
Once you’re mentally back in control, it’s time to physically take the control back and that starts by re-establishing boundaries. Send your client a message reminding them of when you work. Include the days you work and the hours they can reach you. Be super specific by including your time zone in case they’re in a different time zone.
Make sure you also remind them of how they can communicate with you. Whether it be by email, Asana tasks, Trello messages – remind them what the approved method of communication is.
Stop Responding to Every Single Message
With the approved method of communication re-established, it’s time to stop responding to messages elsewhere. If you’ve let your client know that you only respond to messages in Asana, don’t reply to a text message they send to you. Stand firm on the boundaries you have set. When you cave and reply to messages elsewhere, you’re giving your client control again.
Set Working Hours
A difficult client can play games with your head, they can make you feel inadequate, and they can make you feel really emotional. To stop that from taking over your entire life and ruining every day, set specific hours that you’re going to work on their project. During those hours, and ONLY during those hours, work on their project and nothing else. Dedicate a specific amount of time to designing and building their website, replying to their emails, and doing whatever else you need to get the project finished.
When the time is up, stop working on the project completely. Don’t open a single email from your client, don’t send an email to them even if it’s only going to take 15 seconds, don’t even think about the client or the project. Create boundaries for yourself so that you can still enjoy your life (and your business).
Create an “Urgent” Policy
If there’s a super pressing topic that your client needs to talk to you about, encourage them to write “URGENT” in the email subject line. When “URGENT” is included in the subject line, that is the only time you can give yourself permission to work on their project outside of the hours you’ve set. You may be amazed how infrequently a client will write “URGENT” in the subject line – no matter how persistent and difficult they are.
“URGENT” brings a sense of awareness of what the client is writing. They will pause and 99% of the time realize that what they’re sending to you really isn’t an urgent matter at all. This will help eliminate the feelings you have told you to open an email the minute they send it to you.
Get Date Specific
Start including dates in all of your emails that let the client know when they can expect to hear back from you. “Let me look into this – I’ll get back to you on Tuesday the 19th by 5 PM EST and if you don’t hear back from me by then, feel free to send me another email.” Including dates and possibly even reminding clients of dates will eliminate the constant push and nudge and follow-up emails your difficult client is bound to send.
Learn and Adjust from the Experience
Dealing with difficult clients is also a learning experience. While it’s a freaking pain in the ass, you’ll learn so much about yourself and the way you want to run your business by dealing with a difficult client. Make sure that you pay attention, learn from the situation, and make adjustments to how you run your business.
Here are a few ways you can make adjustments:
- Take note of what went wrong, the point in time you lost control, so you can make sure it doesn’t happen again
- Add questions to your pre-questionnaire to weed out other leads that may be similar to the difficult client
- Adjust your contract to include approved communication methods, how long it takes you to respond to a message, etc.