How to identify and deal with toxic clients


At some point in your journey as an entrepreneur, you may have had to deal with at least one difficult client who can even make you question your career choice. Such clients are like a bickering romantic partner whom you want to break up with. They don’t give you personal space, they don’t trust you, they can be abusive, they are outrageously demanding and they cannot stop complaining. Such clients can be a serious blow to your self-esteem. Even if such clients are loaded and may be giving your business a good amount of financial support, they can drain you emotionally, and in the process, make you less productive. No matter which stage your business is at, you will only do it good by losing these clients. Sooner or later, you will realise that they are more of a cost than an income-generating malfunction.

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To get rid of toxic clients, you need to be able to identify them from a distance. Here are a few traits of such clients that will help you identify them and keep them at bay:

  1. Disrespect: Such clients do not value your work and they repeatedly question your decisions. They constantly make you feel you are not good enough, and are only there to find flaws in your work.
  2. High-maintenance: They come on board knowing exactly the amount of time and resources you will be able to dedicate to their project, but gradually, they start to demand much more. Soon, they start sucking in much more time and effort without agreeing to negotiate the price.
  3. Indecisiveness: They can never make up their mind. They can easily say that they don’t like your work, but they cannot tell you what they want in its place. They keep changing their ideas and can drag the project on forever. They also keep asking for revisions and, mind you, for the original price.
  4. Miserliness: They may appear agreeable and nice to work with till you raise an invoice. They will either argue with you about the bill, demand an unrealistic discount or will suddenly find that your work is not up to the mark. Sometimes, they even disappear for a while without paying.
  5. Aggressiveness: They can even be plain abusive. Such clients have no control over their temper and boil over at the slightest provocation or even none at all. They assume that they are paying you and so they have the authority to treat you as they please. They can try to scare you into agreeing to them and end up bullying you this way.

Once you know how to identify if a relationship with your client is going downhill, here’s how to deal with it to improve it or lose the client altogether.

Ask for a deposit

First things first, make it a ground rule for your business to never take up a project without a deposit. This may not help you recover payments from existing misers but it will cover your costs in the case of future misers. For clients you know or suspect are going to disappear after you hand in your work, make it known that you will not deliver the final project unless the payment is made. As for the ones who have already disappeared, talk to your lawyer and take up things legally to retrieve your money.

Raise your rates

This is a straightforward method in which, to your delight, you may find your client himself walking out of the relationship. For clients who ask for too much at the original price, make your rates for the given tasks clear and spell it out to them that you will be invoicing them for the same. If they try to get away with it, then simply raise your rates. Either he will come around and pay for you or most often he would leave on his own accord. Both ways, it is a win-win situation for you.

Ask for specifics

For the ones who can’t make up their mind, ask them to spell out exactly what they are looking for either in writing or in visual references, and tell them you can start working on their project once they have provided the same. Consider helping them once with a questionnaire that they can answer in order to give you more clarity about his/her project. Else, if you think they are really just disagreeing for the sake of it, show them mail trails or previous agreements and prove that your work fits the brief you were given by them.

Refer them to someone else

No, we are not encouraging you to be mean to your friends or competitors, but you may be surprised that the same client whom you cannot tolerate might gel really well with another entrepreneur. In this way, you are not really ditching the client because you are offering him an alternative. Just be gracious enough to warn the other businessman about your not-so-happy experience.

Try not to end on a bad note

Except for the aggressive abuser, we think it’s safe to leave the door open for all clients whom you fire. Make it a point to have a conversation with them and to end things on a good note. Business is a volatile field and you never know what’s coming up next. A low-paying client might get funded or the person who was your point of contact at the business (and was making life difficult for you on behalf of the client) might leave. So keep your options open.

Entrepreneurship is a journey that is riddled with challenges and surprises. It is important to remember that being busy doing inconsequential and unsatisfying work is not the same as being profitable or successful. Even if are firing clients, look at it as a new opportunity of finding new and higher-paying clients. Once you have made the mistake of working with toxic clients once, learn from it and move on, promising yourself never to fall in that trap again.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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