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Toxic clients ain’t no thang to to joke about, and unfortunately, most don’t even talk about it.
Everyone talks about the good stuff: How successful they are, because they have clients out the wahzoo. How they’re making so much moolah.
But the truth is: A toxic client can make or break your business and especially your mindset. So it’s certainly worth talking about.
Toxic clients can make you debate whether or not you love doing your job. Your passion for your job, why you decided to take on the world as a solopreneur, goes right out the window because of the due yesterday, day interrupter, out-of-scoper and down talker.
So what’s the fix? Noticing the types of bad apple clients, and having a red flags checklist to size them up. Some of us forget while we’re scrounging for money in the client sandbox – our relationships with clients work both ways. It’s a partnership, and we should be sizing up the clients to make sure they’re a good fit for us, just like how they are sizing us up.
Here are 5 doozy client avatars to look out for:
This toxic client type continually tries to sell you on the relationship by discussing the future.
They ask you to work up front for free, promising loads of work after you do such a stellar job. They point out they hope to make you part of the marketing team, that the relationship will continue after your first project together.
Any client and consultant knows: If the work done together goes smoothly and both parties are happy, there generally will be more work. If they’re pointing it out continually, they are just trying to control the situation, and ultimately control you. Who wants that?
Oh and, say no to spec work. Seriously.
These toxic client types want your full attention multiple times a week and are incapable of scheduling appointments.
They’d much rather interrupt your day. All day. Every day.
If you don’t immediately respond to their email, you’ll be getting a phone call and 3 follow-ups to that while you’re in a meeting with another client.
If even in just the beginning stages your client is so demanding of your time (especially when most calls are useless and could have been said in a one-sentence email), I would politely thank them for their time… and RUN.
Who needs a process, because this guy sure won’t follow it!
This toxic client will make you promises and never keep them. “I’ll get you those assets tomorrow” ends up being two weeks later.
“I’ll talk it over with Nancy this week, and we’ll work on signing the contract next week,” turns into a month later.
Imagine if it’s this difficult to get anything from these people now, how bad it will be when you have a huge timeline and project to follow.
Which by the way, these types usually always request a timeline, never follow it, but still expect you to make the specified due date. Hmmm… No thanks, I’m good!
The Friend & Family Discounter
But aunt Sue, well she is your aunt! You gotta do her website for free.
Your project will be helping the family, and what nicer thing could you do for aunt Sue.
Same for your friend Tom. You could catapult him into success, and he’ll be sure to take care of you later!
No. Just no. I once heard this quote, and it will forever resonate with me: I will walk your dog, because I am your friend. I will always charge you for my services, because that is what I do for a living.
This is your job. You’re not just doing it for the heck of it, and your friends and family members should respect that.
Even more, just think: What if the project went badly? I’ve seen friendships split up and family members not talk to one another for months. It’s best just not to go there.
This toxic client couldn’t give a shit less if you’re an expert in your craft. He’s the know-it-all and just wants you to be the order taker.
He actually doesn’t hold much respect for your industry. He thinks he could probably do it himself, but doesn’t want to spend the time doing it. So instead, he’ll make you do it the way he would.
Early signs of these types of clients: They’ll correct you, change your process, and be very demanding that every step be done their way. If you like creating atrocious work and being belittled the entire way, go for it.
In the end, just remember to gut check
At the end of the day, the most important thing to do when sizing up a client is to gut check yo’self.
How do you feel about the client? Are you super stoked? Are you nervous to move forward? Do they seem like they’re hiding something and you need to investigate further?
If your gut is saying no, chances are it’s not worth pursuing. That’s your being telling you to pull on the reins, and skip some very much unneeded stress.
While this may sound negative, the truth is – it’s actually a really good thing. For every bad apple client you pass on, you leave space open for your dream client.
We didn’t quit our 9-5s to deal with the same types of stress that we left behind. You’re in control of your business. You control the clients you take on. Why not make them the best, so you can continue to love your passion, and even more: your clients.
- Is that project a good fit? How to tell if you should take on a project… or not
- Why ideal client avatars don’t work (and what to do instead!)
- Say What?! Email templates for sticky client situations
- What to say when a client wants free work
Katrina Hubbard is a quirky Designer and Marketing Director focused on helping small businesses keep their business brands, web designs and marketing strategies fresh. She has also found herself on a mission to help support and bring together fellow service-based solopreneurs for success, and recently kicked off the brand spankin’ new Fresh Elite blog for herself and others to share bomb knowledge and tools.