The reality of being a small business owner is that you are going to have difficult clients. How you deal with them comes down to how much you are willing to endure.

These are the clients that hire you because of your expertise, but then try to tell you how to run the project. They can also be the type that doesn’t respect your time or are late in getting you the information you need but still expect you to meet the original deadline. Of course, let’s not forget those that expect you do more than originally agreed upon, and don’t think they should be charged more. I could go on, but you get the point.

stressed person wrapped in telephone cords

Difficult clients are few

Honestly, most clients are reasonable and a joy to deal with. Many of my clients became personal friends but once in a while you come across an individual who just makes your life difficult. The weird thing is that these individuals can magically appear as a result of a promotion or new hire at the client organization. Overnight a great client becomes a difficult client.

Fortunately for me, difficult clients were few and we managed as best we could, but it was never fun. Unfortunately, the longer you are in business the more cynical you become and the less tolerance you have with these individuals. It’s something to keep in mind and in check.

3 Reasons to keep them

For the longest time, we did what most of us do and tried to accommodate the client. We all have our reasons for putting up with them, but here are my top three until I found I had alternatives and still keep them as clients:

1. We needed the revenue.
2. Things would get better once the new person got to know us.
3. It’s just part of being in business.

The upside to these situations is that it gives you a moment to pause and do a reality check to ensure you haven’t become complacent and taking the relationship for granted. Granted, no relationship should be taken for granted, but sometimes it just happens. Any entrepreneur worth their salt should be constantly reviewing their client relationships to be on the lookout for these problems.

So now what?

So, you’ve got a difficult client, now what are you going to do? Believe it or not you have choices, not many, but you do.

1. Suck it Up!

Suck it up, deal with their issue and fix the problem. Doing so may help to improve relationship and give both parties a chance to find a middle ground. Fixing the problem, will also minimize or negate any negatives feelings they have should they decide to move on. Having a difficult client go to the competition can be a good thing. They’ll be so busy trying to satisfy them that they won’t have time to worry about you.

2. Look Inwards!

Seriously, look inward to insure you haven’t dropped the ball and let your performance slip just because you had a comfortable relationship. The hardest part of this is actually trying to be objective. As business owners we’ve had to cloak ourselves in self confidence to protect us from rejection, but it can also blind us to our weaknesses. This could be a warning signal for all your clients. Sometimes the client has a point!

3. Transfer the Relationship!

I had this happen. A client appointed us a new designate to oversee our performance and the two of us just kept butting heads.

This person had never worked with us before and constantly tried to change the way we did things because they did not understand our processes. Our methods had been tested with multiple clients and delivered exceptional results for over 15 yr.

Up to this point we had a wonderful 5 yr relationship with this multi-national. I will also admit that after 25 years of self-employment, my tolerance for individuals thinking they knew more about our business was limited.

Not wanting to destroy the relationship with the organization, I decided to step out of way and chose to let someone else in my company deal with the person. This was the perfect solution and business prospered.

4. Fire Them!

Fire the client. When nothing else works, fire the client. Not to sound righteous, but life is too short to deal with difficult clients. If after trying to solve their problems they’re still difficult, kindly tell them that you can no longer provide the service their looking for and call it day.

A difficult client usually remains difficult and tends to consume far more of your company’s human resources than their worth. If you can’t make the relationship work, you need to realize that the cost of managing a difficult client is usually far greater than the lost revenue. With them gone, you’ll have far more time to work with the rest of your great clients.

Try as we might, sometimes we just can’t get along with everyone.

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