Ever hear that phrase, “I’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s me.” It’s a cliché, one that couples on the way out of a relationship often fall back on when one person doesn’t want the other party to feel bad and that first person wants out of the relationship but doesn’t want to say the real reason why.
Granted, in some cases, it is true. But in most, it’s an easy way out.
In the entrepreneurial world, where most of us have been conditioned to believe the customer is always right, we often go through great lengths to please our clients, sadly to the point where even though the client is clearly in the wrong, we convince ourselves that it’s our fault, that we could have done SOMETHING better to serve them.
This may sound like a first year business problem. One where the entrepreneur is so focused on building their reputation and getting money through the door that they’ll bend over backward to keep a client they know isn’t a good fit. That client runs rough-shod all over them, taking advantage at every turn. The project drags out, and the scope creep keeps building and building. Resentment and insecurity looms and integrity gets trampled to dust.
Well, the good news is, this happens at every level. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in business for a week or ten years. You’re going to run across clients who, no matter how well your screening process is, a few crazies slip through the cracks.
Now, let me say, I’m not speaking about any one person, acquaintance or client here. Simply some observations I’ve had while floating around the interwebs.
It’s true, sometimes the squeaky wheel is given a refund out of sheer necessity. Total damage control. The business has no other choice if they want to save their reputation, especially when it’s crystal clear they aren’t the ones in the wrong.
Right about now it would be so easy to go off on a rant. But that’s not how we do things here at Blue Sun. Let’s look at the cranky client, see how we can avoid the crazies and get out of a situation like this.
Heading Off the Situation At The Pass
- Trust Your Gut. You know when something’s not right. I’d go so far as to bet you know right from that first call or contact that a client isn’t a good fit for you. You see the red flags going up right and left, yet you push on. Why? Because you’re hoping you’re wrong. That maybe you’re being scared of a big, new project, or your People Reader is off…the excuses we make to ourselves are numerous. Don’t be afraid to say no, this isn’t a good fit, may I recommend you to someone who may serve you better?
- Take a Step Back. Do you have knee-jerk reactions? I know I do. Working in a text-based society it’s easy to missinterpret someone’s intentions. Once the emotions and ego gets tangled it’s a quick, downward spiral from there. Step away from the keyboard and take a deep breath. Let the emotion go and view the situation as an outsider. And if you can’t do that? Talk to some trusted colleagues and let them weigh in with their opinion. Chances are they’ve been through it too. If you’re as lucky as I am to have a level-headed business partner, talk it out. Be honest. Say what’s really on your mind and hash it out. It could be you, and if it is, your counsel will tell you so. If not? You’ll both be able to look at the facts, sort them out and come up with a clear plan of action.
- Know Your Ideal Client. Knowing who you serve and who works best with you goes a long way in determining who you take on as a client. This is your TRUTH. Get clear on that and you can always stand firm in that. It’s much easier to tell someone no at the start rather than cut them loose in the thick of it.
- Write a Contract. Make sure you have a contract that outlines the exact scope of work needed to be done. Clear communication is key. Everyone needs to know exactly what’s expected of them.
What to Do When Someone Slips Through the Cracks
- Stay Cool. That’s tough, I know, especially when dealing with a difficult personality. Refer back to the contract. Point out where it went off track and discuss solutions as to how that may be fixed.
- Don’t Feed the Crazy. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to get lost in tempers and harsh words. Whatever you do, don’t feed the crazy. Adding fuel to the fire won’t help anyone and some people actually thrive on this kind of thing.
- Know When to Walk Away. For good. State your stance, give your facts, and then calmly say enough’s enough and cut off communication. Don’t be afraid to get a lawyer to draft up a letter for you if you have to—or give a refund. Yeah, we know that hurts, especially if you KNOW you’re not in the wrong, but sometimes it’s the only available option.
People are unpredictable. They’ll surprise you every time. You’ll have moments where a first impression makes you want to run screaming, but after you learn more, that person could end up your best and most loved client. Or…they start out great in the beginning and then turn into the Client from Hell. There’s no clear-cut easy way of knowing. But, if you trust yourself and your systems, you can lessen the chances of getting stuck with a bad apple.
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