Typically we hear a lot about poor customer service. People complain about not receiving the quality of
service for which they have paid. Deadlines get missed. Phone calls and emails go unanswered. When
this happens, usually a company or individual will fire their service provider. But what do you do when
the converse of this happens? What course of action do you take when you clients are slow paying, non-
communicative, demanding and downright inconsiderate of the time or talent it takes to output a
product to both of your standards? While in school and even in practical business applications, I never
remember a class on how to deal with bad clients. I was always taught to exceed our clients’
expectations. Under promise and over perform was the mantra. But this thought process puts the total
onus on the service provider and requires nothing but a hand out and an iron fist from the client.
If you’ve ever had to deal with bad clients, you know it can put a damper on your productivity and the
level of enjoyment you get out of producing your work. After all, you’re an entrepreneur because you
love the work you do and you do it well, right? When you begin to cringe at the thought of having a
phone call or upon seeing their name in your email inbox, chances are you are dealing with a bad client.
Most of these situations arise simply because of poor communication and unmanaged expectations. So
here are a few tips on how to deal with a bad client.
1) Set boundaries: Sometimes this is much easier said than done. We have project scope expressed
in our contracts, but this goes beyond that. This means not allowing them to encroach upon
your time. If it is after business hours, make it a habit of not answering their calls or emails until
morning when you have arrived back at the office. It sounds neglectful, but it’s not. It’s making
sure your work-life balance remains intact. You shouldn’t live to work. You work so that you can
2) Show your client what you do: This doesn’t stop at showing samples of the end product you’ve
slaved over. Bring them in for a half-day and show them the steps you take and all of the
intricacies your business requires in order to service them. Have them intimately involved in the
process without having them do the work. Once they see all of your effort and how much time
and resources go into the widget they love so much, they will appreciate your work more and
respect your time.
3) Remain firm: As it was said before, you set the scope of your project from the onset. Now stick
to it. Make sure your contract has contingencies for overages in time and resources so that they
too can manage those things properly if they occur. If you took on the project with the intent
that it would be two months long but now you’re approaching the third month, have a candid
but firm conversation about it. Let them know you are committed to producing excellent work,
but this project is well beyond its scope and you need to be compensated for your extra time
and the opportunity cost involved in spending time on this project when you could be servicing
other clients. If they pay late, don’t do the work until payment is received to protect yourself. If
they keep asking for more free work as though your business is a buffet, cut them off. It’s easy
to get in the habit of trying to retain clients by going above and beyond, but this is business. If it
doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.
4) Fire them: Did you know you could fire your clients? Sure you can. If you have diplomatically
handled your business, communicated and received what you thought to be consensus at every
pass and they still insist on being a pain, let them go. Sometimes it’s better to have peace of
mind and stick to your goals and reasons for being in business than to let a client take you off
your square with their mismanaged foolishness. Revisit your contract (as you can see, contracts
are the most important document in your business decisions). If they are way out of bounds, call
a foul and get out the game. It’s better to cut your losses early on than to deal with bad clients
who keep eating away at your bottom line.