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How to Handle Less Than Ideal Clients – Part 2

Less than ideal clients

Missed Part 1 – The Antithesis of Your Ideal Client?

Have you ever seen the children’s pegboard game where the objective is to match specifically shaped pegs to the holes in the pegboard?  Every heard of the old adage “a square peg in a round hole”?  The potential client standing in front of you is holding a pegboard with specific shapes cut in it.  You and your services are a clearly defined peg with a precise shape, size, and composition.  Your responsibility to yourself and your client is to determine if your peg fits the hole in their pegboard.

The best way to avoid a less than ideal client is to know what constitutes a good fit for you, and how to help them discover what a good fit is for them.  That need varies from personality to expectations, timetable, style, objectives, and budget.  I have found that the majority of the clients that have been problematic for me are because they don’t know what they want and I didn’t clearly express what I needed.

When the Unforeseeable Happens

The more clearly you spell out expectations on the part of both parties in your contract, the most space you give both of you to discover if you’re a good fit, modify terms, or spell out possibilities that may increase the time, cost, or change deliverables.  That is why I cannot stress enough the importance of having all agreements and expectations in writing.  No matter how carefully you assess a potential client and every foreseeable contributing factor, there will be times you find yourself working with someone who is not a good fit.  When this happens you have 3 options: complete the project as planned, modify the project, or cancel the project.

Option 1: Complete the project as planned

If there is not a huge gap between the client and yourself sometimes it’s easiest to chalk it up to experience and complete the project as planned.  When this is the response that I choose I will often let the client know that I wrote off some time or threw something in extra for free beyond our initial agreement ‘this one time’.  Instead of feeling taken advantage of I am taking responsibility for my lack of project management and turning it into a relationship building experience.  Most clients are very appreciative when they realize that you could fairly charge them more and it develops trust.  That being said, this is a situation that I do not allow to be ongoing.  If it happens with the same client more than once I revisit our contract to find the grey areas, and discover if I’m not communicating expectations clearly or if the client is intentionally or unintentionally taking advantage of the situation.

Option 2: Modify the project

If you have a clear contract and expectations were laid out ahead of time this is the option that I prefer to opt for.  Modifying the scope of the project is often as easy as a conversation where I let the client know that what they are wanting is different than what we agreed on in the beginning and then informing them of how that changes the deliverables that we agreed on.  Experience has taught me to catch these situations when they are starting to happen.  This way I can give the client a choice on how it is handled and it stays win/win for both of us with clear communication and boundaries.

An example of this early on in my career was several identity pieces that I designed for a law firm.  There were multiple people involved in the decision making process and very quickly the project was spiraling beyond the initial expectations – the dreaded scope creep.  (Mistake number 1: There was no point person with the final responsibility and authority) When I realized what was happening several unbillable hours after the fact, I contacted them to let them know that there would be additional cost involved.  (Mistake number 2: I assumed it would be ‘just one more thing’ and did not initiate the conversation until we were past the initial scope.)  One of the parties involved responded and told me to just go ahead and do the extra pieces and bill them for the additional time.  (Mistake number 3: I did not ask them what the total budget was and did not give them an idea of how much it would add to the bill.)  Imagine their surprise when they got my invoice that was much larger than expected, even when I did not retroactively charge them for the few hours between when we surpassed the initial scope and when I had the conversation with them.

Option 3: Cancel the project

Personally I avoid this option at all costs unless I see no possibility of us finding a win/win situation in our business transaction.  Because of my discovery process before booking clients I generally find that I can see potential problems ahead of time and avoid or make provisions for them.  The few times that I have cancelled a project were when I was concerned that the client was involved in something illegal or unethical, or when the scope of the project changed so significantly that I no longer felt I was a good fit to meet the clients expectations.

What next?

Grab your Ideal Client Worksheet 1 from last week and download Worksheet 2, and let’s get started!

1.  Go back to last week’s worksheet and look at the clients that are listed under the ‘neutral’ and ‘negative’ columns.  Decide how you would handle the situation if it happens in the future and write out an action plan.  If it’s a current client choose action points that you can implement right away.

2. Read through your responses on Worksheet 1 and then describe the observable behaviors and characteristics of what makes your ideal client on the left column and your non-ideal client on the right.

3. Read your answers from last week on Worksheet 1 and determine where the weak link lies in the neutral and negative client situations. Is the problem in the discovery process when you are deciding who you are going to work with, communication before the project begins, the way that you are managing the project during its
execution, or other factors?

Let’s Chat

  • What did you learn about yourself, your business, and your clients over the last few week’s discussions and worksheets?
  • If you could go back in time to when you were starting your business, what are some of the lessons you would alert yourself to that you have learned the hard way?
  • What are some of the most important points you would share with a new business owner about your experiences with ideal and non-ideal clients?
All the best,

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