Why that terrible client is actually awesome

Why terrible clients are awesome // erineflynn.com

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. We’ve all had them:

Clients that make you scream every time you see their name pop up in your inbox, and make you wan to rip your hair out with their requests.

You may be more than happy to complete their project and/or give them the boot, but you shouldn’t just be moving on and forgetting that it ever happened. These clients can be a huge asset to our businesses!

And no, I don’t mean you should continue working with someone who takes all the fun out of owning your own business and you can’t stand–but you should learn from them, because they can help you improve your business and make experiences better for yourself and future clients.

Terrible clients help you determine you who you DON’T want to work with

We spend a lot of time determining who our ideal clients are, but not as much time as we should figuring out who we absolutely DON’T want to work with. Maybe we don’t know yet–but when we start working with them we figure it out really quickly.

What about the client makes her so terrible to work with? Be specific. Is she demanding? Does she not read your emails thoroughly? Does she change her mind every five minutes?

Some clients are really just awful people, but most just don’t vibe with how we do business. Knowing that you can’t work with someone who is indecisive is just as important as knowing that you like designing websites for women who make knitted baby booties. Maybe more important.

If someone matches your ideal client as far as age, business, and interests, but her personality and work style clashes with your own–that’s a recipe for a terrible client interaction.

I strongly encourage you to write down the types of clients you just can’t work with. I don’t just mean things that irk you a little bit, but things about a client’s personality or workflow that are total deal-breakers for you. And then Skype with your clients before accepting projects, so you can explain your workflow, get a feel for their personality, and see if you’re as good of a match in real-life as you appear to be on paper.

Some things you can work around–for example, a deal-breaker for me is not having a single point of contact (things get very confusing when you have five people telling you what they want on a website and they’re not communicating with each other), but this can be remedied by clear terms and stating up front that I will only be accepting requests through one person. If this isn’t something the client is willing to do, I won’t accept the project. Problem solved, and headaches averted. A potential terrible client becomes a great client.

Other deal-breakers are truly things I can’t put up with, like someone who is always in a panic about everything. You know the type; every email subject is “HELP!!!!!11″ or “URGENT!!!!” and it never actually is. These people stress me out to the point I have a panic-attack whenever I open my email. If I have to request more than once that they not do this (unless it’s a real emergency and/or they’re willing to pay my emergency rates), you can bet this will be the last time I work with them.

Terrible clients help you determine your policies

Of course, these mostly happen after the fact, and you’ve screamed at your computer, questioned why you ever wanted to be your own boss, and drank a box of wine or two, but having those policies sure saves your butt the next time around.

Most of my policies, like when I am available, what constitutes an emergency, how far in advance I need requests, and what happens when a client blows up her site are included in my contract and came about because of a terrible client or twelve.

Actually, most of these weren’t even bad clients, they just didn’t know what to expect.

Calling her cell on a Sunday morning? I mean, she works from home, right? Should be okay!

Yeah, now I charge a minimum of $200 for interrupting my weekend. It only took two clients thinking I was available and waiting at my computer 24/7 for them to call or email me to make that policy come about.

Other policies–like how many revisions are included in a design–came about from some serious scope creep and me not having anything to fall back on to limit the revisions. It was somewhere around design #36 of a “simple” header image that I got off my butt and added the number of included revisions to all future contracts.

If you know your deal-breakers, you can likely think of potential problems that may arise during projects. Do yourself a favor and get these policies in your contracts sooner, rather than later.

Bonus points if you create a cute “welcome” pdf that outlines how you work, what to expect during the project, and your most important policies!

Terrible clients help you improve

If you’ve noticed a theme in this post, it’s that not all terrible clients are actually terrible. Many of them are just not a good fit for us, or don’t know what to expect because we haven’t told them. If we don’t just write them all off as jerks, we can learn a heck of a lot about what we can be doing better.

Because we’re not perfect.

Not getting along with your clients? Skype them first to see if you vibe well.

Annoyed your clients are calling you in the middle of the night? Send them an info packet with your office hours–and make sure any contract they sign includes your after-hours rates!

Just like we get annoyed with clients for not working the way we work, they get annoyed with us when they don’t know what to expect. We should be using every difficult interaction with a client to re-evaluate our policies and procedures and see if they are beneficial not just to us, but to the client.

I can just imagine being a client waiting for a webdesign and not knowing what’s going on:

When will my site be finished? Why does the designer want all my content NOW? I’m so confused about all these terms! It’s been 24 hours, why isn’t she answering my emails? OMG, I just deleted my page!

Even the clients who are truly terrible–the jerks who cuss you out and make you cry–can be a great learning resource. What made them so upset? What could you have done to set their expectations from the beginning? Put yourself in their shoes, and figure out how to prevent these things from happening again by nailing down your policies, pre-screening, and providing the best client experience possible.

Need help dealing with a difficult client?

Check out my email templates for sticky client situations!

Designer Scripts - Email Templates for sticky client situations // erineflynn.com