Figuring out how to get clients has been one of the hardest things I've had to learn how to do since I started my own design & marketing business three years ago. Because it had been so difficult, I often kept my prices low, thinking I'd be able to get more clients that way and therefore make more money.
When I land a new client and get an initial deposit from them, it is definitely one of the best feelings in the world! Especially since this is the point where the sales part ends and where the best part begins - the design!
You would think, since I have worked so hard to get a client, the last thing I'd want to do is fire them, losing money and time and possibly putting a bruise on my reputation. But I've been learning that this is the WRONG way to think.
I'm not desperate, but by offering low prices for my services, some clients might think I am and therefore might abuse my time and efforts.
I've personally been pretty lucky over the past few years and have never really experienced what one might call a "bad client."
I have been working with this one particular client for the past two months, who gave me an unpleasant feeling right from beginning. From our first conversation, my gut told me she was going to be a PITA (pain in the ass) and looking back, I really wish I would have listened to it.
Over time, I noticed she was one of those people who liked to complain about anything and everything. She created constant, unnecessary drama which caused me stress and anxiety every time I had to speak to her. She didn't want to work by my rules or my business processes. She barely did her part in the project and never seemed to be able to (nor have time to) describe to me exactly what she wanted. I basically had to guess what she wanted because she was always "too busy" to talk yet always really needed to move forward with the project. Low and behold, guessing what she wanted was never right (because I'm supposed to be a mind-reader, too?) She was all over the place and changed her mind a million times on everything. She never seemed to make any sense when I spoke to her and would tell me to do random things, like we'd spoken about them before, but actually hadn't. She wouldn't pay me on time and she would claim she didn't get the invoices I was sending her (even though I'd follow up with her almost daily with emails and texts, reminding her to pay the invoice,) then she'd "yell" at me for charging her a late fee when she was... late.
Having a client treat me with such disrespect and no appreciation for any of the work I had done for them was kind of baffling to me.
Not that I have never been treated with disrespect. I mean, if you've read any of my other posts on this blog, you know I've had my fair share of shitty people in life, but I've always been able to get away from them and move forward.
But having to deal with shitty people in business? Especially when it's your own business? That was something I've never had to deal with before.
I was at a crossroads here. I had to figure out what was best for me and my business and which direction to go in.
Option 1: I could continue putting up with her abuse and follow through to the end of the project. After all, we had a contract and I wanted to hold my own integrity for what I said I would do for the amount of money she paid (which wasn't very much, by the way... totally my fault for pricing my services too low.)
Option 2: I could let her go and deal with any repercussions that came with that (but also free up my time for nicer, better-paying clients!)
I held on for about 3 weeks, to see if things would get better over time, but they never did.
After much thought, I realized this is my business and these are my rules. This client signed a contract that states she is going to follow the processes I laid out, yet she hasn't been holding up her end of the deal. If this client is going to make me fight with her over every little thing and continue stressing me out, then it's time to cut her off. Why should I have to remain professional, while she does not? I know I do a good job and provide a quality service. My time is more valuable than having to deal with someone like this and I absolutely refuse to let someone verbally and emotionally abuse me.
I decided that the next time she really got under my skin, I was going to cut her loose.
However, I had to figure out how I was going to do that. I feared that she might go crazy on me or that she might write a bad review about me, so I decided to start talking to some people in my industry about it, to see what they had done in situations like this.
So I asked them:
How do you gracefully let go of a bad client without ruining your business reputation?
I received some great advice from some other experienced freelancers, as well as a friend and personal business mentor of mine, and I prepared what I was going to say in my head when that day came.
That day came a few days later, when the client started going bat shit crazy, again... of course, over some tiny little thing.
I had reached my limits!
So I took a deep breath and simply replied to her email with this:
"I need to express some concerns about our working relationship. I have been feeling disrespected and unappreciated for the time and effort I have been putting into your project.
Although this isn't easy to say, I think it's best that you find another designer to work with who might be a better fit for you. Maybe you could find a designer who is local to your business.
I am going to send you a refund for half of what you paid initially, along with the final logo files we worked on (see attached,) which I think is more than fair. You will need to find someone else to design your website.
This is a final decision on my end and is not open for negotiation.
I wish you the best of luck."
But no, this client couldn't even open her mouth to apologize. She could run her mouth freely about everything else she had to complain about, but to take responsibility for her actions - that she actually HURT somebody else - just proves that I made the right decision. I didn't get any respect before, so how could I expect to get any respect now?
Regardless, good riddens to her! It may have cost me time and money dealing with her and refunding her half of her deposit was a bit painful, but looking forward to the next year+, it's worth knowing I won't have to deal with all the stress and anxiety she could potentially cause me.
She is simply not worth it.
A Few Lessons I Learned from this Experience
- There is a lesson in everything; learn the lesson and move on.
- Ask the right questions and get more details before starting any work.
- Charge higher rates so that I am more likely to get quality clients who want and appreciate quality work.
- Make my processes much clearer so the client knows exactly what to expect and when.
- Make sure the client clearly knows how much each service is, what they get exactly for that price, and how many revisions are included. If they go beyond the included revisions or want to go off in a totally different direction, then an extra fee will be charged.
- Be pickier with who I choose to work with. Listen to my initial gut instinct... it's usually right!
- Remember, I'm the boss! And I'm in charge of my life and my business. If I don't like something, just change it!
I Will Not Tolerate Anyone Who does the Following (in Life or Business)
- Complains most of the time.
- Creates drama or makes things more difficult than they need to be.
- Yells at me/talks down to me (caps/exclamation marks in an email is considered YELLING!)
- Someone who tells me how to run my business.
- Someone who doesn't pay me on time or at all.
- Someone who doesn't keep up their end of the deal (as a designer, I need information, photos, and feedback from a client in order to help them reach their goals. I'm not a mind-reader.)
I'm glad I've learned how to stand up for myself and my business. As I cut out more and more toxic people in my life, I rise to a new level. There might not be as many people at the top, but as the saying goes, I'd rather have 4 quarters than 100 pennies!
Need a Laugh?
If you're a designer and you need a laugh, check out these 10 Lessons Designers can Learn from Bad Client Horror Stories.
Do you have any bad client horror stories? What have you done with your less-than-nice clients? Comment below!