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Eat Sleep Business Podcast: How do you deal with a toxic client?

We’ve all experienced the occasional nightmare client. There are a few different types. From the wanting to be super involved and checking every step to the ones that you’ve really got to chase. The one with a million and one amends to the ones who don’t care and have no feedback at all. 


It can be tricky, especially in this kind of climate. There’s a lot of uncertainty swirling around. The desire to just work with anyone and secure as much work as possible makes you feel safer and more secure. But actually, some clients can end up doing the exact opposite. It can be hard to juggle so many clients especially if a couple of them are hard work. Here are some top tips we’ve discovered that help tone down those toxic clients. 


Set boundaries. 

It goes without saying that your clients should want to be involved and that’s great news. But sometimes they can be over your shoulder breathing down your neck. You need to remember they’ve hired you for a service. They looked at you and trusted your ability to deliver. You can’t deliver if they’re there every step of the way being a roadblock


When it comes to setting boundaries, it can be hard, obviously. You want to make the client happy but you also need to balance your work. When clients start setting little extra tasks or amends to projects these can quickly begin to add up. Both in terms of workload and financially. 


I suggest you set a number of revisions per project and be firm with it. Especially with newer clients. When you build a more professional working relationship it can allow for some flexibility. But initially setting that number of revisions per project protects you from deadlines piling up. But it also makes your client think about how effectively they can utilise you. It makes them look at the brief over and over to ensure that you’ll get it and it’s clear rather than tacking things on here and there. 


The magic word. 

It is hard to say no. Especially when clients have that carrot dangling above you and you just want to be paid. We get it. But the word no is a very powerful word. Now I’m not saying you should just say no to everything your client suggests or asks. But constantly saying yes is much worse than occasionally saying no. 


Sometimes clients will get some big ideas and rather than consult you they just sort of tell you. This is the direction the project is going in now and this is what you will be doing. But what if that isn’t in your skillset? What if you’re not okay with what the projects become? 


Organised Chaos. 

We’ve all been to a clients office where everyone is running around and there seems to be no organisational structure in place. You’ve got a meeting booked but they’ve double triple booked themselves. 


Or you’re still waiting on resources or content to put the finishing touches on your project. But you’ve chased and chased and chased and there’s still no reply. 


It happens. We’ve all been there, we’ve missed the odd email. Written down instructions on a scrap of paper. Then accidentally washed our trousers. And completely forgot what was written down (once again I’m sorry). And you can let it slide once or twice. But when it makes a big impact on you and your workflow don’t be scared to speak up. They’ve hired you and the services they want. So make sure they’re getting the best you. 


How to do your job. 

This client irks me. We’ve all met them, they’re usually your main point of contact in the business. They’re the living embodiment of google, they have an answer for everything and you’re always wrong. I often tend to think they’re a little insecure about another company coming in to help or ‘takeover’. That’s usually why they can get a bit tense. Sometimes it takes everything you have not to fire back or take the bait. 


But yeah it’s a tricky one. You want to do your best. You want to ensure you’re delivering and working your hardest. But then you’ve got this roadblock, someone who’s correcting you, telling you how to do it correctly. It’s a pain. 


Try as you might to give great advice or put together a solid plan. Sometimes it’s just not good enough and if at the end of the day they want to criticise. We suggest just shutting up, follow their instructions. Let them enjoy their little power trip. Get paid and get out of there. 


It’s a partnership. 

The best way to visual when someone hires you, is that this is a partnership. A short term collaboration between you and them. You’re not on their books, you’ve not been interviewed and applied for a position to work there, you’re not on their salary. Sometimes things can get ugly and can get a bit out of hand with clients. 

You’ve got to remember that there are better things out there. Big projects nicer clients. If it’s not working don’t force it. You can always hold your hands up and walk away. Don’t be scared to ‘fire’ your client. (just make sure you do this after they pay any big outstanding invoices) 

Once it’s over you’ll feel the weight lift. Colours will be brighter, food will taste sweeter and the world will be a better place.

It is tough out there, small startups really gotta work and grind when it comes to delivering projects. We respect the hustle. But sometimes you gotta put yourself first.


If you’re still dealing with tricky clients. Check out our podcast Eat Sleep Business Ep5 – how do you deal with a toxic client? It’s on Spotify or you can watch on YouTube here:

Of course all our current clients are wonderful, and you can see more of them here!