I’ll start by expressing my gratitude towards my clients who are wonderful, intelligent and respectful individuals. More than business owners, they are parents, humanitarians, intellects and overall beautiful people inside and out. In more ways than one, and in ways many of them probably have not realized, they have taught me to be flexible, resilient, patient and progressive. For this, I will be eternally grateful and will continue to learn from them, both known and unknown to them, as I move forward in my businesses and career.
Undoubtedly, there are clients who unfortunately don’t represent such positive experiences. In fact, they represent situations that are stressful, unrealistic and in some cases, condescending! The reason I wanted to write this article is not to highlight how grumpy and agitated clients (and anyone in the working world) can be, but to demonstrate something far more important. The idea that even though the experience may not be positive, there is always something to learn from it; a lesson that will absolutely make you a better person. There is always a silver lining (if you allow yourself to see it) and there are always next steps that will move you in an uplifting direction.
1. When a client is being difficult, stop and listen. I find often that my interpretation of someone challenging me is really my lack of understanding. My clients specialize in one thing and I specialize in another. This obvious statement is exactly WHY they hired me-to help them with what they are not so strong in. Sometimes we forget that what we do for a living not only makes us well versed in it, but also makes it difficult to explain to others. Working with people who need and benefit from our services means being more patient and allowing them to fully express their thoughts, even if they may seem misguided to you, and then coming up with a solution that works for them. While a client may be difficult to work with, keeping this in mind may help alleviate some of that tension.
2. Establish your boundaries right away; additionally, don’t be afraid to re-state them and even change them (ethically) down the road if you need to. Depending on the industry, it can be tough to establish concrete guidelines for every aspect of your work (this is definitely the case for me). Be clear and concise about your scope of work to help avoid any confusion on either end. Down the road, if you find you are ‘off track’ or far from your original agreement, feel free to bring it up. It’s a mature and professional skill to be able to openly communicate with your clients and customers about what is acceptable, what is working and what is not. If they’ve been with you for a while and overall things are going well, chances are they will appreciate you for it.
3. Keep in contact. This also varies greatly from industry to industry, but overall the foundation remains the same. Whether you sell a product and receive 1,000 customers a day, or have a smaller base that you work with on a more personal level, communicate regularly. For larger scale product sales, I would recommend a newsletter that goes out bi-monthly with great content, coupons and updates. For more personal relationships, send a direct email every quarter with new practices, tips, ideas and what you would like to see more of. Not only is this good practice, but it also lets your higher maintenance clients know you are thinking about them in the most positive capacity and are always innovating for them.
4. Learn when to say goodbye. This is always the hardest part, at least for me. I consider myself a mega problem solver and can achieve most things I put my mind to. In my beginning days as a business owner, cutting ties with a client used to mean I failed. It meant I couldn’t keep the peace or my sanity. Today, after four years of being in business, it means something very different. Something more mature, more professional and more gratifying than anything I could have imagined before. It means I tried my absolute best and that at the end of the day, I’m still human and I can’t make everything work constantly. I know that as long as I put forth my absolute best effort to make it work in a way that was beneficial, efficient and peaceful, I actually WAS successful. Letting go of situations that are not allowing either side to grow means halting your ability to work with others that would be a good fit. Imagine that…
5. Understand that it doesn’t always have to work. This was a perspective that also drastically changed for me as the years went by. In fact, I find myself still learning this each day. Not all clients will work out. Not all clients will like me. There are people who, in all reality, never work out or like ANYONE they work with, not just me! What a revelation. This isn’t about pointing fingers, but rather understanding how not black and white business can be and seeing how every single circumstance and interaction varies so greatly. Sometimes however, and for reasons that may seem unknown, it just doesn’t work. Accept it, let go and move on. This will hands down help your business move in a positive direction filled with growth and a will and desire to work each day.
We will experience tough clients and customers as long as we work with people. It’s inevitable but it doesn’t always have to break us down. If we change our mindset about these ‘negative’ situations, we can use them as learning experiences. Think of each interaction, both good and bad, as a way to improve and build your career and your person.
When you’ve tried your absolute hardest and are still unable to make it work, let go with a positive attitude, with pride and with your next step in mind.