Using “Preventive Medicine” Against Bad Clients

Bad clients have been an issue in everyone’s career at some point. Managing difficult client relationships when they occur or avoiding bad projects in the first place are two of the most important skills in managing any freelance business.

Many articles offer great advice on how to handle such situations and how to stay as far away as possible from these troublemakers. But the problem still exists: bad clients are always lurking out there, keeping you on guard and plaguing others in the industry who weren’t lucky (or cautious) enough to avoid them.

So what do you do when you’re the unfortunate one who is stuck with a tough client?

Doc, I’m Under the Weather

Let’s use the analogy of a medical patient. We can call a bad project an “illness” and the bad client the cause of this illness.

If you’re managing a bad client, then you’ve already contracted the illness. Either you weren’t prepared (vaccinated) due to inexperience in spotting symptoms of a bad project, were too generous, or too optimistic about the project.

While it all started as a wonderful collaboration, you’re now ready to give up (if you’re cool-headed) or throw darts at a picture of your client’s head (if you’re passive-aggressive).

Management is the only “treatment” in this case. (We hope you get well soon!)

Avoidance is a preventive measure but not a vaccination because these customers linger around, and you just do what you can to avoid crossing paths.

In case you do cross paths, you should be able to recognize the symptoms and apply the treatment immediately. The illness will go away quickly, even though you may be left with a bad taste in your mouth.

Symptoms vary from arguing with the client to exchanging a few tense emails or phone calls to waiting indefinitely for payment. Tension, stress and the prospect of having to fire a client are probably not on your to-do list.

Preventive Medicine and the Web Profession

One of the main objectives of medicine is to prevent illness. Preventive medicine recommends measures to stay away from high-risk behavior, as well as steps to take to ensure that risky circumstances don’t lead to illness. This is the first line of prevention and is known as “primary prevention.”

In our case, we want to use preventive medicine on existing clients to ensure that they become good clients and to keep them from becoming bad clients. Clients who have already gone bad are tough to treat and can’t easily be brought back; they’re like a super-bacteria that is resistant to everything.

Preventive medicine is most useful, though, with brand new clients — first-time entrepreneurs and those who’ve never contracted out work before. These customers are impressionable, and we can take steps to cultivate in them the traits of a perfect client.

The web community plays a big role in shaping the ethics and behavior of its clients. We tend to blindly adhere to the “client is king” concept and forget that what it reallymeans is, “the client should be made to feel that they are king.”

The relationship isn’t one of a king and servant, but rather, a mutual agreement andcooperation of two parties, where both customer and service provider have certain expectations.

Spoiling the client, ceding to every request (even if it undermines the purpose of the project), being afraid to disappoint or disagree with them — all of these are reasons why a client can go bad.

There is a delicate way to deal with each of these issues, but the point here is to connect with the client in philosophy right from the start. Even better, the clients should know how the industry works and what the etiquette is before putting the first call into you.

This is what preventive medicine is all about: shaping the client’s behavior from the very beginning, before it becomes a liability to our work and sanity.

We mentioned earlier that bad clients are the cause of our illness. In medicine, we address an illness by eliminating the root cause of the symptoms. The symptoms of bad clients include:

  • Being late with payments
  • Demand of features not included in the price
  • Request for free features after the project has completed
  • Dictating how you should do your job and questioning your expert choices all the time
  • Lack of respect for your working hours
  • Attempting to copy a competitor’s creative idea
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