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Breaking up is Hard to Do...

In any business, there is the potential that you are going to come across a client who could be deemed as being “difficult”. When this first happens to you in your business, it can come as quite a shock – something which you are perhaps totally unprepared for.

Why would you work for someone who is not a good ‘fit’ for your business? After all the effort and energy that goes into generating new clients and the associate workflow, sacking a client is always a hard call. But, there are times when it’s just a necessity, and this can be for quite a variety of reasons.

Let me reassure you that difficult clients do come along from time to time for most of us. You haven’t failed or done something wrong (except perhaps not really understanding who your ideal client was to begin with, or ignoring your basic gut instinct).

Difficult Clients often exhibit the following traits:

  • A client who doesn’t pay you, or is constantly late paying your invoices (despite clearly defined terms);

  • A client who is a Bully (rude, quick to anger, aggressive, narcissistic etc);

  • A client who doesn’t respect your boundaries (continually calls you or messages you on weekends / late at night expecting responses or action);

  • A client who is extremely difficult to contact or doesn’t respond to your attempts to communicate (despite clearly identified communication channels), and this results in a negative impact on your ability to provide a quality service;

  • A client who is a micro-manager – someone who just can’t let go and let you get on with it.

When you have identified that you have a client who falls into the ‘difficult’ category, your next logical step is to decide how you wish to deal with the situation.

For some of us, our first instinct is to run to our respective Business or VA networks, friends and family and have a huge rant – inviting comments and advice on how to deal with different scenarios. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with this, please understand that if you do this, absolutely everyone has an opinion about how to deal with difficult clients.

Let me counsel you here: by all means, take advice, but please, please, please trust your gut instinct when it comes to taking any action.

In my experience, there are several ways of dealing with a difficult client, and they include (in the order below):

Schedule some time for a chat with them (yes, an actual verbal conversation over the phone or on something like Skype). Sometimes, all it takes is a well worded conversation – utilising active listening techniques – to get the business relationship back on track. Bear in mind that in order to do this well, you need to be well-armed and prepared, and that means letting your client know that you need to have an important discussion with them (not necessarily what it’s about), as well as having the key points listed out so you can address them. If you are coming from a solution-focus, you may find it’s just a storm in a tea cup, and you can resolve how to move forward quickly and easily.

Write a well-worded email ... but only if you absolutely cannot get your client to agree to physically speaking to you. You will need to clearly and honestly (and unemotionally) list out the area or areas that don’t work for you, AND what you see could be a workable solution. Make sure the language is clear, to the point, and professional. Again, I would make another offer to discuss this with them over the phone / in person / on Skype or similar.

Refer to another VA or service provider - If neither of the above produce the result you need, and you just can’t continue working with the client, consider referring them on to another service provider in your network. If this is an option, check first with the client, and if they are agreeable, provide them with either a short list or a replacement.

Fire the Client – the last resort is the most extreme, and it would be implemented only after you’ve attempted at least points 1 and 2 above. I’ve heard of other VAs who have experienced such toxic clients that they know they would be doing another VA a huge disservice by referring on the business. Again – go with your gut instinct here. If you do need to fire your client, please make sure you review and adhere to your contracted terms and conditions and be as professional as possible in what can play out to be very difficult circumstances. End the relationship with your dignity and professional reputation intact.

Best advice here is to learn and grow from your negative experience. If nothing else, it will help you understand who is NOT your ideal client.

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