Your clients are the reason your project management is flowing. Learning how to deal with a difficult client is a key facet to scaling your agency.
You were doing the happy dance after landing that new client. Woot woot.
They sure did look like a human when you met them and signed the paperwork. But you’re starting to think they’re actually a bunch of angry bees walking around in a skinsuit, masquerading as a human.
What the hell went wrong?
It’s been a couple of weeks and the emails, the texts, the voicemails, and questions at ungodly hours just keep pouring in. You’re starting to wonder if the cash is worth all the time and energy this difficult client is sucking out of you.
Here’s the thing, y’all. As your business grows, you will come across PITA clients. It’s a fact of business life.
But ScaleTime, I’m only going to ever work with amazing clients that I love and who love me!
That’s the dream you’ve got to be asleep to always achieve. It’s not like a difficult, PITA (pain in the a$) client walks around with a flashing neon Look out, I’m difficult! sign attached to their forehead.
You can’t run away and you can’t hide. You’ve got to learn how to handle tough clients. It’s essential to running a profitable business. Difficult clients’ cash is still legal tender and you don’t want to leave money on the table.
But ScaleTime, I’m going batshit! How do I deal with all these ridiculous client demands that leave me frustrated and annoyed?
Oh we sympathize. Believe me, we do. But there’s a way to deal with difficult clients and their crazy client demands that don’t involve a rope and shovel.
Have you ever thought that your time isn’t being sucked dry by your engagement with a demanding client, but actually by your onboarding?
You can’t fix people. But you can fix your processes so you can scale your agency without investing in TUMS from demanding client stress.
^ you after dealing with a challenging client
>>> Click here to download the easy Onboarding Checklist if you know you have issues with crazy client requests.
Get comfy and refill that coffee mug. It’s story time.
Breaking out of the “request” trap from a demanding client
Armando is a client of mine who does digital marketing. He came to me because he felt like he was at capacity.
This was the sitch:
He had no weekends and no time for his partner. His treadmill was collecting dust. A new friend was hinting at making an appearance — the dreaded muffin top.
Every day, Armando crossed his fingers that a certain challenging client didn’t call him. Amando just didn’t have the time, energy, or the patience to even deal.
His saying was, “If they aren’t calling me, that means everything is great.”
What made his client so difficult? They were constantly asking him to make changes and do reporting he was never paid to do and that wasn’t in the SOW.
I see you there nodding your head. It’s a common issue for agency owners when dealing with challenging clients.
So, we took a look at his client engagements to assess what was affecting his ability to produce results and hop back on the treadmill.
And the discoveries were surprising. For him. We had a good inkling at what the real problem was (and it wasn’t all on the demanding client).
We realized that many of his client issues had very little to do with capacity and almost everything to do with — you guess it — onboarding.
When it comes to dealing with tough clients, onboarding is usually what gets the ball rolling on down to funky-crazy town. Armando’s onboarding process was no different.
His onboarding process didn’t establish boundaries or reasonable expectations. Onboarding had also failed to determine what the clients’ digital marketing starting point was in the first place.
Ruh roh, Shaggy. This lack of a robust onboarding process made the client insecure and only fed into their unreasonable demands.
Here’s what we told Armando:
Your clients are trying to board a plane to an amazing destination. But if you want to take on a great volume of clients, you are going to have to go TSA on their ass and make sure they know the rules before boarding.
I just love the TSA strip search!
Said no one. Ever. Well unless you’re into that kink. We don’t kink-shame here.
But really, I think it’s safe to say we all hate the TSA strip search, the 100ml bottle restrictions, no shoes, no sweater, taking out your laptop — we hate it, BUT we comply anyway.
There’s a process — if you travel you are made aware and get conditioned to it. There is simply no wiggle room. The process has become an expectation to get from Point A to Point B so you can go on a happy journey.
. . . mind, get it out of the gutter dear reader
The same needs to happen with your service business so you can wrangle demanding clients and keep them on a tight leash. Do this, and plenty of people will happily board for your destination.
This was the ScaleTime Solution for Armando and how to deal with challenging clients:
- We set up Armando’s onboarding process
- Created an actionable workflow in his project manager
- Saved 20 hours a month
- Increased his revenue by 45% over the following three months
And the best part? Armando had his whole process documented into a replicable system that anyone could access.
Naturally, he delegated the process, hiring a client success manager to take care of onboarding.
Whhhhhaaat!? Yeah, how relieving that is to read as a business owner.
No more demanding clients. You can fast-track your agency to get the same results as our friend Armando.
>>> Click here to download my Client Onboarding Checklist if you want to see what we used for Armando’s onboarding.
Establishing ground rules with all clients, not just the demanding ones, is going to create the biggest 80/20 impact for your onboarding.
- When do you want them to reach you?
- What’s the rule for scheduling — i.e. 48 hours, 24? (And is there a consequence to this?)
- How many points of contact will there be for you?
- Which team members are you engaging with?
- If you have a tangible deliverable:
- How many edits or iterations are you allowing in the scope of work before there is a change order?
Disclaimer: Don’t tell your bad clients about how they are hijacking your session or project!
Your clients are the lifeblood of your business. But, more often than you want, they will get on your nerves. That’s just part and parcel to working with people.
Clients will demand things that are out of the contract, unreasonable, or simply out of this world!
Thankfully, you don’t have to lose your sanity to keep your difficult clients. You don’t have to do all of their requests either.
I’ll say it again for all you peeps in the back:
YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ALL OF THEIR REQUESTS EITHER.
In the end, the client will thank you for not giving in to their crazy requests.
Here’s another demanding client request story and how to deal. I suggest not refilling your coffee because you will just spit it out when you see the results.
Check out this design disaster that happened to a Japanese noodle company when the designer said yes to all of the client’s demands.
This was the designer’s first draft.
Not too bad. Looks like a pretty normal advert.
But nooooo. Normal was simply not good enough for crazy client Charlie.
Apparently, the client pretended to be an expert in design so more demands were made.
Okay. That’s pretty nuts.
Nooooo. Pretty nuts wasn’t good enough either! The demands went out of control.
And now, for the final product after all the demands were made!
Kids, this is your brain on Say yes to every client demand.
This is how your project will turn out if you say yes to the client all the damn time even if they’re completely cracked.
How do you get through chaotic client requests from the demand regime?
You can get through these chaotic client requests and unrealistic expectations with win-win solutions through effective project management. Promise.
Your deliverables will look like they came from Planet Earth instead of through the looking glass. And your clients will love them too, no matter how demanding they can be.
Here are some tips to keep you sane while addressing your beloved, but not always so likable, difficult clients.
1. Use your tech stack to set yourself up for success with tough clients
Make sure your ship is in tip-top shape before the storm hits! Do I hear an aye aye captain? You’re setting yourself up for a disaster if your company is already in chaos before more craziness comes in.
If you have all your systems in place, it’ll be easier to regain composure no matter how crazy the demand of your client will be.
You have two things to set up: the system and the person.
Your system is like a conveyor belt. Every step ensures that a perfect product will come out.
The person you assign will serve as the account manager.
Remember, keeping your clients happy is important so choose someone who can be calm (or pretend to be) even during surprise requests from bad clients. This person has to be poised, patient, and reliable because every request, no matter how nuts, will be sent to them.
2. Categorize the request
You have to clarify if the request makes sense. Because, sometimes, we don’t know what kind of sorcery comes into clients’ minds that compels them to make insane demands.
Just look at the advertisement for the cup noodles above. Look at it! Promise to never do crazy client request drugs.
Yes, it takes a bit of extra effort to categorize requests. But it’s worth it in the long run so you don’t end up with an acid trip of a deliverable.
Next, if you have decided that the request makes sense, ensure it’s part of your scope.
This is one of the reasons why project managers lose profit. They end up doing stuff that they aren’t supposed to be doing in the first place!
If the request is not in your contract, you have to decide if you want to do it just because you want to impress your client. If not, talk to your client to modify the scope and adjust the budget accordingly.
3. Watch your timeline
Be realistic about your team’s capacity. Don’t forget that you only have 24 hours in a day. And those hours aren’t made for work alone.
Come down off the cross. There’s a lumber shortage and we need the wood. You, your teammates, and your employees aren’t superheroes or martyrs.
Be forthcoming in telling your client if tight deadlines are unrealistic. Most deadlines are flexible. So don’t be afraid to negotiate. You’re not a time wizard, you know.
Sure your client might want that rush job or extended labor they don’t even have to pay for. But we all get how frustrating it can be when clients expect us to complete an impossible amount of quality work in the space of a day, or even mere hours.
4. Be honest and lay off the sugarcoating
No need for sugar coating here. You’ve already gained your client, so stop the sweet talk. What you need to deal with a tough client is honest, straightforward, effective communication so you can help your client reach their goals.
Some of the client’s requests may not be helping them to reach their goals.
Whatever their reason is for making outlandish wishes, it’s your job to make them see the bigger picture. Insist on what you know. They hired you for your expertise because you know better.
So hold your ground. They’ll thank you for it in the end.
How to deal with a demanding client: The customer is not always right
The customer is always right!
Uh no. No they’re not. Just let this axiom go and realize that clients are not always right and sometimes their demands are downright ludicrous. And it’s okay to say no to them.
But you’ve got to set boundaries early and establish your agency TSA.
- Watch your timelines
- Always communicate honestly
- Categorize the requests
- Use your tech stack
Clients are not always right. If they are, they wouldn’t need your help!
Be kind but firm when a bad client tries to mess with your project management workflow. Your client is not trying to make you crazy. They may just be misguided or overwhelmed.
Remember, you both want the same thing — a successful project
So work together to make it happen.
Another reason you shouldn’t say yes to the request is that it might not be within the project scope.
If you let one demanding client get away with it, word gets around. Your other prospective clients may expect similar special treatment that you’re giving to the demanding client.
The next time you have to deal with a difficult client making an out-of-this-world request, remember your action steps!
Most of you know what’s good for you and your business and will take action.
Remember these key tips and tricks for handling those PITA clients:
- The customer is not always right. Reverse engineering your boundaries never goes well, so be sure to set expectations upfront.
- You’ve got your marketing tools. Use them! Your tech stack should automate certain processes for you that’ll cut down on those wacky, last-minute requests.
- Categorize requests so you stay within scope and on-budget.
- Watch your timelines. Rush jobs and last-minute changes require extra payment (and reasonable deadlines) for your efforts.
- Be honest and tell your client like it is. Like it really is. Needlessly sugarcoating things can derail their projects and prevent both of you from reaching your goals.
Follow these steps, and PITA clients won’t take over your life or crimp your style anymore.
But for those of you who’d love some ideas that are more specific to your particular business, I’m super happy to hop on a quick call to chat about what you need to have a headache-free client relationship!
I take the first three inquiries every week, so click here to schedule space now. They’re going fast and you’re getting low on Imitrex.