Wouldn’t it be lovely if every client relationship was all unicorns and rainbows? In a perfect world, our clients would always show up to meetings, listen to our advice and respect the boundaries that we set within our companies. But we all know that business (and life) isn’t quite that easy.
Every independent professional has had to deal with troublesome clients. Sometimes, those clients are just the way they are and there’s no changing them. Other times, however, you might just need to have a tough conversation to talk things through. It allows your clients to reflect on the client-vendor relationship and decide whether to adjust their behavior or go separate ways.
Pro Tip: Being upfront about expectations is the key to ensuring clients don’t cross the boundaries and, if they do repeatedly, it provides you with an opportunity to dissolve the agreement.
Yet, it is difficult for many of us to be firm and stand up for ourselves and our businesses. But it’s so vital to the integrity of your brand. People will treat you the way you let them treat you, which is why it’s so critical to set clear boundaries early in the relationship. Here are a few tips to help navigate those difficult conversations with grace.
Define Your Boundaries
This looks different for every business owner, so sit down and get clear on what is acceptable to you and what is not. If you have a team, bring them into this discussion as they may be able to lend insight about client interactions that you have not experienced firsthand.
Be Crystal Clear in the Contract
Your contract may help you get through a tough conversation, but ultimately, it’s more of a preventative measure. When you’re clear about what is permissible and what is not, you are setting clear expectations upfront. I recommend putting these guidelines on one of the first pages of your contract. Clients may not read past the first few pages of your contract, so include this important information at the beginning to ensure it won’t be missed.
Be firm and state what will happen if the lines are crossed, including the forfeiture of their non-refundable deposit. Every client has the right to refuse services if they disagree with any part of your contract and it’s better that happens upfront than to find out it’s not a fit once you’ve already started working together.
Embrace Self-Awareness and Question Your Expectations
Sometimes, it can become a habit to instinctively say ‘no’ to something that falls outside of your expectations. We all get caught up in our ways, but flexibility is still an essential quality for business owners, particularly service providers. Don’t jump straight to a ‘no’ and, instead, listen to what your clients are asking. Maybe it is something that you won’t budge on, which is perfectly fine. But, in some cases, you might find that you need to be a bit more open-minded. It can help to get a third-party opinion if you can, as someone outside of the situation will have an objective view of both sides of the table.
Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away
Your self-worth and brand integrity are far more valuable than a single invoice, so don’t hesitate to pull the plug if you feel that a client has consistently disrespected you and your team. If you know in your gut that a client is not a fit, you have to let them go. Ultimately, it will be better in the long run for both parties. You will spend your time working with someone who respects your boundaries and the client will find a new vendor who better aligns with their expectations.
Of course, you don’t want to let a situation get to a point where you have to dissolve the agreement. Here are a few recommendations to prevent this:
- Lay everything out on the table from the start of the working relationship.
- Make it clear that the first transgression will be the last one.
- Let them know that, while you might not agree with them on everything, you are always operating in their best interest and it’s up to them whether they’re ready to move forward.
When you give your clients the opportunity to opt-out early in the relationship, you can feel confident that they are aware of your expectations when they choose to sign the contract. If you don’t have these difficult conversations upfront, it will inevitably create stress within the planning timeline. Your clients will think they have free reign and there will be more hurdles to navigate along the way. In that case, it’s not their fault because nothing was made clear for them. They don’t have boundaries because they weren’t given any.
That’s why I’m such a big advocate for educating your clients on your business, what you do and what they can expect from you and other vendors on the team. Be calm and confident when explaining details and lean on factual information to back you up. You know what you’re talking about! Use that knowledge to teach your clients and set a positive precedent for how they speak to you and the rest of the team. If you do, you’ll effectively protect your boundaries while respecting those of your clients.