For some of us, bad clients have been a part of our business, whether we knew it before we started working with them, or whether it happened later on. I think, working with bad clients is an important part of a Virtual Assistants business. They teach us what it is we don’t need, and this is one lesson we need to learn the hard way if our business is to grow.

I’ve had my fair share [of bad clients] over the years, on the outside they appear ‘normal’ but on the exterior lies a micro-managing, narcissistic, freeloading, mind-sapping client. This post will show you how you can identify them; what clients you need to fire and those that you can still work with, with a little know how because you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Now, I’m not a psychologist, nor have I ever had any training in this area, but I do know what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t, and the difference between right and wrong. But for some clients, nothing else exists except reaching that financial goal regardless of the cost and for many, they won’t get there because a client also needs to be a great leader. According to Jeff Black, communications expert and founder of the Black Sheep development company, there are 6 traits that most influential leaders have.

A client should never make you feel worthless, not in control, powerless, a subordinate, always have you second-guessing yourself. If you feel any of this with any of your clients, then they are a bad client. In this situation, I’ve fired clients because I know their opinion of me and my abilities are not mine nor of the many happy clients I have. They were bullies, and it just came down to me not accepting to be bullied.

Common traits of a bad client

  • The narcissist – loves a selfie and continuously on social media, as they enjoy the pat on the back that builds their self-esteem. It’s all about them, and there is no empathy for anyone, they are manipulative and demanding.
  • The micromanager – they are continually checking in with you because they don’t have the faith you will do the job as good as they can. The micromanager has to be in control and know what you’re doing all the time, so heaps of emails, calls, messages, meetings. They push all the right buttons to make you think you’re inadequate.
  • They know it all – no matter how good your idea/ thought/strategy is, it’s never good enough. This type of client will ask your opinion but never implement it.
  • Some clients won’t invest in themselves – they don’t want to spend any money putting in place things as important as a website; they don’t need one; they have LinkedIn, and they wonder why they don’t have people beating down their door.
  • Other clients won’t invest in you – They look for a bargain basement price, or freebies, often disguised as “send me a sample” of… but they have something specific they want the sample of.
  • The negotiator – always wanting to know but why, can you do it like this, why does it take so long, what if we do it this way.
  • The pretender – they think they are already at the top of their game, but they already possess all these other bullet points, so we know already, don’t we?
  • The prove it – you have to justify how long you spent doing a task or why it was done a particular way.

Believe it or not, you can manage these client types if you have a cast-iron constitution. Seriously, I think a lot of it comes down to knowing how to handle the different personality traits, and once you know how to do that, half the battle is won.

Bad clients, you need to fire

  • The micromanager – there is only one boss in my business, and that is me
  • They know it all – if they can do my job better than me then knock your socks off
  • The negotiator – it’s tiring work, and I won’t do its
  • They won’t invest in you – they already think you’re not worth it
  • They won’t invest in themselves – they are penny pinchers and will ultimately get nowhere

These types of bad clients will drain you of time and resources and have you second guessing everything you do. I got rid of mine, regardless of what they paid, the stress wasn’t worth it.

The bad clients you can work with

This next group, while painful, are still workable, and you can guide them towards being great clients. It takes time, but it can be done with a little bit of work.

The prove it – I’m happy to work by the hour (when needed), project or retainer and submit a timesheet to relevant clients each month. It’s crucial to any business owner to know where their money is going. After all, you want to see what you’re spending your money on, wouldn’t you?

The pretender – It’s not against the law to pretend you’re better than you are. It’s somewhat typical actually for a lot of people. Although I don’t see the benefit. Generally, a pretender also has narcissistic tendencies which aren’t a crime either, just annoying to those of us who have to deal with them.

The narcissist –  They want the work you do to make them look good, and if they get comments back saying XX was great, then that’s all they need for you to make them look good and grateful. It’s not hard, you just need to be the very best you can be, and that’s all there is to it.

So why do I have the Prove it, The Pretender and The Narcissist in the bad client category? Because they can be challenging to manage consistently on an ongoing basis, but they pay well and on time. They spend money on their images, so they spend money on what you do. They want the best, and that is you.

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