Not every customer will be your favorite. In fact, not every customer should even be your customer.
Before I officially launched my content-strategy company TrepRep, I was freelancing. During this time, I was providing anything from business naming services to writing short blog posts for startups. I ended up completing 634 jobs in a few years. Providing services on discount freelancing websites didn’t bring me riches, but I got a crash course in dealing with a wide variety of customers from all around the world -- some good and others, not so great.
My experiences with problem clients isn't an isolated incidence; they appear in every business.
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From my experiences dealing with hundreds of problem clients, here are six ways I’ve found to help uncover them before wasting time, effort and money on a business relationship that’s headed nowhere.
1. Create an internal guide for evaluating what a good client looks like
Every business should have an avatar for who their perfect client is. This details the demographics and other specifics about your dream customer -- who your products or services were really created for and can provide the most value to. While you shouldn’t live or die by this model customer, knowing who your perfect customer is makes identifying the opposite very easy.
For example, I work with growth-oriented small businesses with unique offerings that value personal and business branding in order to achieve their goals. When approached by representatives from multi-level marketing companies, I turn down the work because their offering isn’t unique and it’s very difficult to differentiate from other representatives. There isn’t anything wrong with their business, but it’s not who I can best serve.
2. Clearly set expectations up front
If a client breaks an unwritten rule of your business or keeps doing things that are secret pet peeves of yours -- the problem is you and not your clients. Your clients need sufficient information in order to be great clients. Don’t accept a gig or provide a service before making sure your customer understands what you expect from them, and tell them exactly what to expect from you (and then over deliver).
3. Require work from your client
After an initial call with a potential client, I provide them with time options for a follow up call and several questions I’d like answers to before that next phone call. If they are too busy to schedule a call with me promptly or answer the few questions I’ve sent over, they are likely going to be too busy to get back to me when I’m in need of responses, edits and other information required to provide them with compelling work. I have also heard outright from potential clients that they don’t have time or don’t want to deal with providing me information, which is valuable information to have.
4. Raise your prices
It’s truly remarkable the number of problems you can avoid by simply raising your prices. Not everyone looking for the cheapest product or service will be a problem client, but to their credit, they are looking for the best possible service at the cheapest price. Can you blame them? No, but you don’t have to try to be the one to provide it.
To avoid this, raise your prices. The people and businesses looking for quality solutions will seek you out, and those looking for the cheapest product or service will leave you alone.
5. Screen clients
Just as a customer looks through information, reviews and often talks to you before making a purchase, you should be able to screen your customers and choose to work or not work with them. Use your website and any relevant forms to explain to your client what a perfect client for your business is. Since my content services are monthly agreements and more than just a single article, I have at least two 30 to 60 minute conversations with each potential client. I want to make sure they are a good fit for me and I’m a good fit for them.
6. Trust your gut
In the vast majority of bad client experiences, there are clear warning signs that trigger a sinking gut feeling that this isn’t going to work out. You have to be able to trust your gut, even if that means losing some business up front to grow a stronger base of quality clients. If you have a hunch, investigate it further by gathering more information from your client. If you’re still not completely sure, try working with them on a trial basis.
Preventing problem clients before wasting time and effort requires being able to detect them early and consistently. If you can’t find common trends among clients you continually have problems with, you may be the problem, not your clients. Your business is not operating efficiently if you're spending time on clients that aren’t worth it.
Related: 6 Signs It's Time to Fire a Client