Stop the Abuse! 7 Steps to a Well-Trained Client

John Tabita

In my last article, I wrote about how we allow clients and prospects to mistreat us. Such treatment can range from the merely annoying, to unprofessional, disrespectful, or outright abusive. Regardless of how you label it, or whether it’s deliberate or not, the bottom line is: do you want to be treated that way? Of course you don’t!

Train or be Trained, That is the Question

Dr. Phil says that you either teach people to treat you with dignity and respect, or you don’t. But respect doesn’t come by demanding that others treat you right. Talk is cheap; you’ll gain more respect from your actions rather than your words … actions rooted in the right attitude, that is. Here are seven practical attitude and action steps to take.

Play Hard to Get

I found that playing hard to get works well in both dating and buying a car. (I discovered both by chance.) In the latter situation, I found myself held captive in the back office of a car dealership, as two different salesmen tag-team pressured me to buy the car I’d just test-driven … a slightly-used Ford Mustang in mint condition with low mileage.

The problem was, I’d walked into the dealership on a whim, not really knowing what I could afford or how much I’d pay for insurance. As I kept resisting their advances, the price of the car kept getting lower, and the value of my trade-in kept getting higher.

And as far as dating goes, why is it that, when you realize the person you went out with last week is crazy for you, he or she suddenly becomes slightly less interesting?

Sales is a lot like dating, so when scheduling appointments with clients or prospects, don’t be too available. If you say, “When’s good for you? I’m wide open the next three weeks,” what the client hears is, “I’m not much in demand. How high would you like me to jump?” Instead try this: “I’m available Tuesday or Thursday afternoon. Which works best for you?”

It may seem like a small thing, but doing so sets the stage to prevent unreasonable demands on your time, like clients continually canceling and rescheduling meetings; or expecting you to meet twice a week at the drop of a hat anytime they have a question or concern. You can avoid much of this if you send the signal, early and often, that your time is valuable and that there’s a demand for your services.

Expect to be Treated as an Equal

This may seem difficult at times, especially when your prospect is a well-dressed attorney sitting behind a mahogany desk in her posh downtown office with eight-plus years of Law school under her belt … and you learned to design websites over the Internet, in the spare bedroom you call your office, from which you just came, wearing the only suit you own.

Yet, establishing a peer-to-peer relationship is important if you want to be treated as an equal, and not like a lowly sales person or freelancer desperate to close a deal. If that’s how you’re feeling, the next two steps will help you overcome this.

Remember Who Benefits Most

Keep in mind which one of you will benefit most from your business relationship. One new client may mean thousands or millions of dollars in fees for that attorney. And you’re making … what, a few thousand? Your attitude ought to be: If I can successfully accomplish her business objectives, this client will profit ten-times above and beyond the paltry fee I’ll earn from this project.

Remind Yourself Who the Expert Is

Those eight-plus years of Law school makes that attorney an expert in one thing—practicing the law. If she was some type of web-designing, SEO-ing attorney, she wouldn’t be meeting you to discuss hiring you, would she? You are an expert in your own right, and you’ll use all your expertise and knowledge to benefit her business—just like she does for her clients. Never forget that.

Expect Mutual Commitments

Some people think closing a deal means jumping through any hoop your prospect holds up, no matter how high. There’s nothing wrong with a little hoop-jumping, but it’s not unreasonable to expect a commitment in return.

A few years ago, I needed a new vehicle. This time, however, I walked into the dealership knowing exactly what I wanted and how much I had to spend. When we were ready to take it on a test drive, the sales person reconfirmed that the vehicle was within our budget. Then she asked the commitment question: “If you like the vehicle you’re about to test-drive, what will you do when you get back?”

There are many ways that could’ve been answered, but we responded with, “We’ll buy it.” If your prospect wants you to write a proposal, consider asking something similar. It’s perfectly okay to establish your prospect’s buying intentions before agreeing to his request. At the very least, I’d want him to commit to a day and time he’ll get back to me with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

Establish Expectations Up-Front

It’s impossible to manage your client’s expectations if you never defined them in the first place. Here’s a simple way to solve most problems before they ever become problems:

  1. Have clearly-defined expectations that you both agree upon beforehand
  2. Write them down

Congratulations! Now you have a contract. Just be sure it clearly stipulates how each situation will be handled and resolved.

As nerve-racking as it might sound, I strongly suggest you sit down, face-to-face, and discuss each point of the contract with your prospect before he signs. (In my next article, I’ll tell you exactly how to pull this off.) Emailing the contract only guarantees he’ll never read it. So when the unexpected pops up, who do you suppose will get the blame?

Rid Yourself of Low-End Clients

Choosing the right clients is crucial, yet it’s hard to be choosy when you first start out. So it’s not uncommon to end up with more than your share of low-end, cheapskates in your client base.

Once you’re established, however, consider ridding yourself of the lower 15 percent of your client base. This 2001 article, Clients or Grinders: Understanding the Three Market Types, is as relevant today as it was over 10 years ago when I first read it. The author describes the lowest 15 percent of the market as “grinders” who …

… will grind you and demand that you treat them like the people in the Top 15% category—and they will expect that treatment from you as they push and push to get things below your cost. They’ll promise you more jobs down the road and that just this one job needs a deal—the others will make you some money. Yeah, right!

The truth is: they’ll never let you make a dime off them while you suffer through insults, mistrust, constant changes and arguments over what you agreed to or didn’t—and no matter how well you do, nine times out of ten there will almost always be something wrong with the job you did. They will never be happy. They do not recommend you to their associates and this is probably due to the fact that they know themselves quite well and think that everyone is like that creep they see in the mirror every morning. If they need to invent a reason not to pay you, they can get incredibly creative! The Net is full of stories of people trying to collect on debts made by these people.

Regardless of whether your lower 15 percent consist of these types of clients, consultant Alan Weiss recommends you rid yourself of them on a yearly basis for the sake of growth. Doing so frees you to pursue clients in the top 15 percent. Failing to do so only serves to drag you down.

This last step won’t cause existing clients to treat you better, but it will give you peace-of-mind, as you shed yourself of very the clients who cause the most grief.

Keep in mind that there’s a way to fire a client who’s been a low-end but generally good one. And then there’s ways to fire an abusive client. Be sure to use the appropriate method for each.

Keep it Together, Man

Judging by some of the discussions I’ve witnessed online, this is a hot topic for most of us. But remember: it’s just business. Letting a client know how much he’s frustrated you is not professional. Keep cool as you implement each of these steps in your sales and production methodology, and watch as chronic client problems become a thing of the past.

This is Part 2 of the series Putting a Stop to Abusive Client Behavior:

  1. Stop Client Abuse of Web Designers Now!
  2. Stop the Abuse! 7 Steps to a Well-Trained Client
  3. Stop Wasting Time with Prospects Who Aren’t Serious
  4. Stop Giving Away So Much Free Information!
  5. Stop Writing Proposals to Win Business
  6. Stop Doing the Same Things and Expecting Different Results
  7. Stop Waiting to Get Paid! How to Collect Even when Your Client Delays
  8. Stop Getting Walked on and Set Some Boundaries Already
  9. Stop the Slippery Slope of Scope Creep
  10. Stop Making Endless Design Changes
  11. Stopping Abusive Clients: The Complete Process

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  • http://www.pricklypearmedia.com Angelo

    Another great read :)

  • http://www.futprimitive.com Barbara

    Loved this article! While I adhere to most of these points — and have seen the benefit of doing so, I also see some opportunities for improvement. I believe communicating the importance of mutual commitments to clients is still something they think they are above. I’m getting better at it though :)

    Thanks-for the pearls!

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      Your welcome!

  • http://www.crust.co.in crustconsulting

    A gripping discussion is couturier comment. I judge that you should compose more on this matter, it might not be a preconception subordinate but generally fill are not sufficiency to verbalize on much topics.

  • http://www.dovecreation.co.uk James Osguthorpe

    Just want to say I loved the paragraph that mentions the attorney sitting behind her desk and you, the designer, have just come from your bedroom / office wearing the only suit you own… My life so far! ha ha.

    Great article, loved reading it.

    James

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      My life, too. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://richardrazo.com Richard Razo

    You’re like the Tony Robbins for designers-I feel better now.

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      Wow, I like that. Thanks!

  • http://www.doslimones.co.uk Gem

    I absolutely love reading these articles, John. Have found lots of inspiration and general arse-kicking in them and I direct a lot of my freelance friends here when they have a business problem. Clients or Grinders – I’ve met both! And often at the start it’s the latter unfortunately. I think it’s important to find that sweet confident spot where, like you say, you can be an equal with the client. I like to remember that we’re all essentially humans – we all eat, sleep and poo; no-one is better than you, they just do something different. Hard when you first start out, but it gets easier as you move along in the freelance world.

    Thanks John, wicked read!

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      Thanks, I’m glad I could help! I was fortunate to find a few of those “sweet spot” clients early in my career. I agree, there’s nothing better than having that type of relationship.

  • Jason

    Good article.