Take Back Your Time by Ditching Bad Clients

Are you tired, worn out, overworked? Apparently, so many of us are that a major U.S./Canadian initiative called Take Back Your Time has been formed to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health and relationships.

Lately I feel that my time has been eaten up by a non-ending series of administrative and client maintenance tasks that take a lot of energy to complete, aren’t satisfying and don’t necessarily move me in the direction of my goals – personal or professional. As part of my taking back my time, I’m doing a serious re-evaluation of where I spend it.

One thing I’ve noticed in the past two weeks is that 80 percent of my time-suck on these types of tasks is coming from 20 percent of my clients – the bad ones.  It’s likely that most of you have one or two bad clients, too. And while every client comes with their own challenges, these are the ones whom you dread dealing with. They take up your time and energy and make you wonder why you ever got into being a web worker in the first place. When you see their name pop up on your PDA or in an email message, you reflexively think, “What’s wrong now?”

Fortunately, I only have a few of these folks on my client roster – but not for long. I’ve decided that in the name of taking back my time, I’m going to politely fire them. By conservative estimates, this will free up about four hours a week I spend dealing with their drama. But more than that, it will make me happier. I’ll enjoy the clients I like and will be better able to serve them, because I won’t be beating my head against a brick wall with clients who aren’t a good fit.

If you’re feeling drained by a dud and wondering if you should dump them, here are a few things to consider:

They don’t appreciate what you do and complain constantly: Did you move mountains for this person, come in under budget and over-deliver, but they still aren’t satisfied? If so, it may be that you have a disconnect between what they expect and want and what you think they do.

Start by inquiring as to exactly what their expectations are and what they specifically aren’t happy with. If their expectations are something you can’t deliver on, be up front about it. If you can and do meet their expectations, and they are still unhappy campers – cut your losses and leave.

They always want things done on the cheap: It’s one thing for a client who gives you a lot of work or books you for a big assignment to ask for a discounted rate on a particular project; it’s another to be nickled and dimed to death.

It’s often the case that the clients that pay your lowest rate are the biggest pain and the least loyal. If a good client who gives you steady work and is easy to deal with asks for a break now and then – accommodate them. If it’s a constant battle over cash, politely tell the person, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do what you want for that price.”

They don’t pay on time: In a difficult economy, you can expect some slow pay issues – especially if you’re a freelancer. But clients who repeatedly pay late, promise to send you a check by a certain time and don’t or outright stiff you – are a no-win.

Professionals get paid for the work they do, period. That having been said, if a good client is behind once in a while, cut them some slack and extend them some additional time to pay.

They don’t take your advice: Nothing is more frustrating than being hired to help your client achieve a goal and then not having anything you say be taken to heart.  Clients who won’t listen to your professional advice, insist on doing it their way, argue with you at every turn and then complain when they don’t get the results they want are bad clients.

My standard line with these people is, “If you are going to hire someone to coach you, it’s not a good use of your money not to listen to them.” If my pep talk about empowering me to empower them does not work, I nicely suggest they would be better off hiring someone else whose opinion they trust.

While it’s never fun to fire a client – and most of use want to avoid the conflict when we can – holding onto bad clients carries with it a huge opportunity cost. The emotional, physical, mental and even spiritual drain of a bad client can keep you from enjoying your job and even your life.

So, go ahead — politely fire a bad client today. Who knows, you might just take back enough of your time and energy to create some great new ones.

Have you fired a bad client recently? How did it go?

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