In our first post in this two post series, we looked at building great relationships with your clients. In this post, we look at how to deal with difficult clients.

It’s been said that there are no bad clients, only bad situations, but as anyone who has ever had a loud, confrontational phone call from an angry client will tell you, while some clients are worse than others, there are some that are just bad apples. So how do you handle uncomfortable situations and difficult clients?  Here are 4 rules for just these kinds of problems.

Keep your cool

It can be very tempting when dealing with a difficult client to let one rip and tell them about the incredible lengths you have gone to to keep them satisfied.  But it rarely does any good and it can often lead to more contention and, heaven forbid, legal proceedings for things like breach of contract.

Keeping your cool can prevent the situation from hotting up and causing a catastrophic breakdown.

The red zone

Clients are supposed to be profitable.  If a particular client is costing you more in time and resources than they are paying you, it’s time to reconsider the relationship.  A time audit can be a good way to assess the cold hard facts of the situation.

If the demands of the client are keeping you in the red, you need to decide if there is anyway to get back to black.


Many problem clients raise red flags long before a concrete problem arises.  Common red flags include asking for certain things not to be recorded in files, requesting payments under the table, and other tricks to keep things “off the books”.

Other red flags include asking for several iterations of a project before they decide on the one they want, asking for major changes mid project, or a history of terminating vendors before a project completes.  Once is unfortunate.  Twice is a huge red flag.  Three or more times and it’s time to walk away.

It’s not you, it’s me

When it becomes clear that the choice is between losing your sanity or a client, lose the client every time.  It can be as simple as a confession that you are no longer able to meet their needs to an inability to take on a new project or lack of availability for a meeting.  Just remember that if the relationship isn’t working for you, it’s time to move on.

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