We’ve all had nightmare clients. You know the ones, that push the limits, demand, call at all hours, try to get more out of you for nothing and pay late (or not at all). These are the clients that, when you see their call, you do your best to avoid them. It’s part of the rough-and-tumble that business can be, but it’s tiring and mostly unnecessary. In business how-to’s, our performance as a supplier gets a lot of attention: keeping clients, getting referrals, building brand and reputation. And rightly so. But there’s rarely any discussion on how we act as clients.
It’s easy to think that since you, as the client, have all the power. After all, you are paying the bill, so you can call the shots, right? But the way you act can work for and against you, most of the time without you every knowing. As business owners, we are also clients, so know what it’s like on the other side from D-grade clients.
There are a few ways that being a good or bad client can have not-so-subtle impacts.
Demanding clients are the most obvious, who purposefully or ignorantly keep pushing and taking. But it can backfire. One of my clients this week, a designer, had a client negotiate very hard for a retail project, to a ridiculously low price, then pestered the designer way beyond the scope of works to the point of financial loss. The client ended up getting up more than they paid for, and may be been patting themselves on the back. The downside? The designer didn’t refer their builders who may have saved them thousands, because they are too difficult to deal with. In another, nightmare client was bypassed for a marketing contract worth $40K, after the client stood over and belittled the supplier. No-one is doing any favours for the jerk client.
Prickly clients also do themselves harm by harming the client-supplier relationship. As the supplier withdraws, they care less, give only what’s contractually required and don’t get to truly understand the client, which could benefit them with a better service and suggestions of ways to improve.
Late- and non-payers, unfortunately very common, are also on the hate-working-with-you list, strangling the cash flow and pushing the anxiety for many smaller businesses. We all have limits and horrible clients should tread carefully if that supplier is valuable to them. Great ones can be hard to find so it’s wise not to take them for granted. It’s not unheard of for suppliers to fire clients, but more often not to take on any new work. One lawyer that I worked with fired some extremely difficult clients, only for them to be upset, knowing they would find it very hard to replace her. In my business I have refunded fees, knowing full well it will cost the client at least double to get the same service elsewhere.
How good are you as a client? Do you pay on time, or even early? Are you responsive, giving feedback on how the service is going? Do you get to know your suppliers so they can service you better? Are you understanding and flexible sometimes, if things go wrong?
Beyond what is just the right thing to do as a business, there are benefits for your business just by being great to deal with. Suppliers can also be clients, and certainly know potential clients for us. Beyond respect and appreciation for someone’s work, you can’t do business without them. It’s so much more enjoyable to work with agreeable clients - they always end up with the better deal.