On Saying No to Clients
This week has not been a great one at my day job. (I was going to say 9-5, but I work 8-5.) And it has been almost entirely due to one customer making sudden paperwork demands that I have been required to meet.
Is there any benefit to me in meeting this customer’s demands? Not at all. I don’t get any bonuses or commissions. Yes, the company has a better chance of retaining this customer, and appreciates my efforts, but it has been a whole lot of stress for nothing.
This situation has really made me long for the days where I can be in control of my own business, and choose which client requests I will meet, and how much I will charge them for my extra work.
I’m not a person who naturally says no to people (though I am better at it than some people I know). But saying no to clients is a crucial part of any functional business. Otherwise, you will be overrun, overworked, and underpaid, as revisions and requests eat up valuable time and energy.
However, how do you combine saying no to clients with being a great team player and an asset to your client’s company? With boundaries and expectations.
A clear onboarding process and/or contract is vital to making sure your clients don’t ruin your life and business. Outline exactly what you will do for them, and set limits. If they want to exceed those limits, set a price tag. Because most of the time, you would be completely happy with the additional requests if they made you additional money. It’s not telling your client no, it’s saying, “Yes, if . . .”
Build an escape hatch. Imagine your worse possible client. How would you protect yourself if you had to work with these types of companies? First, you should build something that would make it so you won’t have to – a vetting process to screen out the truly incompatible, a non-refundable deposit to prevent clients that don’t pay, and a time limit so WIP projects don’t keep going for years.
Next, go through your workflow process (don’t have one yet? Write down all the steps you take for each type of project, and continue to edit and refine – it will be super helpful, I promise!) and think of how a terrible client could ruin each step. What could you do ahead of time so that won’t happen? Build it into your contract.
Yes, you will know more about how to set up strong contracts after you’ve dealt with a few difficult clients. But you can relate your other experiences to your business to think of possible scenarios your contract can prevent. Like with my experiences with my day job’s difficult customers. If a client makes a request that will cost me time and effort outside of the scope of their project, I want to be able to refuse it or charge them a fee.
Obviously, you are not going to want to nickel and dime your clients with constant fees. So one thing to do is build some buffer time into any contract, because there will always be unknown things that happen. If it helps, track that “extra” time, because little things can add up, and it will help you budget that in future contracts.
What is the worse experience you’ve had with a customer or client?