Use These 10 Red Flags to Spot a Difficult Client From a Mile Away

Is more always better? In this market, optimization is the name of the game. Business owners continuously seek opportunities to maximize their reach and win more clients. The more business, the better…right?

What happens when there is a challenging client or an angry customer? Conflict resolution isn’t always the best use of company resources. Regardless of if a client has unclear expectations or lacks trust in you, not every client is the best fit. Being able to identify those situations early in the relationship can save you headaches, bad days and wasted time down the road.

Here are 10 red flags that indicate a client might not be right for you.

1. A client who pushes your boundaries

Setting and establishing boundaries is an essential first step to avoiding bad client situations. If those boundaries are not explicit, or if the client simply doesn’t respect them, they’ll often ask for too much at the wrong time.

If a client pushes your boundaries on pricing or timing right out of the gate, it could indicate that you’ll struggle to manage the relationship going forward. Establish the parameters and scope of your work and communicate them in writing. Give the client ample opportunity to reply and ask any questions, then require their consent to proceed based on those expectations and terms. This helps the client feel that they are in control and that their concerns have been met.

If a client starts working with you less and less because you won’t let them violate your boundaries, then consider it a blessing in disguise. They aren’t truly a match for you to begin with, and you can begin to devote more time to healthier clients.

2. A client without vision

It’s difficult to achieve a satisfactory result for a client who doesn’t know what they want or whose goals are constantly changing. Make sure the client you are talking to knows what they need so that you can ensure you are capable of providing it. Ask clarifying questions and attempt to translate their input into measurable, attainable objectives. If you can’t do that, it’s best to decline the work until they achieve more clarity about their goals.

3. A client with different values

If you’re asked to sacrifice your company’s values, or your values, send the client on their way.

Any business relationship built on this expectation is doomed from the outset. Your business depends on a strong foundation of shared values. A single client is never worth compromising on them.

4. A client who over-steps

The success of any business-client relationship depends on mutual trust. If a client can’t trust you to do the job, they’re likely to indicate that mistrust by micromanaging the work they have asked you to do. Conflicts and clashing are likely to arise as a result. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, for you to do your job.

5. A client with unrealistic expectations

One of the most common client management problems is the client whose expectations do not map onto the agreed scope. Every business has its limitations. It’s essential to manage those expectations from the beginning of the relationship. If a client continues to hold expectations that conflict with your timeline or process, working together will only result in disappointment.

6. A client who’s unaccountable

You can only work with what the client can provide for you. If a client is unable to deliver the materials or information you need — or respond promptly — your job will be exponentially more difficult.

7. A client who fails the integrity check

The integrity of the people you work with affects your company’s reputation. If a client’s representations don’t map onto reality, or if they refuse to own up to their responsibilities, give careful consideration to whether you are willing to work with that individual or not.

8. A client who doesn’t fit your target profile

Having a clear vision of the kind of clients you work best with helps you identify the right clients from the outset and avoid those who aren’t a good fit for your company’s needs and values. If a customer doesn’t check any of your boxes, it is probably not a good fit.

9. A client who doesn’t trust you

You’ll never please a client who doesn’t trust you to provide the service they’ve asked you to perform. A client’s doubts about your advice, expertise or strategy indicate a working relationship that just won’t work for either of you.

10. A client who just isn’t right

At the end of the day, some clients are just not right for you. From a profit standpoint, it is hard to justify turning a customer away. However, it’s possible that you’re not a good fit for the client, either. It’s important to recognize the limitations of what you have to offer and think about if it makes sense for you to work together.

Turning people who are willing to pay for your service away goes against every natural entrepreneurial instinct. It’s important to understand that growth and profits are not necessarily the most important thing. The work you do, your company’s reputation and if your work aligns with core values are all equally worthy of consideration. Identifying red flags in potential clients can save you time and energy and give you the space to pursue the people with whom you can have a successful business-client relationship.

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