Demanding Clients: How Far Should You Let Them Go?

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demanding clients

I get it. Everyone has demanding clients.

I’ve been feeding myself the usual clichés lately … “If it were easy everyone would do it.” “You can’t please everyone all of the time.”

But if I’m being honest — and you know me, I’m brutally honest — they aren’t cutting it.

Maybe it’s because I can deal with difficult clients, but we have a few who are downright unbearable.

And what I want to know is, as a young company, can we afford to clean house?

When Demanding Clients Become Detrimental

Client education comes with the territory, especially when you’re a consultant or company like me and have to catch clients up to speed with social media.

We expect to run into push back, disagreements, and general doubt about some of the things we do.

We get bombarded with requests like:

  • New/updated reports with new data
  • Starting a new community on Snapchat or [insert latest “hot” social media channel here]
  • Running ads to “outspend” competitor
  • Running ads to gain as many followers as possible in the next 6 months — and no, they don’t have to have any relation to our brand/product

We smile and nod when we get these requests, make changes where possible, or use our in-the-trenches experience to explain why this may not be the best route or option.

Heck, we’ve spent the past 7 months getting one big client’s custom social and ad report juuuuust the way he wants it.

We pride ourselves on being a boutique; we’re cheerleaders and hand holders; everything we do is custom.

And therein lies the rub.

Because we’re small, we have a small team and smaller margins. We have to make sure are processes and workflows are airtight so that we can deliver the same service to several clients, without fail.

So when demanding clients turn into divas and …

  • Constantly miss scheduled calls with no notice
  • Send critical info last minute (or not at all)
  • Don’t bother helping us respond to customer service needs in a timely manner (or at all)
  • Constantly engage in scope creep
  • Demand we “do better” on services we don’t provide for them (true story!)

… should I invoke The Donald and say, “You’re fired!”

I’m Breaking Up With You If …

1) You’re messing with my margins

I don’t mind spending extra time getting your reports just right, researching a new tool or platform, or engaging in a little espionage to see what your biggest client is up to online.

But if you’re just trying to get me to be your catch-all, it’s not happening.

A client we recently fired — we’ll call her “Lady Important Pants” — would constantly ask for us to do projects clearly outside of our scope, which was just managing her Facebook page.

We were asked to call her clients for her (no), or to start an influencer campaign for her and pitch people on her abilities (nope).

We sent six proposals over six months for projects she wanted us to manage that were outside of our agreement. And she never signed one, citing she didn’t have the money!

And her scheduled meetings? She’d promptly miss them week after week with no warning.

We spent so much time chasing down Lady Important Pants and doing her add-ons that our margins quickly disappeared.

My new cliché for margin munchers: “It’s better to starve alone than deal with clients who take the food right off your plate.”

2) You’ve got Daddy issues

We have one client who we’ll call “Dad.”

Dad loves to tell us what we need to do to improve our company, processes, and workflows … on non-scheduled, hour-long calls.

Or endless emails.

Dad likes to email us with his Facebook Page Insights and ask us why we’re not performing better … we have to remind Dad that we don’t manage his Facebook page, just his Facebook ads.

And Dad? While you only posted twice for the entire month of March to your Facebook Page, 80% your website traffic that same month came from the Facebook ads we created and managed for you.

We wish Dad would let us be the parent and manage Facebook content and ads, but Dad doesn’t want to give up control.

There’s no use trying to educate Dad; he’s been in business longer, knows more, and really likes to stick it to us when we’re “bad.”

As my grandma would say, “he needs a spanking all the way to town!”

Or, just to get cut from the client roster.

3) You’re an a-hole

When I first got into business nearly five years ago, I read a most excellent book called, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’tTo reiterate, demanding doesn’t mean you’re a deviant a-hole. It has to go further than that.

The book outlines “the dirty dozen” or 12 common everyday actions a-holes use:

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one’s “personal territory”
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non-verbal
  5. “Sarcastic” jokes and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering email flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  8. Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible

Looking at the list I’m sure we can ALL think of one client, co-worker or (eek!) friend who falls into the book’s “more trouble than they’re worth” category.

The simple fact is, a-holes cost business owners time, money, and sometimes a lot more.

And while we’ve been lucky enough to only deal with a handful of these types of clients, we do everything in our power to spot them early on and eliminate them from our presence.

As for dismissing a-hole clients, we’ve only done it twice.

Size Shouldn’t Matter

It’s my personal opinion that even though we’re a small fry, we should absolutely be allowed to clean house when demanding clients turn into something much more difficult.

As a small business owner, it’s up to me entirely to shape the culture of our company, both with employees and clients and ensure it’s a healthy environment ripe for growth.

So while some may scoff and say I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face, I say, “THEN YOU DEAL WITH THEM.”

I’ll wrap it up with one more cliche when it comes to demanding, difficult, and deranged clients: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

Do you agree or disagree when it comes to cleaning house and saying no to (or firing) demanding clients? Let me know in the comments below!

Brooke Ballard for {grow}Brooke B. Sellas is an in-the-trenches digital marketer & owner at B Squared Media, blossoming blogger, and  a purveyor of psychographics. Her mantra is “Think Conversation, Not Campaign” so be sure to give her a shout on Twitter.

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  • Pete Austin

    Yes, the problem is sometimes that the client is an a*hole, but it can also be that they are a nice person but what they think they bought is very different from what you think you sold.

    Sometimes the problem is that you didn’t set expectations. or you dealt with one person while negotiating and an entirely unconnected person or group after the contract is signed.

    The solution in such cases is to get together, with the people involved day-to-day at the client, and agree what the contact entails. If you can’t agree, then try to shut it down by common consent – don’t “fire” anyone.

  • Pete Austin

    Yes, the problem is sometimes that the client is an a*hole, but it can also be that they are a nice person but what they think they bought is very different from what you think you sold.

    Sometimes the problem is that you didn’t set expectations. or you dealt with one person while negotiating and an entirely unconnected person or group after the contract is signed.

    The solution in such cases is to get together, with the people involved day-to-day at the client, and agree what the contact entails. If you can’t agree, then try to shut it down by common consent – don’t “fire” anyone.

  • Bernice Mirrilees

    Especially when you’re a small shop, you need to apply the 80/20 rule. If the bottom 20% of your clients take up 80% of your time it’s time to let the go. Then you will have the bandwidth for the new customers you want to bring on board. And your employees will thank you!

  • Bernice Mirrilees

    Especially when you’re a small shop, you need to apply the 80/20 rule. If the bottom 20% of your clients take up 80% of your time it’s time to let the go. Then you will have the bandwidth for the new customers you want to bring on board. And your employees will thank you!

  • Jennifer Porter

    Thank you Brooke, for saying all the things that we want to say. Marketers tend to be people pleasers, it makes it harder for us to decide when enough’s enough.

  • Jennifer Porter

    Thank you Brooke, for saying all the things that we want to say. Marketers tend to be people pleasers, it makes it harder for us to decide when enough’s enough.

  • Nicole Krug

    I hear ya sister! I just broke away from a client that sounds strangely like Lady Important Pants. It can be a struggle to balance of how much to just suck up and when it starts becoming a true problem. Many thanks for the back up!

  • Nicole Krug

    I hear ya sister! I just broke away from a client that sounds strangely like Lady Important Pants. It can be a struggle to balance of how much to just suck up and when it starts becoming a true problem. Many thanks for the back up!

  • Brooke Ballard

    You’re welcome, Nicole! I want to be a reliable partner, but for my sanity (and the sanity of our team) I refuse to be a doormat!

  • Brooke Ballard

    You’re welcome, Nicole! I want to be a reliable partner, but for my sanity (and the sanity of our team) I refuse to be a doormat!

  • Brooke Ballard

    You have NO idea how much of a people pleaser I am, Jennifer! I’m constantly getting in trouble with my husband over being “too nice” in business — especially when it comes to payments. I’m learning to say no … and to try to keep myself/the team from working with jerks. A work in progress, but worth it!

  • Brooke Ballard

    You have NO idea how much of a people pleaser I am, Jennifer! I’m constantly getting in trouble with my husband over being “too nice” in business — especially when it comes to payments. I’m learning to say no … and to try to keep myself/the team from working with jerks. A work in progress, but worth it!

  • Brooke Ballard

    I LOVE that rule, Bernice! That makes so much sense. If we put that rule in place I think we can very clearly see who we should keep on and who we should let go. SMART. Thank you!

  • Brooke Ballard

    I LOVE that rule, Bernice! That makes so much sense. If we put that rule in place I think we can very clearly see who we should keep on and who we should let go. SMART. Thank you!

  • Brooke Ballard

    Hi, Pete! Thanks for your comment. I have to politely disagree with you, though. Our agreements are (probably too) lengthy as we cover the scope of work in depth. Knowing that our clients don’t understand social very well, we like to spell it out so they understand exactly what they’re getting. We also have a few finer points in the Terms and Conditions section of the agreements. That said, it shouldn’t be my burden if you don’t read the fine print when you sign something — especially a contract!

    And we always have a “liaison” or partner that we work with. We go over the agreement and scope with them during the onboarding process to ensure everyone is on the same page.

    I like to think we’re pretty meticulous and start with the client education straight away to try to close any gaps with scope.

    You’re right, we don’t “fire” anyone … because I’m a people pleaser by nature, we find a nice/professional/business reasons to end the partnership — and always give recommendations on who else may be able to fit their needs!

  • Brooke Ballard

    Hi, Pete! Thanks for your comment. I have to politely disagree with you, though. Our agreements are (probably too) lengthy as we cover the scope of work in depth. Knowing that our clients don’t understand social very well, we like to spell it out so they understand exactly what they’re getting. We also have a few finer points in the Terms and Conditions section of the agreements. That said, it shouldn’t be my burden if you don’t read the fine print when you sign something — especially a contract!

    And we always have a “liaison” or partner that we work with. We go over the agreement and scope with them during the onboarding process to ensure everyone is on the same page.

    I like to think we’re pretty meticulous and start with the client education straight away to try to close any gaps with scope.

    You’re right, we don’t “fire” anyone … because I’m a people pleaser by nature, we find a nice/professional/business reasons to end the partnership — and always give recommendations on who else may be able to fit their needs!

  • Brooke, I’m totally with you on this one. We also have a very detailed contract that spells out what we will and will not do, as well as what the client will and will not do. But people tend to conveniently “forget” what’s in the contract. Somehow they think that “Facebook” equates to “everything related to social media, no matter what platform it’s on” or that “AdWords” means “build a #1 ranking online presence for me for a tiny budget”. I’ve told several clients and prospects that we’re just not the right fit for their needs and even referred them to a competitor. And one client I did “fire” after 8 months of chasing her for info, approvals, and payments – gave her 6 weeks to transition to someone else and then cut her off. Harsh but necessary for both our bottom line and my sanity!

  • Brooke, I’m totally with you on this one. We also have a very detailed contract that spells out what we will and will not do, as well as what the client will and will not do. But people tend to conveniently “forget” what’s in the contract. Somehow they think that “Facebook” equates to “everything related to social media, no matter what platform it’s on” or that “AdWords” means “build a #1 ranking online presence for me for a tiny budget”. I’ve told several clients and prospects that we’re just not the right fit for their needs and even referred them to a competitor. And one client I did “fire” after 8 months of chasing her for info, approvals, and payments – gave her 6 weeks to transition to someone else and then cut her off. Harsh but necessary for both our bottom line and my sanity!

  • Brooke Ballard

    Thanks for that, Monica! I tend to agree with you, sometimes “Facebook” is misconstrued as “anything to do with online sites or social media in general, including advertising” — which unfortunately we cannot provide as one lump because I’d be dead broke and weeping in a heap on the floor if we did. 😉

    I’ll bend over backwards for nearly anyone, but I won’t be broken … there’s a BIG difference.

  • Brooke Ballard

    Thanks for that, Monica! I tend to agree with you, sometimes “Facebook” is misconstrued as “anything to do with online sites or social media in general, including advertising” — which unfortunately we cannot provide as one lump because I’d be dead broke and weeping in a heap on the floor if we did. 😉

    I’ll bend over backwards for nearly anyone, but I won’t be broken … there’s a BIG difference.

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