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Do you know that feel?

The one where the phone rings or you see an email with a certain name and the awesome feeling and energy you woke up with is gone in that millisecond.

It's the project that won't go away, it’s the client that saps your energy and your will to live.  They want the world but don’t want to pay for it.  They want your ideas, your expertise and everything that goes with it but they demand well beyond the time you've allocated (which isn't a stingy amount either).

When you get to this point, it might be time to call it quits with that client.  Managing client relationships can be tricky at times but there are some key lessons that can help you ensure you find the right clients for you from the start.

When it comes to managing clients, here are a few lessons learnt from the trenches:

1. Start as you mean to continue

Unfortunately at times it’s our fault as much as theirs.  We've let it go on for so long like this that they expect that it’s just way you work.  They ask and ask and ask and you give and give and give.  When you start with a client (after you've learnt the very harsh lesson above) it’s time to set some boundaries and be clear on what the output looks like.  At least if they want more you'll be able to manage that expectation and that cost and provide them with a quote that is reflective of what they want.

  • Number of hours you'll work on the project in a week.  If there are more hours that are needed then they will be billable.  You’ll see the number of changes/updates/just another 10 questions or tasks will diminish.
  • Times they can call you – Saturday morning at 8am is not one of those times, neither is 10pm on a Thursday night.  (obviously international time differences taken into account)
  • Set project times and regular calls so that they know when they can bring up all these problems with you and they aren't wandering when they can connect.

2. Get it in Writing

Everything – get everything in writing.  It doesn't have to be a contract but track emails.  If you have a phone conversation and agree a number of things, then send an email immediately after outlining what you’ve just agreed to in the phone call.  This means that you’ll have a record of it all should anything go array later on. – This is a big one! Some people can be very “forgetful” when it comes to what has been agreed, especially when it means that there may be an additional charge for something they have requested.

3. Work with people you like

Now I know that when you’re starting in business it can be hard and you want to take on any clients that you think have the money to pay you what you need.  But think about this, would you rather get paid and hate every second of the work that you’re doing, or spend more time going after great clients that will value and respect the work that you do?

Having clear guidelines and interviews/meetings before you start will help you decide if they are the type of client is going to make your life happy, healthy and wealthy or if they will drag you down into their quicksand.   Having a client screening form will help you avoid this messy and unpleasant position.

4. The Buffer – Under promise and over deliver

When you give yourself a buffer, it gives you two options:

1. is that if you have an awesome client who is great to deal with then you can give them a few extras and surprise and delight them.

2. if you get a client that takes up more time than you had anticipated then you have an additional hour or three that you know you've factored in for cases just like this.

When designing my coaching programs I tried to think about what I wanted for my clients.   I look at what I’m offering upfront and then work out what some of the bonuses or hidden surprises could be.  Not only does it excite me, but it gives me room to over deliver and provides excitement to clients who may not have been expecting something.

What this also does is that it allows you to have a buffer.  If you've planned to give you client A, B & C but then they end up being more demanding then at least you have a little bit more time up your sleeve because you were planning on maybe giving them an extra hour or so anyway.

When running your own business or even if you’re dealing with clients in a corporate role (which can be trickier), having these things in mind can make a big difference.

Being clear from the beginning and over communicating around what will happen over the period of the engagement, how it will work, what included and what’s not and what happens when things end up out of scope or running over time etc, will help you manage these situation with more ease when it’s already been thought through.

If you've learnt any key lessons from your client experience I’d love to hear your tips below.

4 Key Lessons from the Trenches – When it’s time to say goodbye to a client




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