The title and the quoted text below are a post idea I dictated into my phone some months ago. I am not one to rant often online because it it mostly fruitless and provides little value. So, it never got posted. This is a post came after the worst client encounter I have ever experienced. I left the crude title because I feel it accurately reflects the raw human emotion associated in the moment, kind of like when behind the wheel. So, sorry if that offends you. (side note: will Google’s self driving cars be responsible for reducing the use of foul language?)
I am done with the clients lack of organization becoming my emergency. I am done with clients that want everything under the sun for as little money as possible. I am done with clients that are not happy with anything that I do.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do like working with clients. I have lots of good clients. They are the ones who are happy for work service that I provide. They’re the ones that don’t complain constantly. But, they are the ones who get brushed aside because I’m responding constantly bad clients. They are the ones that I should be focused on but I don’t because the squeaky wheel keeps getting the grease.
Well, I’m done greasing that wheel. Screw that wheel, let’s replace it. Maybe it is just a bad wheel. Maybe it will never work better even if I grease it everyday. So instead of having the machine full of squeaky wheels, why not just build a brand-new machine. A machine full of excellent wheels. Full of wheels that don’t squeak. Full of wheels that just plain work.
I have spent years of my life trying to fix the squeaky wheels with more grease. But, I have come to realize that they never stop squeaking. And, the squeaky wheels are keeping me from focusing on the good of the entire machine. I am ready to start firing my bad clients so that I focus on giving the good clients the attention they deserve.
Ok, so pretty negative with a silver lining, right? Here is a little background on what spurred this post into being. This is the first client in my 16 years of work that I have decided that I cannot work with. I was constantly tested and challenged by them and this was an extreme case which pushed me to extreme places. I will likely never encounter a client of this sort again, but it did make me rethink how I work.
So what is something positive that we can spin out of this? What about the good client? Let’s focus on that. How can we make sure the good client gets the attention they deserve? I have thought about this for some time now and have begun to implement processes to help me understand when a client is not getting the attention they deserve.
Anticipate Future Client Needs
Like most web designers, most of my work is project based. When the project is over, the client work is complete. But, we should be looking toward the future. We should be anticipating when our client needs our help again. We should communicate this to them on a regular basis so they know that we can take care of them going forward. As web designers we stay up to date with the latest and greatest tools and practices that are available. Our clients need to know this. They need to know that we can take care of their future needs and it is up to us to tell them. Especially our good clients.
Did we explain to our customers the importance of responsive web design? Have we educated them on ways that we can help optimize their site for search? Have we explained to them how images on their site will look on retina displays as those continue growing in popularity? We should be.
Explaining this to our clients:
- Builds their confidence in us and our abilities.
- Makes us an authority on website questions of any kind.
- Shows that we care enough for them to educate them on ways they can improve.
- Ultimately leads to more work from them.
Charge Clients for Work Outside of Scope
First, it is critical to write down what work you are going to do. Communicating this can feel formal but it needs to be done. Doing so lays the ground work for client expectations and what the project includes. As web designers we often have the power to decide, billable or not billable. Sometimes we can be pressured into giving work away for free. Does any of this sound familiar?
The client is in over their head and we are just trying to help educate them.
The client is really nice and we don’t want to disappoint them.
The client has influence in the community and this could lead to bigger things.
The client really expected it to work the other way.
When we give our work away for free, we are setting future expectation. If we do this now, it will be expected in the future. If you one day stop, the client will think you are ripping them off and will likely get upset. Does this mean you can never do a favor for someone again? No. There are times when it does make sense to give the client something for nothing. Sometimes this is ok. But, make sure you communicate this act by sending them an invoice with the credited time. This will communicate to them, “hey, I just did you a favor and gave you something that has real value at no additional charge! Aren’t you glad that you work with such a cool web person?”
On another note, this practice can also lead to us having feelings of being cheated or taken advantage of. In reality we have cheated or taken advantage of ourselves. We did not communicate our services effectively, we did not communicate what we gave them for free and now the client expects these favors to be done regularly. This is OUR fault. We created this dynamic and getting out of it will not be easy. Now we have to go back to the client and either raise their rate to accommodate these favors or explain to them that we were doing them favors all along the way. Neither approach is likely to be received well, so it is avoided. It does need to be dealt with though. If we don’t, we risk growing bitter toward a client that simply misunderstands our services.
Remove the Squeaky Wheel
Maybe the client just can’t seem to remember to pay. Or, maybe they are just illogical or crazy. We are human, we have personalities and we will not all work well together. Sometimes the best answer is to quit working with the client. This is not something the we should do lightly and not something we should do in the moment. Before firing a client we should first look at ourselves and see if the problem is us. Ask yourself these questions.
Have I failed to communicate with the client effectively?
Am I doing favors that make me feel cheated?
Am I feeling this way toward a lot of other clients?
If I answer yes to any of these, the problem is most likely me. In this case, I should reevaluate my process and come up with a plan to address the problem.
We may have a case to fire the client if we answer no to those questions. Before doing so, we may need to think about alternatives. Sometimes a simple rate increase can quite a squeaky wheel. Increasing our rate for this client will most likely reduce the work, and squeaks, that we get from them. And, if it doesn’t, then maybe the extra money will ease our pain.
So you still want to fire the client? By now I am hoping that you get how much I do not want to do this. I feel like it is a last ditch effort and should be done rarely. This needs to be done formally with a written letter and preferably delivered in person or discussed by phone. You need to explain that you will no longer be supporting them and that the client needs to find another provider. Be polite, direct and to the point. Don’t get bogged down in the details of who did what, it is too late for that. The client may beg you to give them another chance, yes this does happen. At this point it is a judgement call and we need to rely on our intuition. But, if you are firing the client because of their payment history, make them prepay for future services.
Firing a bad client doesn’t sound like something positive, but it absolutely can be. Removing this squeaky wheel free us up to devote more time to our good clients. Our clients are the ones that run our business and it is important to recognize how valuable the good ones really are.
The image above is from a past post I did for the illustrator Nastplas
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