3 Lessons I Learned From My Most Difficult Clients

Every business owner has a nightmare client-the kind that makes you wonder why you left your stable job to work with these people.  I've had a handful in the past few years, but quitting was never a more serious consideration than in two particular cases. Both times left me with sleepless nights, a bitter taste in my mouth and a feeling of hopelessness. I felt like the only light at the end of the tunnel was closing the doors and going back to substitute teaching.

The two clients that made me want to quit

The first client came to us due to a case of me thinking I was doing a good thing for a friend. It resulted in high expectations, insults, debt, and me never wanting to speak with the friend again.

The second case was a client with an upheaval in her priorities shortly before her event, leaving her believing we couldn’t do what she wanted. It ended in demands, insults, threats, many hours of extra work, an unhappy client and a negative review. This same client ended up driving another service provider out of business due to her harsh behavior. Was I going to join her?

Both were ugly scenarios-low pay, high work, degrading, and ultimately left me asking if owning a business was really worth it. Both left me asking “why did this happen? I genuinely cared for these people and wanted to serve them!” While I can’t change another person, the reality is, when I took a step back, I could see missteps that I had made in the booking process.

The one mistake I made to attract my worst clients

While I may have tweaked our sales call format, and finessed our client care process since then, the reality is that the single misstep I made was this:

I was desperate.

And because I was desperate, I wasn’t confident in my value. I wasn’t comfortable with each of these clients walking away from us and felt like my business depended on them booking us. We felt like we NEEDED them to hire us...even though it was a bad fit.

3 lessons I learned from my worst clients

Lesson #1: Trust your gut

I recently read about a study done on a group of women who were well versed in the luxury handbag market. They shopped for, owned, and resold luxury handbags regularly and, in this study, they were shown two identical looking bags-a designer and a knock off. They were divided into groups and given two chunks of time to identify the real designer bag. The first group was given 5 seconds to identify the designer handbag and the second group was given 30 seconds. The 5 second group identified the designer bag with startling accuracy while the 30 second group always struggled to choose the correct bag.

Moral of the story: when you’re well-versed in something, trusting your gut will prove more accurate than spending time contemplating all the options. When you're experienced, more time to choose a plan usually leads you to overthink things. If you have the experience to back you, trust your gut reaction.

Lesson #2: Be the expert guide

Because I was learning and growing, I didn’t know how to guide my clients. I went through adolescent phases of trying to do so-eagerly agreeing with them and letting them feel like I was their enthusiastic cheerleader, trying to be aloof toward clients until they worshipped me (isn’t that like, super luxury??), but ultimately, the best approach for me was to be an expert guide.

This means that I’m fully confident in my value and expertise, but I guide my clients with recommendations and experience. I use helpful words like “recommend” and “suggest” instead of “should” and “only.” This allows me to share my knowledge when it’s wanted, but still gives my clients full decision making liberty.

And ultimately, I’m not God-things could go far differently than I thought-there are always precedent-setting circumstances in my line of work. I don’t want to have pressured my clients into something and then have it come back on me afterward if something goes poorly. I want my clients to have the best information to make the decisions that make them happiest.

And when I started applying this approach, my clients trusted me even more as a vast wealth of knowledge and a trusted resource they could rely on.

Lesson #3: Believe in your value

Believing in my value ultimately came down to needing to change my mindset. Instead of a scarcity-driven belief that the client in front of me was my golden ticket to my next paycheck, I began adopting the belief that the clients I wanted were already out there for me and they’d find me in the right time. There was plenty for everyone and I’d have enough (clients, pay, work, publicity, etc). Just this shift in my thinking created a much more relaxed, positive, and confident approach.

Now our meetings have become much more like a great date. By the end, I’m willing to leave without a kiss goodnight and they are only leaving if we have a second date scheduled.

You'd better believe that these lessons created massive shifts in our business! Tune in next week to learn just how these lessons impacted our growth. And drop a comment below-have you been burned by a client before? What have you learned from it?