Demanding Clients: How Far Should You Let Them Go?

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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