When a client is not worth it!

Ever had a client that no matter what you do, it is not good enough?

It doesn’t matter who you are, if a client is of a mindset to find fault, they will. It doesn’t mean that the fault they have identified is right or justified, but they will find a reason to complain. What do you do in those circumstances?

As a small business owner your clients can be hard fought to obtain, so when one turns out to be the client from hell, it is tempting to fight on and try and keep them happy. Some difficult clients can be brought around, but others, it is an impossible dream.

Difficult clients are not always apparent at the outset, some of them can initially seem so nice, before their dark side is exposed.

We have had a couple of difficult clients recently, one that we appear to have turned (I say that as you can never be 100% sure) and one where that would never be possible.

In scenario 1, we were building a landing page for the client. They were involved providing feedback right the way through the process. Just at the point we were seeking confirmation that we were finished, she had an epiphany and decided that it was totally wrong for her brand and that she wanted a refund. Given her involvement step by step, there was no justification for her new view. We had built what she asked for. In this scenario, what to do? Do we call time and terminate, or persist?

We advised the client that she would not be getting a refund as we had done the work, but we would be willing to make changes that she wanted. At this stage we were training a new employee so elected to see this as good training experience. We put a lot more effort into the landing page and she has now said that she is happy! Was it worth it? Would I do it again? Time will tell, but she now seems very happy and it is evident to her that we have gone “above and beyond”. Sometimes those people can end up being your best fans!

In scenario 2, the communication was not as strong. A landing page was built, which to us looked great, but the client hated. The landing page has now been rebuilt multiple times. The client put in writing that she approved the page for publication, but now claims that she is not happy with it. What to do? Cut your losses!

The client had agreed a 12-month contract which involved a landing page and ongoing services. It was apparent that no matter what we did, she would just shift the goal posts. We offered to terminate the contract and not pursue the remaining payments. What she had paid, did not cover the cost of the time spent on the landing page, so we were out of pocket, but we could never make her happy, so better to cut your losses. Not surprisingly, the nightmare client felt that was not good enough, despite all our effort, she wanted all her money back.

What do you do then? Relent? Or stand your ground? At all times you should remain professional and be seen to try and come to a solution. At this point, they are not going to be positive advocates even if you do give them all their money back, so there will never be a truly happy ending.

Sadly, there are people out there that know that by making an absolute nuisance of themselves that they will get their way. At this point you need to know your legal rights and make a pragmatic, not an emotional decision. Given the work that we had done and our willingness to not pursue the client for the outstanding payments, we were on strong ground to insist on keeping the one payment.

Based on our experience what are some tips?

  • For all new clients, communication is key. Be clear both verbally and in writing as to what they should expect. It is important to do both as sometimes people can either not hear or misunderstand a conversation. Putting it in writing will most often flush out misunderstandings.


  • Make sure that you do what you say that you are going to do.


  • If despite doing 1 & 2 you have problems then you are at a crossroads, either quit now or persist a little longer. If you didn’t have other factors as we had in scenario 1, quit now is probably your best option.


  • If you did as we did in scenario 2 and made a second attempt and that is still not good enough, call it quits then. If need be, give them their money back and move on, it’s not worth it.


  • Be pragmatic and prepared to move on. Difficult clients can consume inordinate amounts of time and simply are not worth it.


The sad reality in the “real world” is that there are people out there that are just not worth having as clients. They will go out of their way to be difficult and endeavour to get as much value as possible from businesses at as little cost as possible. If you find yourself with one of those clients, cut your losses quickly and move on, it will save you money and time in the long run.

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