A Nightmare Client And How To Survive

Working With A Nightmare Client And How To Survive

Have you ever imagined the ideal client for your business?

Have you ever been terribly wrong?

One of the most frustrating mistakes I made in the initial stages of my side business was not thinking about the larger picture.

Instead of thinking about all the important aspects of a client (namely, how good/bad they would be the work with), I focused entirely on how much money I thought I could make from working with them.

It was early last year and I was just starting my blog advertising business as a small side project.

Without divulging the entire details of this project, I was selling advertising on blogs – basically acting as a broker between advertisers and travel blog owners.

This not being a traditional job, I came up with all of the terms and processes by myself.

I had never done this before, and didn’t know anyone who had. What I needed were “volunteers” who were interested in working with me despite my lack of testimonials/referrals; basically, people willing to take a chance.

Because I was focused on blog advertising, specifically from a link building standpoint, I was interested in some key blog metrics, namely

  • The blog’s pagerank
  • The blog’s domain authority and page authority
  • The blog’s traffic
  • The overall quality of the blog

You might gleam from this one very notable absence, and that was anything pertaining to the blog owner.

My expectations were that I would have to start small and build my way up. It would be a while before I attracted the heavy hitters with high authoritative blogs.

But I was wrong.

Low and behold, not long after my initial pitch I received an email from one set of bloggers who owned a very prominent travel blog.

It was very authoritative in its niche and had a solid page rank of 3.

I was ecstatic. I knew that we could both make a lot of money and that the advertisers I was connected with would love their blog and throw offers at them.

I wanted to begin right away so I hit them with the terms of my newly developed business.

After some initial back and forth we finally compromised and got the work. As I suspected, the advertisers were very interested in the site and several great offers were made within a week.

Based on my fee I was calculating my commission and I had already racked up hundreds of dollars in just a few days in “hypothetical” money.

Now, if I could just close those deals…

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the client rejected ALL of them.

  • The price was too low
  • They didn’t like the client
  • The advert wasn’t natural

And so on.

In addition to this, we had some further disagreements over how the business was conducted.

Things I thought I had explained turned out to have not been clear.

There were also a few hiccups on my end with my assistants, mostly the result of, well, just starting out.

After a month of failed attempts, not a single deal was closed. Not only did I not make any money, I actually lost money for the work that was done by my assistants.

More importantly, however, I lost a lot of my time as well as added stress from seeing good deal after good deal rejected for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

Looking back, I should have been more alert. Here’s why

What Were The Signs?

There is no one to blame in this scenario but myself. I had dollar signs for eyes and I let that cloud my judgment.

I could have very easily seen that this was never going to be a fruitful relationship.

There were several clues as to why this was never going to work out.

Too Picky – I could tell from the start that the client was going to be very picky with what deals they accepted.

This was due to their opinion of their blog and their own business goals.

Essentially, they did not align with what I was offering. To some extent this is the fault of the client for not being honest with themselves.

They wanted the money I was offering to get them, but did not want to do what it took to get it.

They wanted it on their terms, which was just not going to happen.

Yes, they had an authoritative blog, but they were by no means the only authoritative blog in the industry and the advertisers would simply choose to go elsewhere.

If your job is to negotiate deals, then a picky client is not going to help you get much done.

Argued With The Commission – My first proposal had a 50/50 split on all earnings.

These bloggers requested that I go 60/40 (and naturally I acquiesced).

Yes, 50/50 is a high commission (though without sharing the details of the business it is difficult to go into intricacies like commission).

Still, I knew the value of what I was providing and believed it was fair.

In some circumstances it can be OK if there is a bit of negotiating, but in most cases I view this has a lack of confidence on the client’s side in the value of what you are providing.

If they don’t see the value in your offer, you should wonder, will they find value in a job well done?

In It For The Wrong Reasons – Simply put, this client was in it for the wrong reasons; they wanted my services because it was something they THOUGHT they should want but not something they ACTUALLY wanted.

As I said below it really did not align with their business goals, and that should have stopped us from the start. 

What Lessons I Learned

Don’t Overestimate And Don’t Underestimate – Now that I’ve been running this business for a year, I have seen some funny things from clients and advertisers.

I have seen people who I almost turned away (thinking they weren’t a good fit) be some of my best customers and vice versa.

There are a lot of things that make up a good client. Some people just have the determination to be successful, they want to make things work and will do whatever they can to make it happen.

These people, almost regardless of the authority of their blog, have often returned some of the best results.

Try to read the signals and remember what matters most in a client (things like motivation, trust, communication, and understanding).

Don’t Neglect Your Other Clients – Ashamedly during this period I was less attentive to my other customers (there were about 3 at this time) and almost let one or two slip completely.

This would have been a huge mistake as many of these starting customers stayed on the longest and gave me great testimonials and referrals later on.

Set Expectations – I hate to steal a term from my corporate days but it’s true; you have to set expectations.

I was not clear with these first clients on what to expect. Perhaps, deep down, I knew that what they would not like what I could actually deliver, and was hoping that they would come around after they saw how it worked.

I thought that I could convince them, which in and of itself was a red flag.

In these cases, people don’t come around, they just say no.

Better communication on my part would have saved us both a lot of headache.

Know When Enough Is Enough – After everything above, I still managed to stay in this “relationship” far too long. I should have pulled the plug after a week or two at the most.

Heck, when they rejected the first deal (which was very representative of what was to come) I should have known that nothing would come of it.

Instead I drained even more time and energy into trying to make it work, and in doing so almost jeopardized the whole business.

Correct It Going Forward – A few weeks after I parted ways with this client, I received a very similar email from a different blogger.

It had the same look and feel – a very nice blog with someone who I did not think would be interested in the services I was providing, but reaching out to me because they thought they should.

Luckily, this was all still fresh in my mind and I politely declined working with them – saving us both future headaches and stress.

If you’re going to screw up, screw up once and only once.

In fact, after I declined that one person they thanked me for what they considered refreshing honesty.

All and all, the business rebounded wonderfully from this first disaster, and in the last year has brought in over $150k in revenue.

Another lesson, therefore, is to not let one hiccup bring down the whole business.

It was a sound idea I had but the execution needed work and I had to find the right people.

Eventually I did and flourished.

Ask The Experts

Lingbo Li is the mastermind behind LingboLi and freelances as a web designer at SaucedMedia

So my three basic criteria for clients are: has money, knows what they want, and not an asshole.

I had a client who paid a deposit a year ago on a website, but didn’t have their stuff together.

They would disappear for a months, then reappear for a month at a time and ask for new design work, before disappearing again.

They didn’t seem to comprehend that I couldn’t endlessly revise and redo the designs in perpetuity, despite the “limited to two revisions” line in the contract.

A two week design job became a one year design job with a side of heart attack.

Even worse, I was still on the hook for the development portion!

The client wasn’t an asshole – he was just very inexperienced and non-technical.

I generally find the technically savvy the client, the easier they are to work with. In this case, it was hard to screen this client out entirely.

He paid his upfront deposit and seemed nice enough.

The tough part was extricating myself from this nightmare – I was actually losing sleep over dealing with him.

I took a few steps:

1) I told him I wouldn’t be available for the development portion, and that the deposit would cover just the design portion.

I conveyed this in a “this is what is best for you” email, emphasizing that I wanted him to be prepared and have someone helping out that was fully committed. Thankfully, he agreed to the new terms.

2) I had my assistant help out with some of the revision requests so I wouldn’t go totally insane.

The worst part about dealing with a difficult client, particularly if you’re a freelancer, is primarily emotional. I felt like I was trying to reason with a demanding five year old all the time. Having an assistant help out with some of their ridiculous requests helped me let off a bit of steam.

3) Try your hardest to use “win-win” language.

I got farther with communications that emphasized how my decisions were in his best interest than when I blatantly expressed frustration. (Although the latter was a lot more satisfying.) Bitch about the situation to a confidante or mentor, but do your best to keep communication neutral and/or compassionate.


David Schneider

Dave is an author at Ninja Outreach and has a passion for digital marketing and travel. You can find him at @ninjaoutreach and [email protected]