The Client from Hell

The Client from Hell

How to avoid ever getting another client from hell again. 👇

The client from hell: we’ve all had them. What can you do to avoid them in the future? How do you prevent yourself from constantly ending up with clients who drive you crazy?

The number one determiner of profit or joy in your business is the clients you work with. In this episode of Profitable Joyful Consulting, you’ll learn how and why consultants end up with clients from hell, what you can learn from the situation, and how to avoid them in the future.

Key areas discussed in this episode

  • 0:00 Introduction
  • 0:47 My biggest client from hell story 
  • 3:55 How (and why) to say no to the wrong thing
  • 4:46 How to let go of a client from hell
  • 5:41 Figuring out what a perfect client is for you so you can work exclusively with them 
  • 5:58 Why poor fit clients actually are not profitable
  • 7:35 Trusting your intuition when it comes to clients from hell
  • 8:58 How to prevent clients from hell from turning into actual clients
  • 10:12 Clients from hell as spiritual teachers
  • 11:35 Discovering the lessons from clients from hell
  • 12:19 Avoiding clients from hell by being a perfect client



Podcast Transcript

The client from hell. We have all had them. Hopefully you’ve had fewer of them. What can you do to avoid them in the future? How do you prevent yourself from constantly ending up with the client from hell? That’s what I’m going to talk about today. 

Hey, it’s Samantha Hartley of the Profitable Joyful Consulting Podcast. This is Season 12, and I am talking about ten drivers of a consulting business in this season. 

Today’s driver is all about perfect clients. How do we end up with anything but perfect clients? How do you end up with the client from hell? I’m going to talk about the five things you need to know about clients from hell. Let’s jump into it. 

First thing, I can’t say the client from hell without you wanting to hear about my client from hell story. Yes, I have had them. I’ve had a few. There’s three big ones who stand for me as pillars of hell. I’ll talk to you about how I use those pillars in my business and what I’ve learned from them.

Let me first tell you about Susan, that is actually her real name. I’m not going to bother to come up with a pseudonym. Susan was a very, very early client in my business, and she had an idea for a little marketing agency that she was doing. The idea she thought was revolutionary wasn’t that creative, that should’ve been one of my first indicators. She was very new. Too new is the first way she was a client from hell. Too new in her business to really benefit from what I do.

Over the time that we were working together we had two major values clash because the ideas that I would give her for growing her business, they seemed to “pollute” (in her words) her idea of how it should happen. She seemed to have a very spiritual approach and if you listen to my show, you know that I’m spiritual. She felt it was bringing the sewer into her sanctuary, just quoting her literally. So whenever I talked about commerce, monetization, any ways that she could actually turn this business idea into something that would earn money for her, which is the point, it was polluting her idea. 

I don’t know what she envisioned for that, or what she thought would be this angelic currency that we would all be using instead of selling her thing for money, or doing any kind of marketing for it. You can hear we did not share values about how that should happen. If it’s not obvious, the last piece is that she was not coachable. So I would give ideas, then she would have a hissy fit about those ideas, and I would be like, “You asked for ideas.” She asked for input.

So finally, my husband and I had a conversation about it because he was kind of involved in this. I said, I don’t know how to work with somebody who keeps pushing the help button, and that generates asking for help. He said, and I think this is really critical, “It’s possible that the way that you can help her most is to allow her to crash the plane into the side of a mountain.” 

Her business was not going to thrive the way she wanted it to, so failing may be the best learning that she could have. It inevitably did after I left, and that would be a learning experience for her. 

You can’t help everybody (nor should you). That’s my first point to you. 

There was crazy symbolism happening while I was working with this client. We were in San Diego. There was a rainstorm and that never happens in San Diego. Then the toilet in her office clogged. The Universe was sending me all of this symbolism of, “Get out of there,” which I eventually did as you can hear. But as I mentioned, you do not have to help everybody in your business. You should not help everybody. 

One of the first things that we need to know in our business is how to say no to the wrong thing. Introduce the principle into your life that you are not going to work with everybody who shows up. This was so confusing for me. Someone says, “I need your help, will you help me?” We have to be able to say, “No, I will not help you because you’re not a fit.” 

What you need and what I do are not the same things. Or even if they were the same things in that case, what you want and what I do are not going to be a fit for one another. You do not have to take that client on. If you happen to, as I did, end up taking that client on unintentionally, you do not have to continue with them. 

There were many junctures at which I could have bailed. I eventually bailed from it when I realized we’re in an impasse, we’re never going to get anywhere. I want you to just allow yourself to let that in. If this is a new idea for you, don’t work with anybody. If you’ve accidentally ended up in a situation where you’re like, “Whoops, I don’t think that we can be successful here and the client can’t be successful with me.” Nobody has to be wrong. It just ends up not being a fit. It’s okay to say, “I think we should just stop working together now.”

The mechanics of how to do that are for another episode, but in general give yourself permission to say, “I think I got into something I don’t want to be in and I don’t I don’t want to continue.” You’re allowed to let that go for those reasons.

Knowing that we can say no to wrong clients, clients from hell, I want you to think about what is a perfect client for you? This is my second point. We have to know what is a perfect client for us. We have to work exclusively with perfect clients. Why? Not just because it’s fun, but because of profit and joy. It’s a Profitable, Joyful Consulting Podcast! 

The #1 determiner of profit and joy in your business is the clients you work with. Poor fit clients actually are not profitable. They don’t want the best of what you do. They don’t bring out your best. They’re not efficient to work with. They usually have habits which cause them to be late or waste time. Or they ask for too much or do not implement the work. All of these qualities that make them a poor fit for you and a bad client. If you want referrals or testimonials, you can’t get them from them because they’re only going to refer you to people like themselves, you don’t want to replicate that client. 

Conversely, perfect clients want the best of what you do. They pay you joyfully and on time. They show up for meetings prepared. Think about the qualities of perfect clients. They refer you to other great people like themselves. They give you testimonials and case studies. They help you pull through your genius by asking great questions. Perfect clients are amazing.

As you can hear, I’m not talking about this as a value judgment about a perfect person. Everybody’s a flawed human being, but perfect clients exist because exactly what they need is exactly what you do. That combo is going to make your business profitable and joyful. So give yourself permission to work exclusively with perfect clients. 

My third point here: Blink. Have you ever read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell? It’s all about how in an instant we know things and then we override those things, or we don’t notice those things because they happen so fast. That kind of intuitive moment, that single hit of intuition, or awareness can even be brain awareness. We see something and then a lot of times we move on from that. 

When people tell me, “I have a client from hell and I’m struggling right now, how do I get out of this?” Or they’ve gotten out of it and now they’re like, “How do I make sure that that has happened again?” What I ask them is, “What was the earliest point at which you knew this client was going to be a problem? When did you see that?”

It’s not in the third meeting. I will assure you that in the very, very first interactions with that client whether it’s when they first reached out to you, but definitely on the discovery call, definitely in those opening meetings, you’re going to have seen something where you think, “Hmm, something about this is not going to be quite right?” Then either because we like them, or other stuff is going well, or whatever, we step over that initial moment of awareness, and we go ahead and work with them when we shouldn’t have. 

You saw a red flag, but you didn’t stop, you blazed right through the stop sign. At least consider things to be yellow flags and pause and inquire. Sometimes a client can be perfectly good, but you see a little something, stop and acknowledge it, then ask some more questions, learn a little bit more.

With clients from hell, I assure you we don’t do that. I’ll look back at all of my interactions with my dreadful clients and I’ll think, the first moment I knew that was when they were late for the first payment, or when the person I was asking questions to begins every sentence with the word “No”. So you’ll have seen something, which indicated that this was going to be a problem and you ignored it or you pushed it away, or you thought, nah not that big a deal. 

Acknowledge those “Blink” moments in order to prevent the clients from hell from turning into clients.

Fourth thing: A client from hell is your spiritual teacher. They come into our lives to teach us something about ourselves. We have attracted that person into our life, or that company. We have attracted this experience into our lives to learn something, to teach ourselves something. So when you look back at the client from hell, I want you to ask yourself, “What was that client here to teach me?”

If I look back at Susan, she was so early in my business, she was there to teach me so many things. Can you imagine how grateful I am for her? I am so grateful to her for being my spiritual teacher. She taught me that I can’t work with someone who’s that new in their business. They need to have a proven concept. I also don’t work well with people who don’t share my values that growing a business and making a lot of money in your business is a good thing. I need people to believe that I’m good at helping people make a ton more money in their businesses, and if they don’t want that, then we’re at cross-purposes, right? 

She taught me that just because people ask you for help doesn’t mean they really want or need your help. And that I cannot help everybody who thinks they need my help. I could go on and on, but those are really, really big lessons that she taught me so early in my business. That was 20 years ago, or 18 ish years ago.

What are the lessons that the client from hell is coming to teach you? Do not. Please do not squander this opportunity by needing to relearn them again and again with other clients from hell. Just learn it the first time. 

Thank them. Thank you, Susan. Then move on with your life, okay?! They can all be perfect clients after that. I mean, seriously, you can have all perfect clients that you work with where the challenge is the work and not the people.

Let the challenge be the work that you’re doing. And not the people. All right. 

My last tip here on avoiding the client from hell: Don’t be one. When you are someone else’s client, would you please be a perfect client? Figure out what it means to be a perfect client for whoever those people are. If I’m the client of somebody who is coming to help me with things around my house, or things in my personal life like our finances, or if I’m in a coaching program, I always want to know what’s the expectation here? What does it take to excel at the thing that I’m wanting to do? Whether it’s that I want to learn a language or I want to be better with my finances. What do they need me to do? Show up, ask good questions and implement. That’s usually the bare minimum, right? So at least do those things.

Think about how you can be a perfect client for everyone for who you are a client, and then you don’t attract clients from hell into your life anymore. That way I can notice more quickly if I’m doing something that I would hate if I were the person working with me? Keep an eye on that. 

Those are five ways that can help you avoid the client from hell. Again, you do not have to allow these people into your business. You can have a joyful and profitable consulting business, and it’s pretty simple.

If you want to know more about The Ten Drivers Of A Consulting Business outside of just perfect clients, then check out my Super page There you’ll find the link to my self-assessment, where you can not only learn about the ten drivers, but also assess yourself on how you’re doing on them. With that, I do wish you a Profitable and Joyful Consulting Business. 

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