Bad Clients or Good Ones: Where is your Focus?

Are you caught looking the wrong way?

Are you like me? If you had a child and they came home with a report card filled with B's except for 1 A and 1 D, would you focus on the D? I would. You would. Everyone I know would. Except Marcus Buckingham. Because he'd focus on the A and find out what was working – and then see if he could replicate it in the D class. That's because he's smart. He's a “strength-based” guy.

“Bad” Clients

I ask where your focus is because I catch a lot of people, particularly solopreneur developers who work with WordPress, focused and talking about the bad clients that cost them money. I'll admit it. I get caught up in discussions with them too. Dissecting every move. But trust me when I tell you, it's like talking about the D on that grade report.

The opposite of bad isn't good. It's just not bad. 

“Good” Clients

So if anything, we should focus on the clients where things are working. They're the As on our report card.

  • Where bills are paid promptly.
  • Where expectations are managed well.
  • Where references seem to keep coming, long after the job.

What can we learn from them and leverage with everyone else, so we have more of them?

No Shortcuts

I think if we focus on the clients where things are working well, we'll see we've done a lot of great things – even if we didn't know it. We chanced upon it, maybe. But it wasn't easy and it took work. And you know this, because I already told you – but here it is again: there aren't any shortcuts.

But maybe you need to hear it from someone else:

The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary – Vidal Sassoon

Turning Bad Clients into Good Ones

In another post I'll give you my secret sauce on picking great clients, but for now, let me give you five tips on how to help turn bad clients around. You know, the ones that are mad and unreasonable.

1. Own everything you can. Most of us get defensive too quickly. Stop that. Don't talk. Listen empathetically. It goes a long way.

2. Never create a hostage situation. First, here's something not to do. Don't hold your product or code as hostage until a client becomes reasonable or pays you. It only makes things worse. It fosters an antagonistic dynamic and you can't get to a healthy relationship on that road.

3. Get on the phone or better yet, meet in person. Something like 75% of communication is body language. So don't try to repair relationships on email, text or using chat. Sitting in front of a person immediately helps calm things down because people feel far more restrained in person than when they're interacting digitally.

4. Listen for more than words. Your client is frustrated and becoming unreasonable because deep down they're scared, hurt, or stressed. Find out the source of the issue. You will never know if you can solve that core issue if you don't even know what it is. (hint: it's rarely what you're focused on)

5. Create immediate action & communication plans. When we're in the middle of a crisis, I speak faster. I want my client to know I'm just as involved as they are and feel their sense of urgency. I stop joking. They have to feel like I'm on their team. One thing that helps is have a clear sense of next steps – an action plan, if you will. The other is a communication plan. Do we need to talk daily at 5 pm? Sometimes that helps. I'll often say, “I'll call you daily with updates until you tell me you don't need me to call anymore.”

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.