When you are starting your business, lead gen and signing that next client are the most important elements of your job. As you continue to build your business, managing those client relationships becomes more and more important. So what do you do when an existing client relationship goes south, or when you find that you've signed a new client who is just a bad fit?
What are the reasons for parting ways with a client -- and how do you know when the time has arrived? What follows are the behaviors that I think constitute a toxic client relationship. Your mileage may vary, of course. Only you know your personal professional boundaries.
If you're working with a client who is never happy, no matter what you do or how hard you work, it may be time to reevaluate your professional relationship. A steady drip-drip-drip of criticism not only wears you down -- it makes you doubt yourself and your ability. This may take the form of repeated communications just to complain anew about something that has already been put to bed and settled.
Compare your critical client with the many happy clients you've had over the years. If the amount of criticism you're receiving seems disproportionate or uncalled-for, it could have its roots in an ungrateful attitude or a manipulative attempt to undermine your confidence.
All Negativity, All the Time
Similarly, some clients seem constitutionally incapable of offering an "attaboy" or "attagirl" no matter how well things go. Even in the face of good news, these clients will nitpick the one less-than-ideal element for special notice.
If you find yourself dreading every text, email, and phone call from your client because the news is always bad -- even when it's good -- it may be time to cut ties. The negative energy your client is bringing to your work can result in clouded judgment and negative outcomes in your work together.
Once you've spoken to your client, agreed on a compensation scheme, and moved forward together, the compensation question should be settled (barring incompetence or unprofessional conduct). If your client wants to return again and again to the question of how much you get paid and try to renegotiate the terms of your agreement, you may be working with the wrong client.
Watch out for this type of behavior delivered in a joking way, as well. Jokes about whether you're "worth all that money" or that you're "bleeding him/her dry" may be thinly veiled attempts to undermine you and make you doubt your worth. Don't let that happen.
Personal or Professional Disrespect
Disrespect for you as a person, whether based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, or any other factor should be an automatic deal-breaker for you. Again, this includes so-called "jokes" at your expense or thinly veiled insults based on your appearance or identity.
Similarly, questioning your professionalism, competence, or fitness for no cause other than to exert power should be reason enough for you to "fire" your client. You work hard and you deserve to be treated with the respect that your hard work and expertise have earned. Don't give anyone permission to treat you as less-than.
Everyone thinks that they have impeccable integrity until they are offered money in exchange for it. If you have a client who wants you to do something that you know is dishonest on their behalf, you need to make a quick exit.
Remember, it's not just your personal integrity that's at stake -- it's your professional reputation. Acting in a dishonest or fraudulent manner at the behest of a client leaves you open to criminal and civil liability. What's more, once you've done something wrong, you may be trapped by your own complicity in a toxic professional relationship for years to come.
I know you think you can't afford to fire that toxic client. I know you think that it's over-sensitive to give up money in order to take better care of your heart and spirit.
Here's what I believe -- when you get rid of that negative, cruel, disrespectful client, you open the way for a client who appreciates you, collaborates with you, promotes you and refers you to others.
Make space for that client in your professional life. You deserve that client -- and they deserve to work with someone as wonderful as you.