Have you recently made the leap to starting your own online business?
If so, congrats!
As someone who’s hustled her way in the digital space since 2013, I can honestly say it’s one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made.
Being an entrepreneur is the most intense exercise in personal development.
It lets you find creative ways to do what you love. It will grow you, it will push you and it will teach you all the best things about yourself and others.
Buuuut starting a business is not all sunshine and roses.
At some point, freelancers and new entrepreneurs realize that there are two types of clients:
- Ideal clients
- “Less than ideal” clients
(Exhibit A: the website Clients from Hell.)
Maybe you’ve pinpointed who your ideal client is. Maybe you’re still testing the waters to figure it out.
Either way, it helps to have a simple framework to help you attract customers who actually want want you offer while minimizing your exposure to problem clients.
Before we move forward, let’s help you define what a problem client looks like.
Spot a Problem Client Before They Become YOUR Problem
I’ve also had my share of first client horror stories when I was starting out.
Looking back, I’m grateful to have gone through it.
Each problem client taught me how to market my services better, how to establish clear expectations, and ultimately, attract customers who valued the work I did.
But if there was one thing I wish I had, it was some kind of checklist for how to spot a problem client before they signed on the dotted line.
Here are a few signs of nightmare clients you should look out for:
- They haggle and try to negotiate your price down — without asking you for less work.
- They ask for a free sample of what you’ll do for them to “prove” that you’re worth their investment.
- They’re hiring you for your expertise, but they won’t listen because they think they know better.
- They don’t value your time and are constantly pestering you, even on nights and weekends.
- They’re known to be late on payments, either blaming you or coming up with every excuse.
- They challenge you on every invoice even when you’ve cut them a massive break… again.
Do any of these ring a bell?
If it’s not too late to let this client go, do so with integrity and honesty.
You only have so many working hours in a day, and you always want to deliver your best work.
So don’t be afraid to walk away from a potentially toxic relationship and make space for clients that will help your company grow in the long run.
Now that you know what to look for, let’s look at how you can start attracting more awesome clients to your business:
1 – Set high prices — and focus on the value you deliver.
When I talk to new entrepreneurs, the #1 thing I tell them is to raise their prices.
Because prices set an expectation of value.
You’re just not gonna attract the same kind of client at $50 that you will at $5,000.
Nor will you deliver the same kind of work for $50 that you will for $5,000.
And it’s not just a question of the money.
It’s a question of enjoying the work you’re doing and, therefore, delivering the best results for clients who are willing to pay for it.
As a newbie business owner the thought of having fewer customers is terrifying. But hear me out.
Price really boils down to:
- Establishing an expectation of the value you will deliver to your client.
- Establishing a “filter” to repel customers who will try to undercut or haggle with you on cost.
- Establishing how much you will earn as a company every month.
If you’re still nervous at the thought of losing customers, try raising your price for your next client by 10%.
Then raise your price by 20%. Then 30%. And so on and so forth.
Pretty soon, you’ll find that your business isn’t just profitable.
It’s also enjoyable for you and the people you work with.
2 – Vet clients on a video call.
An email comes through from your Contact page from a potential client.
You glance quickly over the message.
The job sounds doable.
The business seems reputable.
You do a bit of background research on them on Google. You ask around amongst mutual contacts.
But how you present yourself on emails, in social media, and in networking events is one thing. How can you be truly sure if they’ll be a good fit for you?
You hop on a video call.
The main things you want to look for are:
- Can I work with this person?
- Will they be fair to me?
- Will we be able to communicate effectively with each other?
Over time, you’ll start to trust your gut in these calls. You’ll start to read between the lines and hear what they’re not saying.
Aside from whether or not you get a good vibe from them, you’ll be able to spot potential red flags (i.e., do they want you to work nights and weekends?).
At the beginning of each video call, I always tell potential clients that they’ll walk away with clarity: either (1) the next steps they’ll take to start working with me or (2) a referral to another professional in my trusted network.
That way, if you hear an alarm bell go off in your head, you can politely connect them with someone else.
3 – Invoice clients upfront & put everything in writing.
You wouldn’t believe how many freelancers and entrepreneurs I know don’t do this.
They end up getting burned and complaining that their client walked away without paying them for their hours of hard work.
And that, dear friend, is the last thing I want to have happen to you as you embark on your business journey.
Before the project begins, have them sign a contract and invoice your client for at least 50% upfront.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you both establish clear expectations moving forward:
- How often will you need to meet (in person, on Skype/Zoom, etc.)?
- How often should they expect to hear from you?
- What tools will you use to communicate during the project (i.e. Asana, Dropbox, Trello, etc.)?
- What will deliverables look like? How many revisions are they entitled to before the final version(s)?
- How much work will they need to do for you to deliver the project?
- How much will you charge for requests for deliverables that are not included in the original project scope?
- When will they know that the project is completed?
And as much as possible, include everything in writing.
Whether that’s in contracts, invoices or emails, make sure there’s always a “paper trail” of your communications with your client.
Even if all goes smoothly, it’s good to be able to easily refer back to what your client has written down if they try to challenge or contest something in the future.
How to Avoid Problem Clients & Attract Awesome Ones to Your Business
The truth is, you’ll probably experience at least one difficult client as a freelancer or business owner.
But if there’s one takeaway I hope you leave with, it’s this:
Your messaging has a profound impact on how people perceive your business.
If you don’t have confidence in what you have to offer, that will translate into the story you communicate to your potential clients.
You’ll always attract the type of people you believe you deserve for your business.
If you’ve got a less-than-stellar marketing or messaging, you’ll attract less-than-ideal clients. It’s as simple as that.
Focus on getting those things right and watch your company, clients, and confidence grow!
Now it’s YOUR turn!
As a service provider, freelancer or entrepreneur, do you have problem client horror story?
What did you learn? How did you use that lesson to attract better clients for your business?
Leave me a COMMENT below, I’d love to hear your thoughts :).