How to avoid nightmare clients (and keep the good ones coming back)

Have you ever taken on a new client only to discover you’ve signed on with a nightmare? Not long after the engagement starts, you come to realize that this client needs constant attention.  They are unorganized and unprepared.  They take forever to make a decision.  They don't listen to your advice.  They try to tell you how to do your job.  You’re miserable and you’re probably losing money by keeping them around.

This is not a client problem. This is a leadership problem. There can only be one leader in your client relationship and if you aren't the one leading, your client will, and that's when it starts becoming a nightmare.

Bad clients are no fun, but they are good for business in one way. Bad clients highlight the areas that need improvement in your leadership skills. Business owners need to recognize that we are the cause for the bad clients who keep coming back, and change our business.  The more difficult a client is, the bigger the need to look in the mirror and ask why this client was attracted to you in the first place.

Your ideal client is looking for leadership, not for execution of their bad ideas. When you choose to show up as a leader, you'll start getting clients who want to be led.  But those amazing clients need to trust that you will lead them to where they want to go.  And for that trust to develop, your clients needs to know why you’re in business.

Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, teaches: "People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” Unless you lead your business with what you believe, what you stand for and why you do it, you become just another service provider that's ready for the client to lead the way.

If you want to be a leader in your organization, you must have a clear vision of why your business exists. What's your purpose? What's your vision? What's your dream?

Many creative businesses waste time and energy on marketing activities that lead nowhere because most marketing is simply saying "look at me and how good I am" which looks needy, creepy and unattractive to your ideal clients.  Stop leading with your skills and start leading with your mission. That's when the ideal clients appear.

When I started coaching business owners years ago, I used to take on any client that had a checkbook. I figured that as long as money was coming in and I was busy, I was doing well. It didn't take too long before I started getting frustrated with my business as I was getting the wrong kind of clients. Even more frustrating, I wasn’t seeing the kind of results and change I wanted my clients to experience. 

One of my mentors told me, "It matters more where you are coming from, rather than where you are going." What he was talking about was the "why." Unless I was clear about my purpose (where I am coming from), every action I would take would be misguided and lead to bad clients and marketing that goes nowhere.  I realized that the problem started with me.  I didn't have a clear vision or purpose. I was in business to satisfy my own insecurities and fears. It was more about making money than making a difference. So, I took time to closely examine my why, connect to my purpose and show up as a true leader. And that’s when my business transformed.

If you want to be the kind of leader that your clients respect, listen to and pay well, here are a few ideas to consider: 

1. Get clear on your why.

Your purpose will be a powerful force when it's clear and defined.  Unless you are fueled by a purpose that is bigger than you and not about you, you'll keep attracting the kind of clients that only see you as a vendor and not as a leader.  When you are totally clear on your why it becomes part of what you are known for. That's a powerful way to attract amazing clients who believe in what you stand for and want to support that mission, too.

2. Tell a different story.

Your marketing is the story you tell the world, so choose to tell a story that comes from a place of expertise, knowledge and leadership. Your marketing needs to be less about the results you bring your clients and more about how you can lead them to where they want to go. Your marketing needs to always support a bigger vision that is in line with making a difference in your client's world. That's when you'll stop attracting bad clients and start getting advocates and supporters.

3. Raise your rates.

A client who says, "I can't afford you" isn't seeing your true value. That's probably because you aren't seeing it either. Clients who make their decisions based on money are acting from fear and will not be open to being led. They will want to control the process and not listen to your advice. As scary as it may sound, the best way to make bad clients go away is to charge more. If you are afraid to charge more you are probably afraid to lead your clients in other ways as well.  Leaders don’t come from fear.

4. Say "no" more often.

You probably take clients on quicker than you should. Slow down your client enrollment process and take the time to discern if the client is a good fit for you.  Don't be afraid to tell your clients how YOU work and what you are looking for in a client. By describing your ideal client to an interested prospect, you are leading them toward rising up to work with you rather than bringing you down to be seen only as a vendor.

Your best clients will come when you become a true leader.  Leaders come from love, purpose and the desire to make a difference. Leaders who know their value and believe in something that is bigger than they are will have no problems with saying no. Your best clients are waiting for you to lead them. It's up to you to make that choice.

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