You know how when you’re a teenager and your best friend goes through a string of horrible boyfriends or girlfriends it’s kind of just par for the course and you’re there to comfort them but then when you’re a fully grown adult and this person is still always with a jerk you start to run out of patience because at this point it’s their own freakin’ fault.
Well, the same thing holds true in business. I work with a lot of clients who come to me and complain that all of their clients are super demanding and slow to pay or all of their suppliers are unreliable and have poor customer service, or none of their partners hold up their part of the deal. While it’s certainly possible that a few bad seeds sneak through, if most or all of your customers, suppliers, or partners are all treating you wrong; it comes back to you. You’re doing something to attract the wrong kind of customers, suppliers, or partners and/or you’re not clearly setting expectations upfront about the terms of the deal.
Just as the friend is the common denominator and needs to just stop picking the wrong people to date, you are the common denominator and you need to stop picking the wrong people to do business with. It’s all about recognizing red flags and defining expectations upfront.
So, the first thing you need to do to combat this is to figure out what the common denominator is so that you can address it directly, and this is usually a two part process. Let’s say you’re a website designer and your issue with your customers is that they always want too many revisions after final approval, they take too long to respond to you but then still want the project done on time, and they always want a lower price, you need to address each of these issues by: 1) putting systems in place to set clear expectations about what can and cannot happen at each price and with each timeline and 2) adjust your marketing so you’re not attracting the same customers that you already have and you don’t like.
The first bit is putting systems in place. If people expect too many revisions your initial agreement should state how many revisions are included in the price, by when they must be submitted, and what the additional cost is for additional or late revisions. If your customers take too long to respond, which messes up the project timeline, your initial agreement should state what the expected turnaround time is for each piece of the project and what the consequence is if those deadlines aren’t met – likely a delayed project delivery date and maybe an additional cost to them.
The second bit is about attracting the right people to do business with in the first place. If all of your customers want major discounts and are difficult to work with, you should take a look at your marketing and ensure that the language you’re using doesn’t encourage customers to think you’re a low cost option and that they can haggle. Phrases like “we’ll work with your budget” and “at a price you can afford” will attract the customers who want a deal or a discount. If that’s not who you want to serve, change your marketing. Additionally, you should be aware of and red flag referral business from customers who were tough to work with. While it might feel great to get a referral, if the referral came because the original client was saying how great you were to work with because you were flexible on price and went above and beyond on allowing a million revisions after the deadline to get it right, this new customer will expect that same treatment and probably isn’t a customer you want to take on.
This is just one example, but the same logic can be applied in almost any situation.
Remember, one difficult client can probably be ignored but if the majority of your clients, suppliers, or partners are all difficult to work with; you need to look inward to determine what you’re doing to create this situation for yourself.