Been steamrolled by a shitty client? Here’s what to do.

Nov 27, 2018

One of the biggest lessons I have learnt over my ten years in business is that there will always be assholes.

No matter how wonderful you are, no matter how brilliant your systems are, no matter how nurturing your processes are, there will always be that ONE client that is a total pain in your arse.

I spend my days helping designers avoid ever having to deal with difficult clients, because the truth is that the relationship you have with your client is your responsibility.

And I know that by implementing specific boundaries, systems and processes you can *mostly* keep your business pain-in-the-arse client free … but the key word there is “mostly”. Because sometimes even the best-laid plans fall apart.

Let me tell you a story.

One of my most difficult client experiences was with a ‘soul-centred’ client who hired me for branding packaging.

It all started off beautifully. She loved my initial concepts and chose a logo to make a simple revision to. I made the revision, and then sent the logo back to her and then …

She hated it.

My spidey senses started tingling and without even speaking to her, I knew that she’d been showing her logo design to every woman and her dog. She was letting all the conflicting opinions muddle her thoughts and we went from crystal clear clarity to a muddy mess.

From that moment on, everything was fricken hard. She pushed me and I pushed back on her. There was nothing I could do to make her happy and, eventually, I suggested we part ways.

She refused.

She wanted to keep working together, even though we were dragging each other through hell. In the end, I pushed through and finally finished the job, but it definitely took its toll on me.  

I was worn down, angry, sad, disappointed, and felt wounded. When I returned to my Mac to start another project, I felt wobbly and questioned myself. Was I even a good designer? Or had I been kidding myself all along?

But … and here comes the big BUT… I decided I wouldn’t let one crappy client beat me down.

I stepped back and really thought about the situation. I analysed where I had stuffed up in the process and where she had stuffed up, and I made a plan for how I could ensure that shit never happened again.

It sounds cliché, but that horrible situation actually taught me SO much.

After my experience with her I made it explicitly clear on my website that I do not work with “soul-centred” clients and I added a clause to my terms & conditions that stated I could terminate working with a client at anytime for any reason… so I was never stuck with a shitty client again. 

Sure, I was wounded. But when I thought about all the happy clients I’d had over the years, it definitely outweighed the one bad experience I’d had.

So I pulled on my big girl panties and repeated to myself: You can’t please everyone all the time.(‘Cos you’re not chocolate.)

But that doesn’t mean you have to marinate in the shittiness of the situation. If you’re currently dealing with a client that makes you want to quit your business and move to an isolated island with no wi-fi (gasp!), then this next bit is for you.

I’ve pulled together a few go-to tips to help you deal with a Negative Nancy client.

Take a day off. Yep, step away from all the things business-related for a day. Chances are after dealing with a difficult client you are going to be in a bad mood and that is not good for business. Or creativity. Or designing. Or, well, anything. Give yourself permission to take the day off and reset.

Think about all your happy clients. Now is the perfect time to create a folder on your desktop labelled “SHINY HAPPY THINGS” and whenever you get a lovely email or testimonial from a client, take a screenshot and put it in there. This will become your digital happy place when you are feeling poo.

Go slow. Breaking up with a client is like going through any break-up, so remember to look after your wounds and go slow. That means easing back into work without too much pressure on yourself. This phase shall pass.

GRL POWER, lady! Vent the Designer Boss-Ladies group and get support from your posse of designer pals who understand how to lift you up.

BRAG. Get on social media and post a whole bunch of testimonials. Then read them. And re-read them. Twice.

BONUS: I know this may sound a bit silly but think about your ‘alter-ego’. Who do you think is a total kick-arse take no prisoners woman? Beyoncé? Wonder Woman? Michelle Obama? Whoever she is, make her your secret alter-ego and whenever a crappy client gets you down, channel her I TAKE NO SHIT vibes and own it.

You are amazing, lady

Never forget it.
Anna xo


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