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5 High Maintenance Clients to Avoid

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Ah, clients—we need them, we crave them. Consultants, coaches, advisors and freelancers mostly live in attraction mode, constantly building a vibrant roster of sweet-spot clients.

But not every client is a good client. So while you’re courting new relationships, beware of five types of clients almost never worth the trouble.

The Negotiator. The Negotiator gets a thrill every time they get a deal. They ask ”is this your lowest price?” or “I know you said this will cost $20,000, but I’m only prepared to spend $15,000—when can we start?” Negotiating prices makes sense for hotels, but since when are you a commodity? Sure, there may be times it makes sense to make a deal—you have idle staff or it’s a project you’ve been itching to do—but the classic Negotiator will ALWAYS want a deal. So unless you are ready to put yourself permanently on sale, keep a wide berth from these clients.

The Scold. You just can’t please a Scold. They may be screamers, exploding their frustrations on anyone who is handy. Or they may be quiet fault-finders (think email bombs)—chiding you and others at every opportunity. Scolds need someone to blame for the glitches in their lives—and it is never the guy in the mirror. You can recognize them by the string of broken professional relationships that preceded yours. Working with a Scold is exhausting—you’ll spend valuable emotional energy trying to manage their moods and feel like you’re slogging through quicksand.

The Center Of The Universe. Master of all he/she surveys, the Center Of The Universe thrives on seeing how high you’ll jump. Now let’s be perfectly clear—clients DESERVE to be the center of your work universe. You’re engaged to serve them and have a moral—and perhaps even fiduciary—obligation to put their needs first. But these clients thrive on having you (and everyone else in their purview) at their beck and call. They might even sulk or try to guilt you into serving demands from the frivolous to the truly outrageous. You need boundaries of steel to work successfully with a Center Of The Universe. If that’s not your thing, take a pass on these clients.

The Colluder. This client wants you to see their situation EXACTLY as they do. They simply won’t accept any aspect of your assessment and recommendations if it differs with their precise point of view. They don’t want an advisor, they crave an employee or an administrator or even an outlet to whine about why they have not been successful (coaches beware). Empathy is an essential skill for any advisor, but take it too far and you risk collusion, which benefits no one.

The Werewolf. The werewolf is a client that seems perfectly reasonable and normal until he snaps. You often don’t see the trigger coming, because it tends to be something minor in the scheme of things. I once had a client start screaming in a conference room stacked with people—his and mine—who had worked all weekend to draft their merger communications. The misdeed? He didn’t like one of the examples in the copy. He went from normal guy to complete werewolf in about 15 seconds—we had to literally escort him from the room.

Which types of high-maintenance clients have you learned to avoid? And are there some who are worth the effort to salvage?

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