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Working with challenging clients

There are many difficult aspects of running a business, but none much harder than things going pear-shaped with a client. Managing a challenging client relationship is lonely and triggering, and can leave you feeling rattled at best. So if you've ever found yourself ruminating over a tough situation with a client, I know you're going to get a lot of support from today’s episode.

The truth is, most business owners will experience a tricky interaction with a client at one time or another. But when you have a long history of client satisfaction, it can really catch you off guard. You beat yourself up or end up feeling really alone. So what do you do when it all goes wrong?

I talk about normalising challenging client experiences and step you through a few things that I’ve personally found helpful in the past. I discuss taking an objective view of the scenario to understand what was in your control and what was outside it. Was there something you could have mitigated from the outset? Did you and your client have mismatched expectations? Or perhaps there were external factors that you just couldn’t have anticipated.

I speak about imposter syndrome and the danger of using negative experiences to validate our fears. Taking the emotion out when analysing a situation is important to be able to approach the issue with a clear head and sound mind.

There are times when clients may push boundaries or overstep on things you’re firm on. What are your values when it comes to not succumbing to your client’s demands? I encourage you to stand strong and never lay down your value system. I also share some practical ideas on how you can salvage a difficult client relationship without betraying your own principles.

I encourage you to take the time to review and reset when you face a hard encounter. Remind yourself of the evidence that shows things are working for you. Think of the amazing results your clients have achieved with your help. Define yourself by all the times you have shown up, and not by the situations that were less than ideal.

If you have been facing a difficult challenge with a client, I hope this episode offers you some valuable support. With the right perspective, you really can move forward through a hard time with clarity and a renewed sense of confidence.

Topics We Covered:

[00:00:00] There are many hard things about running a business, but not so much is harder than when things go pear shaped with a client. Managing a difficult client relationship is lonely and triggering, and it can leave you feeling rattled at best. And the truth is, is that most business owners will experience this at one time or another. So if you've ever found yourself in a tricky situation with a client, and as a result, you've been ruminating on that experience, I know you're going to get a lot of support from this conversation. Are you ready? Let's go.

[00:01:00] Hello boss and welcome back to the Run Your Business Like a Boss Podcast. One thing I know about you is that you put your heart and soul into your business, and also that you care deeply about the experiences of your clients and the work that you put out in the world.

And it's for this reason, I know that when you come up against a challenging client, It is really a tough experience to go through. So what happens when it all goes wrong? What happens [00:02:00] when you enter a difficult client experience? For most people, this can catch you off guard, right? Because you've got a long history of working with incredible clients and them being really happy with the work that you do.

And the truth is, is that what can often happen when you're experiencing a tricky client experience is that you play this situation over and over and over again. It's like a loop on replay in your mind, and you are nine times out of ten being particularly critical of yourself, and maybe in some parts of your client too, but particularly so for yourself and the reality, what happens is that when you are playing it on replay it lands on an unfinished story. Like have you ever experienced those movies where there's no real conclusion as to what happened or where the story goes next. It's really left open to the interpretation of the viewer. That's a little bit like [00:03:00] this experience is that it's, it's sort of left open-ended and there's no real conclusion to the experience and so therefore you are still going back over the story, thinking about it and whatnot.

And so it's for this reason that I wanted to have this conversation because as I said on the top of the episode is that this is something that so many business owners go through, and I wanted to normalize this experience and also to step you through a few things that may help you if this has happened to you in the past, or perhaps if this happens to you in the future.

So to be completely transparent, this is not a playbook on what moves to take, but rather just things that I have come up with that really have helped me in the past, and also things that just help to normalise this situation.

So the first thing that I wanted to say on this topic is recognise the situation for what it is. Okay? And I think that what's really [00:04:00] important as business owners is that we take an objective view of the scenario or the situation that occurred and really unpick first of all, what was in your control and what was out of your control? Because often we get really caught on the story and self-blame and being really critical, and we are not actually being analytical around the situation itself.

So was there mismatched expectations between what the client expected of you and what you delivered, and if there is mismatched expectations, how did that come about? Was there something again that was in your control that you could have mitigated on the outset? Or is it just something that occurred and it was just an interpretation of the client's that perhaps wasn't your interpretation? Or is it that an external influence came into the situation? Is it that maybe someone in their family or someone in their network that [00:05:00] perhaps took them off course, that maybe redirected their engagement throughout the process or influenced the way they were feeling about the work that you were doing?

Or was it that you didn't set things up properly? So again, that's maybe something that's in your control and bringing it back to maybe things that were in your control was there maybe some red flags in the beginning? Was there something that you thought when you brought the client on that maybe things weren't quite right, but you went ahead with it anyway, so really looking at the situation, recognising it for what it is, understanding what in the process was in your control and what wasn't.

And also rationalising in your mind that these things happen, and if this isn't a situation where it's not a regular occurrence, not to use that as evidence against you. I've spoken about this on the podcast sometimes we are really good at holding ourselves [00:06:00] ransom to our own imposter syndrome and we look for evidence as ways to validate our fears of who we are as a business owner, of who we are as a person. And that's why it's really important that we take this first step to recognise the situation for what it is, to understand the elements that were in our control, the elements that were out of our control, and really start to be objective around the situation it is, and try and take some of that emotion out.

The second thing that I wanted to talk about when it comes to a difficult client interaction is to always hold to your values. So what this might look like is holding to your boundaries and not always succumbing to the needs of the client. So let's say that your client is wanting to push those boundaries and really overstep on things that you are firm on. You don't need to put aside your own value system to be able to succumb to that, to salvage a difficult relationship.[00:07:00] That doesn't mean that you don't communicate positively with your client, but it also doesn't mean that you have to lay down all your boundaries and really just give into everything that your client is looking for.

The second thing, when it comes to your values, and if you haven't had a chance to listen to last week's episode, I highly encourage you to go back to listen to, uh, episode number 101 with Yara Heary. This was a podcast about motherhood and business, but there's this whole section where Yara really explains beautifully the value of setting boundaries and doing so in a way that lets go of your fear of upsetting the apple cart, so to speak. So go back and have a listen to that. If you have already listened to it, re-listen to that if you really struggle to place boundaries in place, especially with tricky situations like this. The second thing I will say when it comes to your values is to be respectful in your interactions with your clients and always act in [00:08:00] integrity. So, yes, there might be things that are coming up that is triggering you, making sure that you are taking space and communicating in a way where you are responding rather than reacting to a client.

If you feel like this is too tricky to do so on a Zoom call or on a phone call, just build in some space there and then come back via an email. You really want to avoid putting out something that you'll reflect on later that feels misaligned to you in your value system because you were in a situation where you were triggered or your raw emotions come up, which is completely valid and fine for that to happen.But, you know, it's important for us to manage that before we go out and send an email, for instance. So really making sure that when you're talking about, and this goes for when you are out talking about the situation with others, again, always sit in integrity. another thing when it comes to values is [00:09:00] really thinking about this client situation objectively.

If they are a current client, consider whether or not it's worth terminating the relationship. Is there a way that you can create an exit plan for your client in a really comfortable way that is amicable, that really leaves the experience on a positive note? You don't have to continue working with a client if it really feels misaligned. If you're finding yourself that it's not, you're not working for them and they're not working for you, and that the relationship is compromised, find a way to be able to move the relationship on in a way that feels, again, in alignment with your value system. 

The third thing I'll say when it comes to tricky client interactions is that not all clients are created equal.Now, this does not mean that if you do have a tricky client situation, that they're a bad client. Equally so that you are bad at your job. Sometimes the relationship just isn't right, [00:10:00] and even if you do vet your client, you have say a discovery call and things all seem good and yet things fall apart behind the seams that can happen and not to beat yourself up over the situation.

However, if this is a regular occurrence, I do think that there merit in going back and having a look at how are you communicating? What sort of messaging are you putting out there? Are you attracting a more aligned client or are you attracting clients that really just don't feel good for you anymore? Maybe that worked for you in the past and no longer works for you in the future. So being really discerning around the type of clients that you are working with and making sure that it's a really good fit both ways. Just because you are not the right fit for them doesn't mean that someone else can't be and vice versa.

So really making sure that if you are, again, if this is a regular occurrence, you may need to go back over your business strategy and over your messaging to [00:11:00] determine whether or not you are out there trying to attract in the client that you enjoy working with. Or are you attracting in all types of clients, which can perhaps maybe bring in a mismatch of value system or a client that perhaps, maybe doesn't feel as ideal for you.

And then the last thing that I'll say when it comes to working through tricky client interactions is to take time to review and reset. So after a hard client experience, it's really important that you go back and look objectively through the situation, spend time reflecting on the different types of interactions, not in a way that is looping around in the negative way, where you're beating yourself up and you're feeling really frustrated and you're stuck on the same story, but actually go back and objectively look through each of the steps to see what are the lessons that you want to learn, and then [00:12:00] taking space to really think about all of the amazing clients that you have worked with, that you have been able to support in a positive client experience. It's really important that you do the two and then be able to reset and move forward. 

It's so easy for each of us to ruminate on that one hard experience, and I think we're all really guilty of it. We can have so much evidence in our business of things working for us, getting amazing results for our clients, for us, working with incredible clients and for things to be really positive. But we zero in on the one experience that maybe wasn't the best, and then we start to define ourselves by that experience. So that's why this final step of reviewing and resetting is so important because you don't wanna let this one experience take you out and really feed that fear of imposter syndrome or self worth and really lifting up into that self-critical [00:13:00] thoughts that actually detract you from moving your business forward continuing to do incredible work for clients that are the right fit for you. so this episode is super quick, but also a really important conversation. 

So remember, this is something that most business owners have gone through, but I really do hope that the steps that I laid out today will support you if you are going through this experience.

You are amazing at what you do and as I throughout the conversation, if this is an outlier, if this is a situation that is a non-regular occurrence, there are always lessons to be learned, but you don't wanna get fixated and stuck on this one particular experience. 

Boss, thank you so much for tuning into this super quick episode. I hope that it offered you some support if this has been something that you have personally experienced. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. As always, I look forward to [00:14:00] chatting with you next week.

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About your host, Kristy

Hi, I'm Kristy, thank you for tuning in to the Run Your Business Like a Boss Podcast. My purpose for the podcast is to help Business Owner’s in the growth stage of business (messy middle) have a sustainable business, they love.


I’m an online business coach, based in Brisbane, Australia. I provide 1:1 business coaching, to Service Based Online Business Owner's and a group coaching program commencing in 2022. I believe whole heartedly that having a Business Coach is what gives you the competitive edge. As your coach I support you to overcome challenges quickly, uncover blindspots and make business decisions with confidence and clarity. All of which keeps you moving forward and maintaining momentum. 

As your Business Coach, my role is to help you organise and formulate your ideas, turn them into a goal and then into an actionable plan! All while meeting you where you're at and providing you relevant tools and support along the way.


Thank you for tuning in to the Run Your Business Like A Boss podcast!

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