Ever taken on a bad client before? Join the club! When you deal with different people constantly (welcome to small biz life), you’ll inevitably meet some along the way you don’t totally gel with.

Maybe it’s a clash of personalities, a miscommunication on expectations, or just someone trying to take advantage of your time — whatever the reason, I’m here to help show you how to deal with a bad client (and easily set up your business to avoid them forever).

Start Vetting Your Inquiries

Once upon a time, I allowed anyone and everyone to reach out for a discovery call. Why? Because I was a newbie biz owner and super jazzed at the idea that ANYone would want to work with my scrappy little agency of one.

It wasn’t long before I realized what a huge mistake letting everybody in the door without a vetting process was, and so was born my intake form!

When someone tries to book a call with me now, they’re asked a series of questions so I can learn more about them BEFORE we jump to chatting IRL. The form asks essential stuff like:

  • Basic info about themselves
  • Details about their business
  • And most importantly, their goals

It’s also a good idea to ask questions about their budget, timeline expectations, why they’re outsourcing and anything else that might help you figure out if they’re the right fit. 

With a great vetting form in your back pocket, you’ll never feel that “I didn’t know what I signed up for” stress again!

Set Healthy Client Boundaries 

Just because they’ve paid you to do a job for them doesn’t mean they own you. You’re still in charge of your schedule and your ability to say no to the things that don’t work for you or your process.

Many biz owners get worried that if they set boundaries with a client, they’ll scare the person off from wanting to work with them again or, even worse, start a reputation that they’re hard to work with on projects.

But I’ve found the total opposite to be true! Boundaries *actually* show professionalism, and when you set them from the beginning, there’s no time for anyone to question (or bad mouth you later to other potential clients). 

  • Don’t want to respond to client emails on the weekend? Tell people you don’t do this from the jump. Put it in your welcome form or your contract (or better yet, BOTH).
  • Want to make sure you’re not doing more work than was agreed to in the initial contract? Add a clause about scope changes.

Remember, this is your business, and you get to make the rules — so make ones that feel most comfortable for YOU! If you turn a few people off, that’s a blessing in disguise. Trust me.

Tighten Up Your Contract

The smartest tip for how to deal with a bad client relationship? Get your contract in order!

Protecting yourself and your business from harm if things turn sour is so important, and the contract is where that protection lives. 

Whether you put one together yourself or get a professional to write one for you, there are a few things worth including (Note: I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. I’m just offering some basic ideas):

  • Scope of work: When the scope of the initial work asked for changes on the fly, you need to be able to charge more or say no to taking more on
  • A termination clause: Somewhere in that doc you need it to say that you can end the client relationship at any time and for any reason (or specific reasons if that suits you better)
  • Refund policies: If you end the client relationship early, will you offer any refund for work not completed?
  • How to deal with deliverables: Beyond when they’re due, think about what you’ll owe if you have to fire a client. Will you still hand work over, or does that responsibility end when the relationship does?

You’ll know what to include based on how your business works and, honestly, your personality. We’re all different, and the approach you choose should always leave you feeling good — even when we’re talking about stuff that feels bad.

Learn When to Fire Them

Look, no one wants to end a relationship with a client. It’s stressful, makes you feel like garbage, and can summon that good ol’ imposter syndrome like nobody’s business, but there comes a time when enough is truly enough.

Before you pull the plug on the relationship completely, though, make sure you’ve had a few conversations about how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and how you’d like to move forward!

If you can salvage the situation and get the work done with some smiles on EVERYone’s face, you’ll feel awesome.

But if that isn’t possible (the conversations with them don’t end up helping), then firing that bad client is the only way to go.

Here’s how to do it without feeling like an awful person:

  • First, check the details of your contract (you need a clause that states you can terminate the relationship at any time based on XYZ reasons)
  • Next, let them know that things don’t seem to be working out, and it’s in both of your best interests to end things here and now. (BONUS TIP: If it’s a client who struggled to meet deadlines I typically say that they may want to keep social media management in-house.)
  • Then, figure out if you owe them any kind of refund (or not) and explain what deliverables they can expect as you close things out.
  • Finally, sincerely thank them for their time and express your genuine bummed out feelings about the whole ordeal.

And that’s it. No big apologies needed. No novel of words. 

Just be the pro you are, have your contract clauses ready, be courteous in your approach, and keep things brief.

It’s never fun dealing with a bad client relationship, but each time you’re presented with this obstacle, you’ll walk away stronger and smarter than ever before. This biz ownership thing is all about the lessons we learn along the way, and often the biggest ones come from the most challenging situations. I’m in your corner, friend!  

Want more in-depth advice like the stuff in this post? Get the A-Z on how to run a profitable social media management business in my jam-packed course The Social Biz System