What to do when a client becomes a problem

Inevitably, you may find a few problem clients among your collection of many great ones.  As a professional service provider, it’s practically a hazard of the job.  But that doesn’t mean you have to let a problem client STAY a problem client!

Here’s a few tips for dealing with a difficult client:

  1. Never apologize for billing fairly.  If you need to bill him quarterly instead of annually like most clients, because he drags out his tax return process through the summer, send the bill without apologies.  If he’s taking an extraordinary amount of administrative time, and you might value bill a friendlier client, don’t feel guilty for charging what you honestly and fairly spend on the account.  If he doesn’t like it, remember #2 below.
  2. Make him worth your while.  There is a point, monetarily, where even the nastiest problem client will be looked upon fondly because he represents enough income to be attractive to you. Perhaps that billing rate is too high for him to continue being a client–fair enough.  It’s a good way to weed out the difficult ones.  But if that outrageous billing rate is tolerable for him?  All the sudden your your most difficult client is also your most profitable one, making that extra headache more than worth it from a revenue standpoint.
  3. Until it’s not.  There’s also a point, emotionally, where the nasty problem client is not worth the money.  Then, it’s time to cut him loose.   Imagine that you have room for just one client total.  By firing this difficult client, you will allow space for a new client that is a better fit for your firm.  It happens; karma finds a way.

Have you had a problem client that you resolved by either raising rates until he was a profitable and attractive account or firing him and making room for a new client?  How did the process go?

Kelly O'Donnell

About Kelly O’Donnell
CEO & Founder, O’Donnell IMC
Small Firms, Big Marketing

For 18 years, Kelly has managed the marketing, communications and business development functions for professional service firms in accounting, law, private equity, investment banking, and financial services and wealth management. Her interest in new media and marketing techniques extends to the opportunities professional service firms can find using video and social media to communicate expertise and extend referral source networks.

Before forming her marketing consulting firm O’Donnell Integrated Marketing Communications, she was the director of marketing and communications for Michigan’s largest venture capital firm, where she managed the global marketing function and assisted in fundraising and investor relations for several limited partnership funds and ghostwrote many thought investment banking leadership papers and created client-facing events.

Kelly holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in marketing and a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from Northwestern University. She’s a member of the Association for Accounting Marketing, Legal Marketing Association, and the National Venture Capital Association’s Strategic Communicators Group.

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