I remember the summer of 2014, I had taken up a packaging design project for a B2B brand. It was one of my first few projects ever since the entrepreneurial bug had hit me and I had decided to take up freelancing full time.
It’s needless to say that because I was just starting out, without any prior experience of managing a creative business, I was poor at negotiations and had underquoted the client by a mile. Let me just be brutally honest, at the time I did not mind taking that hit on the price, I believed that adding more work to my portfolio can never be a bad idea.
I gave it my all, long meetings calls at odd hours in the night with the team, and frequent trips to the client’s office, which was not nearby, which meant taking those long cab rides.
Eventually, I was burnt out, the project was nowhere close to the finish line and the client kept asking for frequent iterations. As mentioned, this resulted in unpaid overtime, no time to take up other projects, and frequent travel that wasn’t reimbursed. When asked If we could renegotiate our payment terms it all ended sourly with him asking for his money back, after months of hard work put into the project. Finally, I got rid of him by paying him his money back. Was this a horror client? — Hell yes! — But was it really his fault? — Ummm I’d say no.
I was inexperienced and even though it wasn’t right for him to demand a mountain of work for peanut change, I couldn’t blame him because I wasn’t clear about my own scope of services, resulting in a loss.
There are many and more countless horror client experiences I’ve heard of from designers and freelance consultants, and maybe not all of them are the client’s fault but in some, the client is to be blamed completely, even after you’ve clearly stated your service terms. Come on we’ve all heard of those relentless and toxic brand managers who couldn’t care less about your mental and physical well-being over their own gain.
So how do you handle a client who drives your anxiety and throws your work-life off balance?
Learn the art of acceptance, be a little mindful daily, and learn to let things happen and enjoy them at the moment.
Practicing mindfulness in small amounts, daily, helps you build self-awareness and helps you accept and empathize with people’s behaviors. This results in taking things into perspective and solving each client’s problem with patience without losing self-calm.
Don’t Be A Pushover
Quite often we are to blame for our very own burnout. We as professionals sometimes over promise and under deliver. This doesn’t settle well for anyone who’s promised a trip to the Eiffel tower and then shown the Pompidou. The client will only expect what we promise him. So be crystal clear on your scope of services and if he/she still manages to tickle those stress buds then you need to put your foot down, without ruining your working relationship.
Think about the toxic client, Why is he toxic? What makes him so angry? What’s driving his behavior?
Asking some of these questions will help you understand the circumstances that the client is in that is making him react in a certain way. Remember, it’s never personal and it’s never about you. Maybe it is misdirected anger, maybe he is in physical or emotional pain. Learn to see beyond the obvious, learn to offer help rather than quitting on someone who might need you more than you know.
Support Your Team
Dealing with negativity, be it a client or a boss, is never easy for the people in the team.
If the client’s being negative, it’s natural that your team will be dealing with some amount of that, since they are the ones actively working on the project.
Support them and help them sail through a toxic project as comfortably as possible without sacrificing their mental health.
Encourage your team to handle the toxicity with a kind heart and a strong spirit.
Clients, the toxic ones, are always going to be around because in a highly competitive environment we all work with suppressed emotions. Therefore, it’s important to equip yourself with the above strategies to handle the toxicity with a smile :)