How to manage your clients and keep smiling


This is part of Merchant Money's Business Growth Blogpost Series. If you’re in business for yourself, running a small or medium-sized company you will have come across them. They try to micromanage you, attempt to do your job for you, never give you feedback or ignore their own deadlines.

Welcome to the world of the difficult client.

Managing clients may be straightforward but it is never a doddle. You are almost entirely dependent upon them for repeat business, getting paid and reliant upon them for orders. When a client becomes difficult and the relationship strained, it can impact on running other parts of your business and can send stress levels into orbit.

Happily, successfully managing clients – both the easy ones and those who are more challenging – is skill that can be learned. There is an entire library’s worth of business help guides on managing clients but here are some tips on how to maintain a professional working relationship with them and to be able to smile through it all:  

Select clients carefully

‘Huh? Surely it’s the client that selects me?’ Of course a potential client has to work with you before there is any kind of relationship but you can go some way to avoiding difficulties down the track by pre-qualifying your clients. If it’s obvious that their expectations are beyond what you are prepared or will be able to achieve within their budget, you may want to consider passing up the opportunity. Consider client on-boarding to help you through the early stages of a client relationship.  

Don’t take things personally

Let your record, your experience and your work speak for themselves. When a client starts barking orders, banging fists on tables or generally behaving like a control freak, don’t take offence. Continue to do what you are contracted to do and be as accommodating as you can be within reason.  

Keep communicating

You can head off the table thumping and start to build trust if you maintain open and honest lines of communications throughout. Client trust is built on communication, ensuring that he or she knows how work is progressing, being told what problems are encountered as and when they arise and what delays are likely and why.

Most people understand that unforeseen issues crop up and business clients are generally no different… they just want to know in good time.  

Ensure they keep their side of the bargain

Deadlines are just for suppliers, not customers, right? Wrong. It is your neck that is on the block if a deadline or milestone is missed so it is in your best interests to make sure the client meets theirs. At the start of a project, it’s vital that you draw up and agree a realistic timeline with your client and overestimate how long it will take you to complete a task.

Make sure that what the client is expected to supply and when is on the timeline and, if possible, make it part of the contract.  

Keep monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs)

Faulty goods, complaints, productivity problems, delays, contact with clients… these are all KPIs and you should be constantly monitoring them so that you know where trouble is likely to arise and improve customer service accordingly.

If you are on top of your business’s KPIs, you should be able to spot a problem before the client does, inform them and take mitigating action.  

Learn to listen

A lot of customers don’t really know what it is they want or have trouble explaining it. It falls to you to be able to listen attentively, learn what the key messages are the client is trying to get across and then repeat them back – in writing, preferably – to help them form something concrete and to help you draw up a detailed proposal.  

Be realistic when quoting

Money, cost overruns and unexpected expenses are the most common causes of client-supplier angst. Make sure you are absolutely realistic up front when responding to an RFP or quoting for a piece of work. That means overestimating how much something is going to cost, building in some contingency and being clear when you don’t think a budget is enough.  

Go above and beyond a normal relationship

It’s much easier to work with somebody if you have a friendly relationship with them. That means being interested in your clients and being unafraid to engage them in conversation about the life that goes on outside of your business relationship. By understanding what interests your client, you can carry that over into your working relationship and develop stronger bonds of trust.  

You can read more posts within our business growth series here.