Entrepreneurship/ Freelancing

3 Tips for Dealing with Mean Clients

client management

Sometimes you just hit the jackpot – a dream client that is a pleasure to work with sends you fabulous referrals, and always pays on time.

Other times, you find yourself tethered to a client from hell – a psychopathic cheapskate that’s a grab bag of ageism, sexism, and racism, threatens to slander your business name and is always late on their bill.


Mean clients have a way of taking something you love – your work, your company, and your entrepreneurial lifestyle – and turning it into a complete nightmare. The dark clouds of doom these bad clients bring along with them leave you second guessing your skills, your career, and even yourself.

Don’t let mean clients ruin your business.

Follows these three tips for dealing with mean clients successfully and enjoy the benefits of business again:

Assess the ROI

Starting my consulting firm, I (naively) assumed that I was profiting my hourly rate on each and every client. However, thanks to a couple difficult clients, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Keep detailed records of all time invested on each and every client – communication, project work, “hand holding”, etc. Make notes where certain clients stress you out – if you’re lying awake at night worrying over something nasty a mean client said to you, or spending hours dreading your next client meeting, BIG RED FLAG.

We’ve all had those clients’ whose #1 goal in life is to get something for nothing. You know the type – always catching you off guard with “Well, I thought that was included”, or “I can’t afford to pay for that but if you can’t take of it within the budget I’ll find someone else.”

By servicing clients that yield a pitiful return on investment (ROI) you are allowing others to devalue your professional services and probably creating an insane amount of unnecessary stress in your life.

Stand Your Ground

Contrary to popularized business theory, the customer is NOT always right.

Some customers are criminals.

Some customers are cheapskates.

Some are just plain mean.

When a mean client crosses the line on inappropriate behavior – personal insults, discriminatory statements, welching on bills owed, bad mouthing your company, or (yes this happened) threats of physical harm – it’s important to stand your ground.

Recognize their behavior as 100% inappropriate, don’t doubt your position, and stand behind your business, your employees, and yourself. Firmly remind the client of professional boundaries and be prepared to take affirmative action when/if they are not respectful.

Parting Ways

As a young entrepreneur, I’ve never had the luxury of relying on a steady source of non-entrepreneurial income while working my start-up. It’s always been full-throttle entrepreneurship (minus some waiting tables and tending bar to meet the rent), which meant all my businesses had to make money fast and every cent counted. While such cash-strapped strategies can encourage quick scale and insane motivation to turn a profit, it’s hard to rationalize cutting a paying client lose just when you need the money the most; however, sometimes parting ways with a mean client is the best move.

Parting ways with incompatible clients (should) happen. Every successful professional will have one or two stories of unreasonable clients that have to be terminated. Firing a client doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do – it just means: 1) it wasn’t a good fit and/or 2) the client was a caustic cheapskate that you would never make money on.

When parting ways with a client, provide clear and concise written notice of termination detailing suspended working relationship, date effective (I recommend immediately if you contract allows for such), and how the billing for interrupted service will be handled (ex: prorated).


Most professionals will encounter a mean client during their career. While it would be great if all clients could be decent, respectful, and financially responsible people, such isn’t always reality. But don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch. In my experience, for every bad client, I’ve found fifteen great ones to replace them with.

Recognize that mean client’s reactions don’t have anything to do you with – they’ve probably done this to hundreds of others during their career – and enforce protective boundaries necessary for both you and your business to thrive.

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