When you run a small business, especially in the early days, you grab every client you can. But is that really the best tactic for your business? Are there bad clients? As much as most of us have faith in people, there are customers who will make your life difficult and may even cost you more than you earn. Jackie asked me for a quote to prepare a product catalogue for her. As my quote was out of her budget I gave her a lower price to just prepare the text so she could do the formatting herself. I spent more time on this project than I had expected because Jackie questioned every little details and kept returning the text in tables. Finally, the project was finished and Jackie complained that it wasn’t formatted and wouldn’t pay her bill. I later found out that Jackie did similar things with her web designer, only paying an invoice when she wanted something else done to her site. I would love to say that Jackie is the only bad customer, but the reality is that most businesses will find their own Jackie over time. Aren’t bad customers the price of doing business? Bad customers don’t treat with you with respect and are the most likely to pay bills late. They are demanding and therefore take up more of your time than is reasonable of expected in your quote. They won’t acknowledge any extras you do for them – they will take them for granted, basically, and probably won’t give you any word of mouth referrals later either. Basically, these customers will use up your time and patience without paying for it. Compare this to good customers who respect you and your time, and pay you promptly. Your time and expertise are better spent on the good customers, for the sake of your profits and your enjoyment of doing business. Choosing your customers After a while, it is easier to spot those clients who may be difficult to deal with. It may be their tone of voice on the phone, the attention to detail before you even prepare a quote, the look they give you as they enter your shop or that they try to negotiate a special deal. Once you have spotted a bad customer, what do you do about it? Obviously it is important to be polite and use good customer service to everyone who contacts your business. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept every client nor accept any rudeness or abuse. You need to have faith that you will attract other customers so that you don’t have to accept them all to make money. And you need to respect yourself and your staff enough to protect yourselves from clients who make work unpleasant. How do I say no to a client? Above all, stay polite and respectful when dealing with unpleasant customers. You can be form and refuse to listen to abuse, but do it politely. You can just say “no, we can’t help you” or you can choose to give a reason.