Have you ever had a business contract abruptly terminated by a client without any warning? I've been there, and it's a gut-wrenching experience that leaves you pissed off, inconvenienced, and questioning yourself.
So, I decided to reach out to others in the business world to hear their tales of "Clients Behaving Badly." The response was astounding, with stories that opened up a Pandora's box of similar instances, which led to much-needed conversations about accountability and the human element in business transactions.
This episode looks at some of the murky, uncomfortable, but very real client behaviours that leave a shitty taste in your mouth, and are lessons learned about red flags to watch for in future client relationships.
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Welcome to the Business Blast for Me podcast, where we question the sacred truths of the online business space and the reverence with which they're held. I'm your host, sarah Kahn, speaker, strategic consultant and BS busting badass. Join me each week as we challenge the norms, trends and overall bullshit status quo of entrepreneurship to uncover what it really takes to build the business that you want to build in a way that honors you, your life and your vision for what's possible, and maybe piss off a few gurus along the way. So if you're ready to commit Business Blast for Me, let's do it. Hello, hello, blast femurs. Oh, my gosh. Okay, I have recorded this podcast episode six times, not even lying to you Six times. The first four times, I just let me give you some context. I had a hard time keeping out enough details so that people couldn't be identified. This will make sense in a second. The fifth time, I did three quarters of the episode and realized I wasn't recording. So here we go, attempt number six. I am recording, I made sure, and we're just going to have to see how this goes, because, holy mother of pearl, this one has oh, this one's been a fun one, all right. So a couple of weeks ago I had a situation. There was a client of mine who I have been with for nearly a year right and, for all intents and purposes, thought I was doing a really, really good job. They were happy, they were always thanking me for how I was streamlining their business and everything was great. We met on a weekly basis, we were in constant communication and everything seemed great. In fact, we got the business to the point where we were able to shut down for 10 full days and go on an honest to goodness break because we had just streamlined everything so much and gotten everything done and ready and the founder was super happy about that. So, with no warning whatsoever, on that last Friday, 30 minutes before the end of the day, and again the day before we're shutting the business down for 10 days, I received an email and it was such a formal email and I hope this email finds you well Email. In that email I was informed by my client that I thought I had a pretty good relationship with that. She was terminating our contract and giving me my notice. I was like huh, not going to lie, totally blindsided me and left me with a really shitty taste in my mouth. I was really upset. It ruined my 10 days off because for the first four days, all I could think about was like every single thing I'd done in the business for the last almost a year. Where did I go wrong? What was I missing? What did I see? How could I not see this coming? I'm that person over things, things and so I shared it with a few people and you know as wonderful friends they commiserated and they also were like you know what? We've experienced similar things and I was like, really Seriously, why have so many people experienced the same thing? Then I started talking to other people and they were like, yeah, we've had similar things happen to us. In fact, let me tell you a story about another shitty thing I experienced from a client. I was like wait a minute. Then I thought you know what? It'd be really interesting to put a little episode together on clients behaving badly, little tongue-in-cheek kind of thing, and just share some of these experiences with the wider business space. I put the call out on social media a few weeks ago and, oh my goodness when I tell you I have been inundated. I am not exaggerating. I've had over 50 people contact me and tell me multiple stories, not just one story apiece, multiple stories of shitty things clients have done in working relationships. Now I'm not talking big things like embezzlement or corporate fraud or sexual harassment, like the things. Truth be told, I have experienced all of those things in the corporate space. I'm not talking about those things. I'm talking about everyday happenings that you're like that was shitty and you wouldn't really give it a second thought, but it just didn't feel very good. There were a lot of people who've experienced similar. I'm waiting through these stories and some of them were very detailed. First of all, if you shared a story with me, thank you very much. I wish I could thank you by name, but obviously I'm not going to do that because I want to respect everybody's confidentiality. There were a lot of stories that I will not share because there were just too many details that I wasn't able to take out and make generic. But I started to see themes coming up. I started to see things come up that were very, very similar, patterns almost. I guess it was great because I could condense it down and share. Here are the top five things that kept coming up. But it also broke my heart a little bit because I started to think to myself why are there so many people running businesses that think it's okay to behave this way and to treat people this way? Why aren't we collectively doing better? Why are we not holding people accountable to their shitty behavior? Then I started to think it's probably because they just don't know better. I'm not trying to make excuses for shitty behavior. In a lot of cases, that is what is underlying all of it they just didn't know any better, or this is how they think business is done. Because, let's be honest, we live in a really fucked up capitalist society where the bottom line is always the dollar, but we forget, especially because we are mostly in remote environments, that there are people and lives and feelings on the end of all of these relationships and transactions and communications. I don't know. It's had me in a funk for the last two weeks. So this is my purge. This is me getting it all out so that I can move on from this. Because, as an empath, I'll tell you this I felt for every single one of these people and some of these stories made me physically sick. I'm not gonna, let's just get into it. So the story that I experienced, that I just told you about how could the client have done better, honestly scheduled a 10 minute face to face, on Zoom, or even like a huddle in Slack or fuck you know what. Just tell me the Monday that we met and had our weekly check in and honestly tell me sooner in the week why wait until the last minute? Cause it obviously was not a last minute decision and the thing is no, you know what. These types of conversations are not easy to have, but the reality is, as a founder, as a business owner, as a CEO whatever the fuck you wanna call yourself you have to have the stomach for hard conversations. You have to be able and ready and willing to have these conversations. It's part and parcel of the gig. So I am going to share a few of these stories with you now, ones that didn't have too many identifying details, but I want you to understand that every story I'm about to share with you, it was not just one person who's experienced this, like multiple dozens of people shared similar stories. Okay, the first one, I guess the second one cause mine was the first, but the first one, from people who shared their stories, was all about the client who initiates the charge back Clients who charge back fees for services that they have paid and received. Let me tell you, there are a lot of people who experienced this and it's mind-boggling to me. On the one hand, I can understand if you're a service provider like, how do you prove that you provided a service to someone? But a lot of people who received charge backs were operations people or web designers. Holy shit, what do you all have against web designers, jesus? I remember when the internet first started yes, I'm old. I had learned how to do very basic HTML coding, like I did websites not fancy websites by any stretch of the imagination, but I did websites. I know how hard it is to create a website. I've seen people create websites. I've worked with website developers. It's not an easy job, and for someone to receive a fully fleshed out website and then to like charge back for that, it's absolute bullshit. There was one particular instance. This one was the one that made me physically ill. There was a service provider who had done months of work putting together entire systems, really training team members, doing a lot of operations work over the span of several months and at the end of it, after they finally left the business because there were some other problems that were going on. So they dissolved their contract with the client and they moved on, suddenly wake up to a charge back notice to the tune of $30,000. I want you to let that sink in. A charge back of a couple of hundreds, sometimes even a couple of thousands, like that can absolutely cripple a business owner, because when you initiate a charge back, that money is almost immediately taken out of your account and given to the person who paid. And then it is your responsibility, in most cases as a service provider, to file a dispute and to you know the burden. Proof is on you to prove that you provided this particular service or product. But that can then take weeks, sometimes months, to be rectified, if at all. Like I don't know what the stat is, but I don't know that I've actually ever heard of a service provider who has successfully disputed a charge back. I don't know of anybody who has, and so now this particular service provider is in a position of quite possibly having to file for bankruptcy. Like a charge back cripples people and I think that sometimes we forget that there are actual human beings on the end of these services, of these businesses. It blows my mind. It absolutely does. Now there are a lot of reasons a client can be unhappy, right, unrealistic expectations. Maybe there were lapses in communication, maybe the work wasn't delivered as promised, but every single story I heard, like I said, was, the client said nothing about being unhappy and just I got a notification. I got a notification of a charge back after the work was completed. Most service providers are willing to fix things if you're unhappy with them. I mean obviously within reason, right? That's why scopes of work exist and that's why you need to understand as a client, you're going to pay more if you want changes that weren't in the original agreement but that may be outside of having resulted from a mistake that the service provider made. But why is it so hard to have these grown up conversations? Why is it so hard for you to say look, I wasn't happy with the result, can we talk about it? But to just initiate a charge back, that's bullshit. There were a couple of other stories from web designers, like I said, where you know one particular web designer. They created a website for a client, they completed it, it was delivered on time, successfully, and the very next day their website was apparently hacked I have that in air quotes hacked, and they were adamant that all of the work had been lost and, as a result, didn't want to pay the service provider. They didn't want to pay the web designer because you know it was their fault that something allowed these hackers to get in. Long story short, I don't want to give too many details, but it turns out the website was not hacked, the client just didn't want to pay the designer the full amount. I don't even know what to say to that. There was another web designer who did a web design and a hosting service for a friend, not even a random client. A friend gave them the friends and family discount and, after a year of working together, sent a renewal email. Didn't hear from them. Sent a reminder. Didn't hear from them. Sent another reminder, still completely ghosted. Finally, they sent an email saying look, per contract, I'm going to pull the plug in 21 days. 21 days came and passed. They pulled the plug. Lo and behold, two days later, a team member reaches out and asks for website access through Facebook, of all places. Service provider says please go and see your bosses, not going to happen. One week later, a new developer emails for a bunch of website details. Service provider says very kindly, please fuck off. It just boggles my mind and that person also did not get paid for their time, for their money, for their investment Ridiculous. Then there were a whole bunch of stories of like little red flags that aren't red flags until you see them all kind of lined up and then you're like holy shit, that client's a giant walking red flag. There were a whole bunch of instances where people were booking calls with service providers and then not showing up for those calls and then rebooking and not showing up for them and then rebooking again, and it was just ridiculous, like if you're going to book a call and not make it cancel, I'll tell you, this is why some service providers actually have the caveat that if you book a call and you miss, you're going to have to pay for the next call, right? Unless there's a really good reason for doing it. In one particular instance where a service provider actually went out of their way to book a discovery call outside of business hours because there was a time zone mismatch, because the client was on travel at the time. Now, when the call time came, they were not there. So they booked it again and they booked it again and the third time was a charm, they did show up, but they were late for the call. Anyway, that was a red flag. But also the client had a lot of excuses and reasons why it happened and this person has a very big heart. They were like, okay, cool, let's just, let's just go. They had a really great discovery call. The client says, yep, let's sign, and the service provider sent an invoice and a contract and a month goes by with absolutely no word from the client. At this point the service provider's thinking this is probably not a good fit. But then the client pops up again and manipulates them into taking them on. Now most of us who've been in the space for a while probably would have been like I don't know, it doesn't feel good and it's easy for us to sit here and say that was a red flag. The service provider should have just put their foot down. Can I just take a moment and say when I was in corporate and there were people who were like I'm really unhappy in this job, the thing that pissed me off the most was other people who would say then go find another job. Like it's that fucking simple. If it was that easy to just go and get another job, we'd all be working in jobs we loved and I see it now in the online space. When a client behaves badly and a service provider is told well, go find another client, fire that client, go find someone else Again. If it was that easy to find clients, we'd all be working with clients we loved and we'd all be fully booked out. So please reserve your judgment and your shame. The service provider did work with them when they came on board. Here's a red flag behavior the client lied to them in the discovery call, said that they were going to have a whole team to work with. There was no team. There was a VA, that's it. So the service provider ended up doing a lot of implementation work they weren't supposed to do. Then you've got clients who are just never available during business hours. They're off doing I don't know living life, which is great. All of us entrepreneurs want to be able to have a flexible lifestyle and whatnot, but if you have a team that is tasked with doing things that require your input, you, as a client, need to be available. You need to be there. Then you've got clients who break scope consistently. You have this is what you've hired me to do. Well, can we do this? Can we change that? Again, it's not always easy to say no, especially if you need the money. In this economy, we all need the fucking money. We've seen the price of bananas lately, jesus. You've got clients who insist team members put people on mailing lists without permission. You've got team members who consistently throw you under the bus for no reason. You've got clients who don't pay you on time or at all. There are so many shitty behaviors that people do on a regular basis and think that it's okay, not understanding that this impacts people's lives. Yes, a lot of these are lessons learned, but you know what? We shouldn't have to learn, these lessons? That's, I think, really the point of what I'm trying to say here. Other bad behaviors Clients questioning pricing. Clients are going to have questions about specific services and prices, but clients who tell you that it shouldn't cost that much. That's not cool. A service provider sets the prices. They set for a lot of reasons, based on hope, hopefully a lot of data and just their experience and what they've done and what they're able to do, and you don't get to negotiate that or tell someone they're charging too much for something. If something is too expensive or out of scope for you, go find it somewhere else. There are a lot of behaviors that just do not feel good. Those are the vast majority of the ones that I shared with you just now, but there are a lot of other red flags that have come up that I want to share with you so that you know and I'm talking to both the client and the service provider If you are a client who hires a lot of service providers, please listen to this. If you are a service provider, please listen to this. Again, none of these things necessarily have to be deal breakers because you can talk about them. I think a lot of these, again, could be rectified if people just were honest with each other and had open, honest conversations. But I also understand that conversational safety is not something a lot of people are aware of how to create Right. So, again, not necessarily deal breakers, but they should make your inner mirror cap pop up a little bit and pay attention. There were a number of other stories that came up, things like clients insisting something shouldn't take long, like, look, if you're delegating a task that you know nothing about or very little about, please don't tell the service provider, aka the expert, how long you think something is going to take, unless you've done it multiple times in the past. It signals a lack of respect for the service provider's expertise. And if you've hired them and let them do their job right, allow them to provide you with an estimate and then, yeah, go ahead and ask all the questions that you want, but don't tell people how long something should take. I once had a client who had me and the web developer and the marketing person put together this really complicated funnel. There was a primary product and several upsells and a whole bunch of bump offers and each of them had their own nurture sequence and funnel and blah, blah, blah. This took about two months to put together and get it to the client's liking, and about three or four days before we were due to launch it, client changes their mind about a couple of things. He wants us to move a couple of offers around and change this to a bump offer versus that one. And when I said this is probably going to take an extra two weeks, they were like, well, that's ridiculous. All you need to do is move a couple of buttons in the back end, don't you? No, you have to rewrite email sequences. You have to set up all the tech again. You have to make sure that the right buttons are connected to the right offers and the right sequences and that things are triggering properly. It's a very long process and I think that that is something that a lot of service providers experience, right, who think something shouldn't take as long or they should only take this much time, right? That's like a really big red flag. So, again, have the conversation with your client, explain to them why it's taking that long, because, again, it's not something that is malicious, it's probably just they don't really understand and you, as a client, please defer to your service provider, defer to the expert that you hired. There were a number of stories of service providers who had interviewed for a particular position, were asked for samples of work or to do like a test project. And I'm just going to say this this isn't fucking Costco. All right, you don't get free samples. If you want to see people's work, you pay for their work, and this is especially important in interviews for freelance jobs. If a client's asking you to do a work-based task as part of the interview, they should ethically pay you for your time. In fact, in some states, it's illegal not to pay for work done, even if it's part of the interview process. There were a lot of service providers who experienced clients who were talking shit about past hires. Right and again, this one should be kind of self-explanatory, but just in case it's not, there's a fine line between having something to say about the work output and having something to say about someone period. It'd be like showing up for a corporate interview and then, when they ask you why you left your last job, saying because my boss was a dick, like it's not a good thing, it's really shitty behavior. You shouldn't do it, because the first thing I think is well, if and when I leave, what are you going to say about me? What are you saying behind my back? It's not a good feeling. Oh, there were a bunch of people who actually shared this one, and in fact I've been on the receiving end of this as well. When clients advertise one particular rate of pay on a job ad and then they hire you and suddenly have a problem paying that or they change the rate of pay altogether, if they're going to lie right at the start, it's not going to get any better. That's something that I have learned. There are clients who have a problem with you having other clients. They're not paying you as a full-time employee. You're still getting work done just fine, but they have a problem with the fact that you have other clients. You're not available 24 hours a day, right, and you shouldn't be. And this kind of segues into clingy clients, people expecting responses immediately and then sending several messages or emails in the span of an hour because you didn't respond to them, or the opposite. Like I said, you can go days without hearing from them. That's not good. So there are lots of things that people have experienced, kind of collectively in the service provider space that, again, it's not something that makes or breaks a business, but it can definitely make or break a relationship. And so, if you experienced any of these things, one of the things that I'm going to really ask you to maybe try is speak to the client. Speak to them, have the conversation, explain to them as kindly as possible why this doesn't feel good. And again, I know that's really hard. It's easy for me to say sitting here behind a microphone, but a lot of business owners don't really understand. They don't know how it impacts anything other than their own business. We see it in corporate all the time, with people who have massive, massive budgets and massive, massive teams. It's natural that it would happen in this space as well, but from a service provider perspective it doesn't feel good. So if you are a client listening, just take note that there are better ways to do this and 90% of the time I'd wager it can be fixed with an honest conversation. Because, again, we can sit here and say when you know better, you do better. But we don't always know how to do better and I think more of us need to be able and willing to have conversations. Have I said that enough? I don't know. Anyway, this is a six-time. I'm recording this. Hopefully this came across, because now I don't remember what I said in version five versus version two. All I can say is you can have success without the BS, because there's a lot of fucking BS out there. You don't have to engage in it. I will see you next week. My friends, have a good one and stay safe. That's it for this week. Thanks for listening to the Business Blast for Me podcast. We'll be back next week with a new episode, but in the meantime, help us to stir out by subscribing and, if you're feeling extra sassy, rating this podcast, and don't forget to share the podcast with others Head over to businessblastformepodcastcom to connect with us and learn more. Thanks for listening and remember you can have success without the BS.