Warn­ing: Toxic Clients Ahead

It can be hard to let go of a cus­tomer you worked hard to ob­tain, but some­times it’s far and away the best choice.

Animation Magazine - - Opportunities - By Martin Gre­bing

Clients are your lifeblood. With­out them, you have no business. They should be val­ued and held in high­est re­gard, as they are the rea­son you are able to spend your time fol­low­ing your dreams and do­ing what you truly love.

As your client list grows, you will in­evitably en­counter a wide range of per­son­al­i­ties. Some may be dif­fi­cult to deal with, oth­ers may be a joy, but there is one cat­e­gory that must be iden­ti­fied and dealt with im­me­di­ately: the toxic client.

Iden­ti­fy­ing toxic clients is a crit­i­cal skill as they can in­fect your business, clog up pro­duc­tion pipe­lines, and drain your time, en­ergy, and money. They will hide be­hind the dis­guise of good in­ten­tions, but once iden­ti­fied there is only one way to deal with a toxic client: let them go.

Your time and en­ergy is much bet­ter spent pro­vid­ing ser­vice to your won­der­ful, ex­ist­ing clients and land­ing new, grate­ful clients that are ea­ger to pay well for your ser­vices than deal­ing with some­one who wants to un­der­cut you at ev­ery turn.

Guilty by As­so­ci­a­tion

If you want to grow your business and at­tract like-minded pro­fes­sion­als, fir­ing toxic clients is of paramount im­por­tance be­cause you are known by the company you keep. If you get the rep­u­ta­tion for work­ing on the cheap, putting up with un­rea­son­able dead­lines and ex­pec­ta­tions, and let­ting your clients walk all over you, then more toxic clients will come to your doorstep. Toxic clients of­ten know other toxic clients and they will swarm to what­ever un­for­tu­nate host is will­ing to ac­cept them.

Due to their in­sid­i­ous na­ture, a toxic client can be tricky to iden­tify. From a holis­tic stand­point, does some­thing just not feel right? Do you get a bad feel­ing from talk­ing to, think­ing about, and work­ing with a par­tic­u­lar client? Chances are you should trust your instincts and move on to greener pas­tures. How many times have you ig­nored early warn­ing signs and let a toxic re­la­tion­ship drag on for months or even years? How much bet­ter off do you think you would be to­day pro­fes­sion­ally, emotionally and fi­nan­cially, if you would have ter­mi­nated that re­la­tion­ship in the early stages?

Does your client ask you to cut your rates just for the chance to work with them again in the fu­ture?

Does your client want you to work for cheap or free for the sake of ex­pe­ri­ence or “ex­po­sure”?

Does your client honor con­tract terms or ig­nore them at will?

Does your client have bound­aries or do they ex­pect you to be at their beck and call 24/7?

Does your client ex­pect you to fix the prob­lems they caused by not com­mu­ni­cat­ing, dis­hon­or­ing con­tract terms, or chang­ing the scope and ex­pec­ta­tions with­out no­tice?

Does your client dis­re­gard your opin­ion and de­ci­sions?

Does the client’s in­dus­try con­tra­dict your core val­ues?

Does your client con­sis­tently come to you last-minute when they’ve had more than enough time to reach out sooner?

Does your client brag about how much money they’ve reck­lessly wasted and over­spent on other as­pects of a project then try to rene­go­ti­ate your fee be­cause there’s not enough money left to pay your stan­dard rate?

Does your client only give you work if you are the low­est bid­der?

Does your client think they know more about your work and your process than you do and con­sis­tently try to mi­cro­man­age your ef­forts?

Does your client ask you to work for free to help them raise fund­ing so they can pay you for the project they want to hire you to pro­duce?

Does your client make you feel ex­pend­able and try to de­value your work in an at­tempt to make you cut your fee?

If you an­swered yes to three or more of th­ese ques­tions, chances are you’re deal­ing with a toxic client and they need to be let go. Ex­er­cise this ex­ec­u­tive op­tion with cau­tion, how­ever, be­cause if you have signed a con­tract or made a com­mit­ment for a project, you ab­so­lutely must de­liver.

Look at the Big Pic­ture

If you don’t have a long list of clients knock­ing at your door, it may seem risky to con­sider turn­ing down work or fir­ing any of your clients. How­ever, it’s far more sen­si­ble, pro­fes­sional, emotionally re­spon­si­ble, and prof­itable to drop toxic clients so you can elim­i­nate the in­her­ent frus­tra­tions and prob­lems that come along with work­ing with them. Let­ting them go will free you to pur­sue projects that excite you, re­duce your stress, in­crease your hap­pi­ness, boost your in­come, and al­low you to get some much-needed sleep.

There are plenty of clients out there who are a plea­sure to work with and ea­ger to find like-minded pro­fes­sion­als, so waste no more time, money, or en­ergy on toxic clients — they don’t de­serve you. Martin Gre­bing is an award-win­ning an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor and pro­ducer who has fo­cused his ca­reer on smaller stu­dios and al­ter­na­tive mar­kets. To­day, he pro­vides pri­vate con­sult­ing and is the pres­i­dent of Fun­ny­bone An­i­ma­tion, a bou­tique stu­dio that pro­duces an­i­ma­tion for a wide range of clients and in­dus­tries. He can be reached via www.fun­ny­bonean­i­ma­tion.com.

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