WordPress Developers: How to Manage Nightmare Clients (And Kiss Them Goodbye)
Have you just started out as a WordPress developer only to find yourself battling clients who seem to have sprung straight from your worst nightmares? Are budget wrangles or constant last-minute changes stressing you out? If so, it’s time to put the foot down and commit to making a change.
While you can’t always spot dreadful clients in advance, you can put systems in place to manage your business better and make breaking ties with problematic clients much less painful.
In this article we’ll discuss ways you can find and attract ideal prospects, best manage your developer business, and part ways with nightmarish clients. Let’s start with identifying the right people.
Get to Know Your Ideal Client
Are you crystal clear on who you’d ideally like to work with? Sometimes, freelancers and less experienced developers are so eager to get started working that they don’t screen their clients properly.
If you find yourself struggling to attract decent clients, it might be time to alter your approach. Ask yourself the following key questions:
- Do I want to work with startups or established companies?
- What are my non-negotiable terms?
- What type of clients are my skills best suited to serve?
Once you’ve established the answers to these initial questions, you want to start thinking about mistakes to avoid. Start pondering the following questions:
- How do I positively contribute to the overall tone of communication on the project?
- How do I plan to present the finished project?
- Will I transition the client to manage his own account at the close of the project, or not?
Having a dream client in mind and actively thinking about future project-related scenarios makes you far less likely to attract the wrong type of client to begin with. Now that we’ve covered the happy path, let’s turn our attention to less desirable situations.
Identifying and Managing Nightmarish Clients
As a relatively inexperienced WordPress developer, it’s not always easy to spot a horrendous client in advance – even when you’ve taken precautions. There are, however, some sure signs of terrible clients. Any of the following issues should be enough to set alarm bells ringing and send red flags hurtling skywards:
- Consistent problems with payment.
- Clients who consume too much of your time.
- Constant changes or massively shifting project goals.
- Aggressive or manipulative clients who string you along with the possibility of future work rather than fair pay now.
- Clients who don’t let you do your job and attempt to commandeer your responsibilities.
It’s not always easy to keep a cool head, but you need to be able to objectively notice these behaviors in the first place, then calmly decide how to address the problems.
Once you’ve determined which of your current clients are potentially problematic, it’s time to take steps to mitigate against possible issues. Basic project organization goes a long way towards putting out fires in advance, or at least getting you through to the finish line in one piece. Consider employing all of the following techniques:
- Use a client management system like Trello, or Basecamp to keep your various ducks in a row.
- Create a client manual to help your client transition to managing his own website, and spare future pain.
- Create a client questionnaire to clarify terms of service and expectations up front.
- Edit your client’s administrative menu to make self-management an easier option down the road.
- Carefully review and (potentially) revise your contract.
- Constantly hone your client communication skills.
Most importantly, treat yourself well throughout this process. Professionalism does not equate to being anyone’s doormat. If you do feel you’re going to have to bite the bullet and endure a difficult client experience until the end of a particular project, keep these cautionary points in mind:
- Set boundaries. Don’t go to great extremes trying to please unreasonable clients. Some people will simply never be satisfied, regardless of what you do. You have every right to preserve your sanity; your long-term success depends on doing so.
- Be straight with yourself. Honestly assess your feelings about a client and, if something feels weird but you can’t pinpoint what it is, trust your gut and start taking steps to disengage. 99 times out of 100, you’ll be right.
- Don’t fear letting go. Plan ahead by marketing your services to your ideal customer as you prepare to fire your current client. Sometimes letting go of a bad client opens the door to several perfect ones.
Firing Clients That Aren’t a Good Match
Even with the best efforts, sometimes you simply have to sever ties with a client sooner than anticipated. When a client-developer relationship breaks down irreparably, it’s time to part ways – no exceptions. The idea of firing a client can be scary, but it’s a normal part of commercial life and you should treat it as a learning experience. Here are key steps to bear in mind:
- Respect and gratitude: Maintain this overall tone, don’t let emotions creep in, and remain calm and respectful.
- Remain neutral but firm: Don’t blame, use factual language, and make it clear that you are severing the relationship.
- Summarize your position: Offer a brief explanation for your actions and set a final date.
- Offer a solution: Suggest other WordPress developers that might be a better fit. If appropriate, offer a full or partial refund.
- Positive send off: Thank the client for the learning experience and wish him well in all future endeavors.
There are many ways to do this. Here’s how the above outline might look in email-form:
I hope this message finds you well. There’s an important topic that I’d like to bring to your attention.
We’ve worked together for the last six months, and I think it’s necessary for that to change. Since we have different approaches and standards with regard to project completion, I think a WordPress developer who has more time to devote to your endeavors would best serve your company. As of [date], I will no longer be able to provide you with WordPress development services.
To help you with this transition, I’ve compiled a list of developers who might be available to take you on as a new client:
You can expect a full refund for the pre-paid project that was due in eight weeks to be credited to your account within 24 hours.
Thank you for the opportunity to work with and learn from you. I wish you all the best going forward.
Are you ready to kiss your nightmare clients goodbye? Let’s recap the steps we suggested:
- Start by determining who you’d like your ideal clients to be.
- Confirm whether you have any current hellish clients.
- Manage problem clients effectively in the short term.
- Manage yourself – there’s no need to take extreme abuse. If an abrupt firing is necessary, do it.
- Gracefully fire clients that aren’t a good match.
We’re curious to hear how you’ve handled similar experiences to the ones discussed above. How do you manage unbearable clients? Have you ever had to fire any? Share your experiences in the comments below!
This article is also relevant to freelancers in other sections of the creative industries, such as Graphic Designers.
I’ve personally had a few nightmare clients, that nowadays I am more selective who I work with even though this means my earning potential is slightly lowered (however, I would rather have a low income and be happy, rather than a high income with stress and unreasonable demands on my time).
Professionally removing yourself from a nightmare client is the best option, and then be more selective with your clients as well as ensuring you have written contracts for all the work you undertake.
Thanks for writing this article, I am sure it will be helpful to many creatives.
Nice tips on managing tough clients! I enjoyed the read!
I have had some clients like this. After reading this, I agree I didn’t know what to do. Nice tips you gave. Thanks for sharing these.
Well put, I totally agree. Thank you for reading!
Thank you for reading Pankaj!