August 10

9 Ways to Avoid Soul-Crushing Clients

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. - Maya Angelou

Yeah, this happened!

A recent get-to-know-you meeting went fantastically wrong. In retrospect, I believe the meeting was doomed from the start because I failed to clarify my desired outcome before the meeting. Lesson learned. The person I met with thought I was there to "sell my services" while I was under the impression that I was there to get to know them. Who sells in the first meeting? Come on. This disconnect made for an "interesting" meeting. I would say conversation, but it was more like being subpoenaed to testify and then treated as a hostile witness.


An awkward start was quickly upgraded from combative to condescending. In their eyes, I was interviewing for a job. From my chair, I was expecting to build a relationship. While I could have left the meeting early, I wanted to see how deep the rabbit hole would go. I never found the bottom. 


As the meeting was nearing its merciful end, they told me I could reschedule in a few weeks for another meeting and that they could see a use for my services. Ha! Now, why would I want to do that? Did they think I was desperate for work or a glutton for punishment? Did they, even for a moment, consider that I might not want to work with them? No. 

This person disqualified themself and their organization from working with me. Based on my experience, they were the antithesis of my perfect client. If I was naive enough to reschedule it would be a waste of time and effort at best. The worst case scenario would be a working relationship laced with more of the same soul-crushing toxicity. 

Don't Make This MistakeWorking with the wrong clients can be frustrating

One of the biggest mistakes all entrepreneurs make is working with any and everyone. Of course, we need clients and the cash flow that they afford us. But honestly, all clients aren't created equal and there are times when the cash flow isn't worth the headache.

Fun fact one of the perks of running your own show is that you get to choose who gets on stage. You get to decide who you work with and you can say no. When selecting your clients think compatibility, character, and culture before you think cash.] Is this person someone you can do your best work for? Would you be excited to wake up and go into their office? Is this someone you trust?  Does this person or organization look like your perfect client or a perfect storm?

The clients you choose are a large part of your success or failure. Not every client will be a great fit for your company and you need to be able to say "no thank you" when they mistakenly enter your pipeline. 

Perfect Client or Perfect Storm?

Here are a few ways to determine if you are dealing with a perfect client or a perfect storm:

  1. Can they afford your services?
  2. Are they aggressive or condescending? Don't make excuses for their behavior it won't change.
  3. Do they understand you work with them, not for them?
  4. Do they respect and value what you bring to the table?
  5. Do they understand and respect your culture?
  6. What are their priorities? If money is their primary concern, they may never be satisfied.
  7. Are they willing to follow your process?
  8. Do they resemble your perfect client? 
  9. Does the work excite you?
  10. BONUS: Would you still want to work with them if you weren't being paid? 


What criteria do you use to disqualify soul-crushers? Share how you weed out soul-crushers in a comment below.


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About the author 

Dr. David Arrington

David a husband, father and the principal of Arrington Coaching. He and his team work with leaders, teams, organizations, and entrepreneurs. He regularly speaks and writes on leadership development, team alignment, and peak performance.

  • I enjoyed the article. I am sure it was a good experience to validate that all clients are not made equal or are not a good fit both ways. Loved the bonus question. I have had the pleasure talking with clients I would provide services to for free.

  • The bonus question is the most important question of them all I think. If you just want to work with your clients, because you’re being paid, they are definitely not a good fit with your company. It is, however, a rare opportunity for many companies to have the luxury to choose which customer to take!

    • Fred,

      Thanks for weighing in. When business owners forget that they can choose their clients, they settle for nightmare clients. These clients drain more resources, take more time, and are more of a headache than they are worth. These are the clients they will eventually have to fire. I’m saying that you should be able to identify and disqualify them before they get into your system. It may seem like a rare opportunity for a small business owner trying to grow their business, but soon it becomes a way of life.

      • Thanks for your statement, David. You’re totally right! I hope this becomes reality soon for all business owners. 🙂

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