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Not all clients are the same and the longer you’re in business the more selective you get about who work with

In this blog we’re talking about Toxic Clients

Definition: Extremely demanding clients who are never wrong; want much more than what they’re paying for; and people who expect you to take the blame for their mistakes.

As you read that you’re probably thinking that sounds exactly like XXX

Times are difficult right now, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in 11 years of running Altrincham HQ it’s to get rid of those toxic clients as they affect every area of your business; they affect your own mental health; they affect you when you want to switch off from business

What makes for a great client
Before we start, I want to state what makes for a great client
– Positive Mental Attitude
– Works as a Partnership
– Clear Communication
– Respects your time
– Plans Well In Advance
– Pays on Time
– Recommends / introduces you to others
– Leaves a review / testimonial

Imagine a world where every client was like this

Here are 7 Warning Signs You Have A Toxic Client

1. Criticism Of Previous Suppliers
From the moment a client starts criticising previous suppliers in the initial meeting it means I’m mentally telling myself not to work with them

I won’t deny in my industry there are charlatans and people who will happily take your money and offer very little in return, but the chances of 1 business stating “I’ve worked with 4 or 5 social media marketing companies before and I’ve never got any results” tells me the only constant is the business owner themselves

The initial meeting should be a positive experience – one where both sides are talking about the present and the future and what they want to achieve from working together. It should be realistic, but not pessimistic

The one piece of advice I always give to service providers is the relationship is about working together in partnerships rather than “working for” someone. If you don’t respect yourself it’s easy to get cornered into a business relationship which you know is doomed from the start and the client will simply add you to their long list of business owners that they criticise

Toxic Client Tips: Go with your gut feeling – if it feels wrong don’t take on the client

2. Poor Communication
We’ve all been there

The client that can’t communicate

2 or 3 word emails with “This” “Call Me” or something where you feel you’ve jumped in half way through a conversation

And to get to the bottom of it you have to have 5 emails and 2 phone calls

Oh and they forget to let you know essential info that you need to do the job

I still recall at horror, the time when one client let us know they were launching their new business (3 days early) just one and half hours before doors were opening and expected us to drop everything at that moment to publicise it (oh and without sending any of the photos we’d been asking for over the past 6 weeks)

Toxic Client Tips: Explain to the client exactly how you prefer to be communicated with and what you need at each step of your working relationship together

3. Call Late at Night / Weekend
One thing many of us have learnt to value during the pandemic has been Work / Life Balance and how easy it is to slip into working 24/7

It’s often harder when clients want meetings at 7pm; phone calls at 9pm and send emails at midnight. Trust me – the client isn’t always right!

I generally set barriers that unless absolutely urgent I don’t take work phone calls after 6pm

Once you set the barriers it’s important to stick to them, even if you have to remind them on text that you don’t work at set times and therefore you will call them tomorrow

Remember when you set up your business. For many of you it was because the corporate life of staying behind at work till 8pm and not seeing your family was the final straw. Don’t let your life become a repeat of your life as an employer

Toxic Client Tips: Let clients know at the start if you have barriers that don’t get crossed. State your working hours

4. Everything Is Urgent
“Can you call me – it’s urgent”

You ring back and it’s anything but urgent. In fact it’s not even remotely urgent in terms of it’s not something that needs actioning in the next few weeks

I call the “it’s urgent” a power move designed to pull the strings and show who’s boss

But what it actually shows is a complete lack of respect for the fact you have other work and other clients to work with as well

What is more frustrating is when they pull the urgent card, you call, you email them the next steps and they either never reply / action / follow up on next steps

Toxic Client Tips: Text back with “I’m just in a meeting till XXX – I can check text or emails on short breaks, but otherwise I’m not available till 5pm / tomorrow. Can it wait until then?”

5. Negativity (All The Time)
There’s one thing you learn when working in social media

If you moan or rant all the time people switch off

If you’re generally positive and then air a gripe, people listen because it’s out of character

In business you need to avoid the energy vampires
– the types of clients who have a problem for every solution
– the types of clients who drive you to drink
– the types of clients that zap your creative juices

You shouldn’t have to deal with that under any circumstances

Toxic Client Tips: Start every meeting off with absolute positives listing clearly all the things that have gone well

6. Late Payers
7 Day Payment Terms mean 7 Day Payment Terms

Not payment after 3 or 4 months and 20 emails

Most of us hate approaching the conversation of late payments with clients for fear of losing them, but often late payments signify problems within the business that at one stage will leave you out of pocket

Generally speaking, I pay invoices within 24-48 hours because I realise that cashflow is important to small businesses

Toxic Client Tips: State on your invoices that late payment emails will be subject to £25 admin fees and don’t be afraid to pass on to a debt collector

7. Ends The Working Relationship and Then Implements All The Things You Talked About For Months / Years

There are 2 things you have in business

Circles of Joy – the dream clients that you have wonderful working relationships with and they tell all their clients about you
Circles of Misery – the clients you regret taking on, are relieved when you part, but then they implement everything you were continually telling them to do (whilst they criticise you)

This last point of the 7 is about the latter

We’ve all been in this scenario. The clients who don’t take in board what you were saying until you left them

There’s not a lot you can do here, except be happy that you’ll replace them with clients who work with you in partnership

Toxic Client Tips: Reflect on the fact you did everything you could do. And that even if they put in 10%, you still put in 100%

And a reminder before we leave

What makes for a great client

– Positive Mental Attitude
– Works As A Partnership
– Clear Communication
– Respects your time
– Plans Well In Advance
– Pays On Time
– Recommends / introduces you to others
– Leaves a review / testimonial

Chat to us about Social Media Marketing for YOUR organisation , so we can better understand YOU and what will grow your organisation

We can only find out what is unique to your business by chatting with you

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Please call Alex on 07806774279 or email


Alex McCann

Author Alex McCann

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