Three Reasons You Can’t Afford That High Maintenance Client

Several years ago, when I was in business for myself, I had a client who was really “high maintenance.” By that, I mean he was someone who had unreasonable expectations of me and my company. Unfortunately, I didn’t see that on the front end; I was too focused on “the opportunity.”

Woman Being Yelled at By Person on Phone - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/njgphoto, Image #8113051

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/njgphoto

Within the first thirty days, however, it became obvious we had a problem. I sat down with the client and a few of his staff members to review where we were. I had worked hard—more than the size of the account warranted—in an effort to super-please him. I was confident I had “hit it out of the park.”

Not so much.

The client was very unhappy. Not only did he not praise me for what I had accomplished, he didn’t even acknowledge it. He focused exclusively on what I had’t done. Talk about the-glass-is-half-empty. I was stunned.

Not surprisingly, the client fired me a few months later. It was very painful. But as difficult as that experience was, it did lead to some positive outcomes, starting with me beginning to understand the need to clarify expectations from the get-go.

But here’s where it gets interesting. A few years later that same client came back to me and practically begged me to take him back. Stupid me. I did. (I’m not proud of it.)

I naively thought this second time would be different.

He’s changed, I told myself. I even assured my staff—and my wife—that he had changed. Besides, I reasoned, I have also changed. I’m a better manager this time around.

I was wrong on both counts.

The client had not changed. He was still the unreasonable, demanding tyrant he had always been. Yes, he could still turn on the charm when he needed to, but fundamentally, he was a narcissist. Nothing I could do—or could ever do—would change him. It was all about him.

But I hadn’t changed that much either. I am pretty good at creativity and execution, but I am not super human. I had not suddenly acquired super powers. In fact, in some relational experiences like this, I am admittedly a slow learner.

But, regardless, here’s what I distilled from that second experience:

  1. Some people are just high maintenance. They operate out of their “woundedness,” to borrow a phrase from John Eldredge. I am never going to please them. I will only deplete myself trying.
  2. High maintenance people are a distraction. They suck up more than their fair share of resources. In fact, if I let them, they will suck up everything I and my team have to offer. They are a bottomless pit.
  3. They keep me from serving others. I am better off to say “no” and spend the time searching for low maintenance clients—or at least reasonable ones. It’s really not fair to my other clients or my teammates to keep these “Me Monsters” around.

I don’t mean to sound unkind, but there are just some people you are not called to serve. You can spend all your time caught up in the drama of their demands and accusations, or you can move on. The sooner you cut the cord and fire them, the more productive—and happy—you’ll be.

No matter how big the opportunity appears to be, it’s just not worth the maintenance involved.

Question: What is the worst high maintenance relationship you have ever experienced?
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  • http://heretolead.com @heretolead

    This is very true…some customers are not worth having. Knowing who you are as a company should tell you that you're not equipped to meet everyone's need. The Orange Code, about ING Direct talks about this a good bit.

    Incidentally, this principle applies to some church members and even staff members too.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, it does apply to church members and staff. It also applies to friendships.

      Thanks for your input.

      • http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com Women Living Well

        I was just applying this to friendships! It's true there are those that DRAIN you. I have a "stalker" friend that I can't shake. Bless her heart – she just takes so much energy. How to lovingly put space there is an art I am being forced to learn :-(.
        Great post!
        Courtney

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    Oh how I can soooo relate to this post. :) Having been in business for myself for 10+ years, I've encountered this on more than one occasion. In the early days I felt I had to just "put up with it" because I needed the business ($) but as I began to realize that these out of sync clients were really costing me business… it set me free. :) I've now become quite confident in firing a client who isn't a right fit so that I can maximize the time and opportunity for those who are a fit. Sometimes you don't see it on the front end but as it becomes evident, it's the best thing to do for all involved. It's hard but necessary. Thanks for the great reminder.

    • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

      One of my authors refers to these people as "Energy Vampires." They suck the life right out of you. :)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      You’re welcome. Sometimes—particularly if they are a big client—it takes genuine courage to fire them. But I have never once regretted it.

  • http://larryshallenberger.com Larry Shallenberger

    @heretolead,

    Agreed about the application to church. This might be a reach, but Jesus seemed to “fire clients” throughout the Gospels. He intentionally disappointed the crowds from time to time and talked about eating his flesh and blood.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Good point. H definitely fire the pharisees, over and over again.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/childrensministryandculture Larry Shallenberger

        He fired the Pharisees, but also many of the masses. Seems so counter intuitive when you read John.

        Michael, any advice for kind "firings"?

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          I need to write a post about this. It’s come up a few times.

          Just a few things I try to get clear on: what outcomes do I want to produce beyond their termination: (1) I want then to know why they were terminated, (2) feel that they were treated fairly through the process, and (3) feel positive about the company.

          If you focus on the outcomes you are trying to create, the process will become clear. I will write a post on this to elaborate.

          Thanks for a great question!

          • Sandy Gibbes

            "If you focus on the outcomes you are trying to create, the process will become clear."

            I think I will borrow this. Well said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emuelle1 Eric S. Mueller

    I recently made a career change into Real Estate. My mentor is going to great pains to teach me not to accept every listing that comes my way. My mentor showed me how a client who wants to set his or her own price won't remember that when the house doesn't sell. It'll be my fault in their minds. It's not worth the frustration.

  • http://Bridgescovenant.com Mark Andrews

    Michael,

    Thanks for a great word. As a pastor, I was wondering right away how this applies to people who are checking out our new (2 1/2 year old) church plant.

    There are visitors who make it obvious it has to be all about them, or that can only see what is missing from our church. They usually don’t come back, but some do. After a couple pointed conversations, they can come to see we are not the church they are looking for.

    I am really curious what folks could share about applying this to people who really are a part of your church community but are becoming the person you described. Is there a time to fire a church member? Or do we simply move them NGO a position where they cannot drain resources until God does so me work in them or they move on?

    Thanks for making us all think,
    Mark

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think it is worth having a very tough talk. That way they either change or leave. You can live with either outcome. The status quo is what is so often unbearable.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/FayeB rfbryant

      A very good friend of mine says in these cases, she prays that God will change them or change their address.

  • http://1peter2nine10.com Nathan McMillen

    I think one of the things that helps with a “gut check” before you bring on potentially high maintenance clients is by honestly looking at what tactical / short-term things you need to do or have needed to do to get them on-board. Measure those things against where you want to be strategically / long-term. If it doesn’t line up, you could be heading in a direction and a place you do not want to be both personally and professionally.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    There's a lot to be said for pragmatism and for understanding we can't be all things to all people.

  • http://www.LinkedIn.com/in/davidandlisafrisbie David Frisbie

    This is a lesson I continually re-learn (or need to fully and finally learn?) in ministry. In my own case, I tend to over-estimate my own power to change or heal others. I tend to under-estimate the amount of energy and time that the high-maint person will request and require.

    Great post. For my benefit (and for other gradual learners….) please return to this topic occasionally.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I’m sure I will, because I need to remind myself!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/rosacola Rocco Capra

    This is a very encouraging post, applicable to every relationship in life.

    Part of my "woundedness" would draw me to these type of relationships. When I started down the path to healing I realized how manipulative and life draining they were, I was able to separate myself from them.

    More importantly, I have learned to separate myself for the "manipulation and draining". Which is especially important in the relationships I cannot separate from, i.e. my own father, in-laws, other family. I can't just fire those relationships, but I can fire the high maintenance so it doesn't influence me.

  • http://jenniferswriting.blogspot.com Jennifer Hudson Taylor

    This is some very solid and wise advice. We learned this lesson through my husband’s business.

    I think the same is true of some employers. Currently, I work for a company that has gone through three CFO’s in less than 2 years, there is a reason for that, but top management isn’t getting it. The newest one started this week and I feel like I’m watching deja vous all over again.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I’m sorry for that. It is so important to remain conscious of the broader context of these relationships. You can get so caught up in trying to meet unreasonable client demands that you forget to ask, “Should I be in this relationship in the first place?”

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/tomraines tomraines

    As a business owner and a sales person, I soooo agree. The temptation of the opportunity or pressure to meet a quota certainly leads us into taking on high maintenance accounts. I pray wisdom will guide me in the future to trust the Spirit and have the courage to decline. You make a great point on the opportunity cost of spending the exhorbitant time on them. The "wounded" person will also be the first to fire you and drop you for a nickel…thanks for the reminder!

  • http://www.neal-prince.com Sandy Gibbes

    We get this a good amount in the architectural field. It's easy to sell out in economic times too if you don't watch out, just to get the client. Not wise, but tempting. Communicate, educate, and stick to foundations (namely Jesus) and if they do the same, then hopefully things will work out….at least that is what I hope.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      So true. It’s tough to be choosy when you are scrambling to make payroll. Still, I think it is generally worth it.

  • http://www.dailyreflectionsforsingleparents.blogspot.com/ Scoti Springfield Domeij

    Hmmm…your client sounds like a high maintenance Christian non-profit ministry that I once worked for. I never viewed the demanding leader as a person who was wounded. His perfectionism and power intimidated those deeply committed to the ministry’s mission. No matter how hard anyone worked, most employees went home feeling unappreciated, except for the “stars” who received star treatment and star salaries. The glass-is-half-empty and you’re-not quite-perfect-enough attitude is what finally propelled me to find another profession where not only is my hard work appreciated, but rewards me with a decent income. And I would never donate one penny to that nonprofit for their “ministry” or buy their products because of the way they treated their employees.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That’s the sad part. These people’s actions have a ripple effect that lasts for years.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/tarheel810 tarheel810

    This has been an excellent eye-opener for me. I work in the human service field and we deal with difficult situations and people every day as a requirement. But there are those families that no matter what you do they are never satisfied. I hadn't really thought about the resources and energy that these high maintenance clients are stripping from my teams. Thanks for the insightful post.

  • http://www.therextras.com BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    These people can be relatives, too. Sigh. Trying to please them is enabling their tyrannical behavior. Definitely a relationship skill that is not easily learned.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, they can be. It's even trickier to extricate yourself from that situation, though I have sometimes wanted to “fire” a few relatives!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Boy does this post hit home. Years ago, I was a service manager for a small Mercedes and Volvo repair shop. We had a wonderful clientele and most of our customers trusted us to fix their cars and give them good value for their money. But their was one group of customers, a tiny fraction, that would absolutely drive us nuts. It was the person who had always dreamed of owning a Mercedes and in their minds had created the fantasy that these cars were totally reliable and never broke down. They would save and save and then buy the cheapest MB model that usually had about 150,000 miles on it. You can see where this is going… a repair list a mile long.
    I made the mistake of taking a few of these cars in over the years, and almost every time I was sorry that I did. The customers had totally unrealistic expectations, and the minute you took it in, it became a huge problem. If you fixed one thing, another would break, and the customers truly thought they were being ripped off. They couldn't fathom that they had bought a car full of problems.
    I finally realized that this type of customer was more trouble than they were worth. To help us and the customer, I would have one of the mechanics do a free inspection, and provide the customer with a list of all the problems the car had with prices to fix them. This was usually eye opening, and then I would refer the client to another shop or to take the car back to the dealer where they bought it.
    This saved us a lot of headaches and many times the unsuspecting customer, armed with our list, was able to negotiate with the dealer to return the car or get a different make and model.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That is a very wise approach, John. It is so much easier to confront the issue on the front end, before you have the investment of time and emotional energy.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/oryoki oryoki

      I do business with an auto repair shop that uses free 78 point inspections to garner customers. It must work for them as they repeat the offer in their advertising. It certainly worked for me as it gave me a clear idea of how much work was needed, how expensive it would be, and allowed me to set priorities.

  • http://www.barbervasolutions.com Megan Barber

    Boy, I can definitely relate to this both in my business and my personal life. Being in a service based business, my clients mean $$ and there were times that I took on “high-maintenance” clients because I “needed” the money so badly. In the end it cost more time, money and sanity than they were worth. After learning the hard way, I now know that being a business owner allows me to pick and choose who exactly I want to work with and those that I should let go. I just always keep in mind that there are plenty of people out there that need my business that are my IDEAL clients.
    And though some relatives may be the same way, unfortunately you can’t fire them.

    • http://www.QualityVA.com Sherra Scott

      Ah, yes Megan. We self-employed service providers sometimes forget that not every client opportunity is “worth” the money.

      As for the relatives. I guess you can’t really “fire” them, but you can certainly distance yourself from them! My whole family is in a completely different time zone, and although I do keep in contact with the occasional email, phone call or via Facebook, I haven’t physically visited in over 6 years. I attribute the fact that my sanity is (somewhat) in tact directly to my ability to distance myself from the drama they create!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/kaikunane ThatGuyKC

    Excellent advice! Thank you for sharing and being transparent about your mistakes so others can learn from them.

    I took the liberty of promoting your blog in my post today. Hope you enjoy the weekend.

  • http://twitter.com/JanNoelSmith @JanNoelSmith

    Spot-on, as usual! I worked for an advertising/design agency in a small city .. only four or five agencies, and everybody knew everybody. We had one gentleman in town who owned several franchise fast food places. He was a notoriously difficult client: impossible to please, extremely rude (especially to women), demanding, and on top of that, slow to pay. Despite this, agencies kept working for him again and again — he'd fire one and move along to the next until he'd gone through every one in town a few times.

    His presence as a client cast a pall over the agency .. employee morale suffered and frustration levels soared. It was a no-win situation for us.

    Our owner finally refused to work for him … we as employees breathed a huge sigh of relief and in fact felt that our jobs were much more stable.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Laurinda Laurinda

    Honestly, the worst high maintenance relationship has been in the church. I think we feel obligated to 'love' everybody. But there are times to cut folks loose and let them suffer the consequences of their choices. Co-dependency is a plague in the church. Jesus' relationships (or lack there of) fascinate me. People He helped didn't show back up the next day looking for more they could get out of Jesus. I don't get the mentality of some people today. I may sound mean. But it's so frustrating to want to bless someone and it turns out to be a huge mistake later.

    An example, I work for an airline and we have 'passes' we can give to friends and family to fly at an extremely discounted rate. A woman was in a jam and I gave her several passes for her and family to fly to California. After that, she started calling me EVERY time someone in her family wanted to fly somewhere. I kept telling her no. I was also her customer at a nail shop. I am no longer. It's so sad.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      “Entitlement” is a whole other post. Sometimes God's people can drive you crazy! Of course, that's exactly what Jesus contended with. It was the religious people who gave him the most grief.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/terripatrick terripatrick

    The worst is when this is a personal relationship and you know the wound is both physical and emotional. Like a family member who had an accident or illness that has changed their entire life and abilities. Even when "recovery" is accomplished the events of treatment and drugs has let a mark on the body of the victim that needs attention. Boundaries still need to be in place but it is not as simple as in business. You can't just "fire" a family member and the tough-talk may be less effective than consistent affirmations and not taking the unreasonable stuff personally, especially when there are triggers to the wound.
    Happiness and healing are possible for both the victim and the caretaker, it just requires daily maintenance and prayer with a combined focus on well-being for all.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/aprilkarli April

      I was thinking along the same lines, Terri. You can't always fire the high maintenance person in your life. There are times we have to love the unlovable and learn to not take their stuff personally.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Agreed. I was mostly addressing business situations where you truly have the choice.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/terripatrick terripatrick

        I got that, but the question was "What is the worst high maintenance relationship you have ever experienced?" So my answer relates to the business of living life since most of your posts embrace both professional and personal insights. :)

  • http://pastorblog.hickorywithepc.org Ed Eubanks

    Good points as usual, Michael.

    Sometimes (maybe ESPECIALLY in ministry?) folks become just a notch or three more than simply “high-maintenance.” Or they will be high-maintenance in such a way that you who serve them will need to do occasional damage-control.

    As you point out, those who have the option may learn that they simply don’t need to take on such clients/customers. Unfortunately for pastors, that’s not an option— and sometimes it isn’t one in other fields, as well.

    Two comments/recommendations about this:

    First (and especially for pastors), the book Well-Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley is invaluable, if for no other reason than to help someone identify such “dragons”. There is also some helpful advice about how to deal with them.

    Second, sometimes the “woundedness” that Elderidge speaks of is actually something clinical. A counselor-friend once told me how studies had shown that the majority of the “high-maintenance” and sometimes-troublemaking people in the church actually have some degree of Borderline Personality Disorder, which can manifest in some odd and difficult ways. Two good titles for dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder are I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me by Jerold Kreisman and Hal Strauss, and Stop Walking on Eggshells by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Great input. I will have to pick up the Shelley book. I have read the Mason and Kreger one. Excellent.

  • Jamie

    Other than a horrid boyfriend in college, I had a extremely toxic boss who brought high-maintenance to a new stratosphere. Nothing could ever please her ~ unless she needed to turn on the charm. The upside was that was very early in my working life, and I learned what was acceptable behavior and what was unacceptable. So even in difficult relationships hopefully we learn to be better equipped for the workplace.

  • http://www.feelingfiction.com Janie Bill

    Great source for writers to understand what not to do. I must admit some people make me feel zapped and I likewise cut the strings. I want to accomplish too many things to give away all my energy to someone who isn’t going to make use of it.

  • http://www.bee-magic.com barbaral

    When I became an esthetician and could do manicures, pedicures and facials I suddenly had clients who also wanted to be my friend. For some they were worming their way into a friendship so they could ask for free services and most often outside my working hours. They abused me for some time. I thank God for sending them into my life because I needed to learn that I was at fault. I let them take advantage and mistreat me. I knew they were users. It was during those years as an esthetician that I learned to develop a backbone and stand up for myself, set boundaries and not be sorry. It was so empowering that I wouldn't take back the experience for anything.

  • http://www.faithimagined.com alisa hope

    Some idle time in the wilderness or hiding for his life in caves would have cured him of that.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    Good Post, Michael.

    I've been reading through the comments, particularly the ones about friendships and I'd like to add a counterpoint argument.

    I think the situation with friendships differs slightly. Business is business. There as business etiquette and acceptable practices which all parties should adhere to and, when it comes down to it, a business relationship is about making a living – and a profit. If a client is dragging the business down, then firing them is perfectly acceptable.

    Friendships, however, can sometimes be just that, pure friendships and sometimes can be our ministry.

    I'm not suggesting that we should allow our lives to be completely ruined by leeches, but as a family, the Church needs to get better at helping people come to a point where they aren't leeches any longer and can function in a more social acceptable manner.

    In almost all cases, there is a reason why people are overly needy or narcissistic and we need to focus on helping to heal the underlying issue rather than just dump them for being too needy.

    I say this because I witnessed the effect of it this week, as a guy who had been forced into a situation where he needed a lot of help and support was passed from person to person in the church, each of whom assumed that someone else would deal with it, that he was a drain on them and there must be someone else who was 'called' to help him… Well, in the end, Everybody thought he was Someone else's problem and Nobody gave him the friendship that Anyone could have given – and he is now on suicide watch in a hospital.

    We don't have to take on every soul-draining, time-sucking case we come across, but we do need to carefully, prayerfully consider what God wants our involvement to be in each of their lives, not just do what seems 'best' for us.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/FayeB rfbryant

      I think that's where trusting the Holy Spirit becomes crucial. As a believer, there are those who are total joy-suckers whom I have been permitted to release. There are others whom I've been led to spend time with, but on a limited basis. Then, there are those where I'm certain the Holy Spirit has told me to suck it up and trust Him.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yep, I agree.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/leanderhcbc PeterHornOnline

    I've discovered that one of the best ways to reassure yourself that you made the right call in "terminating" a bad client or employee is how they respond when you do it. Their true "self" rises to the surface all the more. At that point, I know that I've taken the best step for us all by ending the partnership. Also, the people around you appreciate you even more for having rid their lives of "the royal pain."

  • Julie

    Michael,

    Reading this I felt like you entered my head and my own personal thoughts. Most of my life I've either worked for or attended churches where leadership/supervisors were high maintenance. Nothing you could ever do would be good enough. You begin to question yourself and doubt your ability (despite setting astounding records and high performance). You truly are drained emotionally, mentally and physically after working for high maintenance people. It took me a while to realize this and reading this just put everything into a clearer perspective. This so refreshing! Thanks for sharing!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/lauradroege lauradroege

    Can I say that my worst high maintenance relationship is with myself?

    I tend to be the Me Monster: self-centered, demanding, perfectionistic, operating out of my woundedness and being a distraction to other people.

    Since I realized this a few years ago, I began to fight my inner monster because I don't want to alienate other people with my demands of perfection. So I battle with my selfish nature each day: the selfish Laura versus the striving-to-live-by-the-Holy-Spirit Laura, who truly desires to be selfless and giving. I'm not called to serve myself but God and others.

    Some days, I wish I could just fire myself!

    • Michael Hyatt

      At least you know it! Remember that line in When Harry Met Sally? Harry says to Sally, “There are two kinds of women. High maintenance and low maintenance…. You’re the worst kind. You’re high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance.”

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  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/kjbake01 kjbake01

    What happens when the high maintenance client is your supervisor?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Sometimes you have to fire your boss, too!

  • http://mcblake.com Mark Blake

    I’ve applied this principal in serving tables. I work in a national chain in a location where we see the same group of individuals on a consistent basis. Some of them are terrible tippers.

    Over time, I’ve learned who’s a good tipper and who isn’t. More often than not, the people who are bad tippers are also very high-maintenance.

    When I apply this to my job, the tables who I remember to be very high-maintenance and are bad tippers don’t get as good of service. They’ll have to wait for their refill and I’m not going to go by more than once or twice to ask how their meal is.

    If I can take the time that I would otherwise be wasting trying to please them and spend more time on my other tables, I will make more money than if I did not take their high-maintenance-ness into account.

  • MichaelSGray

    Mr. Hyatt, sometimes I get the feeling that you pick your posts based on a hidden camera you have that films the exact circumstances that are occurring in my life. I'm not meaning to be narcissistic myself with that comment, I'm just amazed at how timely your posts can be in my life. This one hits close to home.

    I'm starting up a new business, and just three days ago I decided to put the axe to a partnership with a company that I was positive would be our saving grace. Well, just like you mentioned in your post, it turns out that they are looking to be a bit more persnickety than a small business startup has the time/energy/money to deal with. In this case, there might definitely be a better opportunity down the road, but I'm glad to have had the confirmation I needed from your post that nipping this in the bud is exactly what I need to be doing right now.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/jscottsmith jscottsmith

    Man, does this resonate. I've had to fire my fair share of clients. And Michael, I think your wife and mine share the same intuition! I need to listen to my wife's opinion of clients more. She knows whereof she speaks!

  • http://www.carryingdaily.com Martin

    When I was working in technical support, I had a person who didn't want me to fix their computer problem, but do all their work because they were already late on their deadline. I showed them how to do it on the office suite but they didn't want to go through and correct all their forms, I did everything I could in a few hours to make sure everything was correct and they had the correct understanding which was more than enough time, and took away from other tickets that needed to be done. When they realized they weren't going to keep me to do the part that was their job, they were quite unhappy.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/mitchebie Mitch Ebie

    I am reminded on the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle. 20 percent of the people produce 80 percent of the benefit. The high maintenance are often part of the 80 percent that are not really offering much benefit but instead causing stress. If the consequence is not overly negative, then it is best to say goodbye to them. (of course this rule does not apply to ministers and humanitarians)

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/kingdom27 Gregory Scott

    Michael–Great advice. I had to learn this one the hard way. Wish I would have been able to read this twenty years ago.

  • http://www.dojo-design.com Dojo Design

    I had only few clients like this, but I fire them ASAP. I do provide a good service, I have excellent rates, I know my stuff. But there's a limit between "being there for you" and having you ride my back all day long. I don't regret canceling the projects, I do get amazing clients all the time and I'd rather work with these people who know how to appreciate a good service, then take in abuse.

  • http://Lazarspinalcare.com Dr. Jonathan Lazar

    I owned an identity and brand development company before going in to health care and had a very large client I knew I should have never taken on. I changed our hours, hired more people, and isolated myself for about a year (the amount of time we were working together). I ended up firing them in the end, but I lost money and had to close my doors. All said, it was a fantastic learning experience and a gift fro
    God. Definitely not fun to go through, though. Great post (per usual).

  • http://larryhehn.com Larry Hehn

    One of the best lessons I learned in this area was when I was fresh out of college. I was hired to coordinate production for a man who was a genius at his field of expertise, but was lousy at running a business. Unfortunately, although the responsibility became mine, the authority remained his. He took on every client imaginable, no matter how fly-by-night they were, no matter how unreasonable their demands or how poor the margins (because "we need the business"), and left it to me to sort out the mess. It was a three year nightmare.

    However, there was a tremendous lesson in the process. I soon discovered that many of our clients had come to us after being refused by a competitor of ours a few miles away. He was very particular about who his customers were. If he had an uneasy feeling about a potential new client, he refused them without hesitation, and promptly gave them our number. By setting a standard for his clients and his business, he was well respected, focused and ultimately much more successful.

    I learned from an unlikely mentor that it is very wise to screen your potential clients just as carefully as you would a potential employee.

  • Ary

    Sadly this applies to other relationships and not just business – and when it happens in marriage it is so hard.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/goinswriter Jeff Goins

    The worst high maintenance relationship I have ever experienced was with a client I did some freelance marketing work for. This person was passive in their communication — on the phone, everything was fine, but then I'd get a barrage of emails, nit-picking the work, for the next week (at least 5-6 emails per day). It was inefficient and ultimately a waste of my time. Nice post, Michael. Thanks for sharing. This is hard to do — turn down business — but essential to wisely investing our time.

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  • http://www.rickrossbusinessblog.com/ Rick Ross

    Great post.

    I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who's had a "high maintenance" client. When you have a "do whatever it takes" attitude, they can present a trap, taking time away from more deserving causes.

    A common thread is being blinded by "opportunity". In my case, I overlooked the obvious. My contact had nothing but disparaging remarks about the previous three consultants!

    Despite the frustration, what I learned was well worth the trouble. I learned to begin client relationships with the same vigilance that I'd apply to bringing on a new partner or hiring a new employee.

    Thanks again for the post.

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  • http://twitter.com/hvacseoreports HVACSEOReports.com

    “Some people are just high maintenance” – While some people probably are born high-maintenance, I think the vast majority are not. I believe that, more often than not, high-maintenance clients come from a lack of leadership and trust. If you seem to be getting a lot of “high-maintenance” clients, look at yourself first (before blaming them). Are you selling your expertise on the front end and getting them to trust you as THE expert? Are you setting the expectations and the ground rules? Are you giving them a clearly articulated plan and reinforcing it often? If not, you’re the cause of the problem.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Good point.  It’s always best to look at how we can change to  improve the relationship before giving up, or writing off the other party.   

      After all, we’re the only ones we can change.