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Unfortunately, I am currently in the midst of “separating” myself from a toxic client. And while this blog post is not about design, it is about being a small business owner, and I had to write it.

First of all, what makes a toxic client? There can be many variations and each is unique but there are usually early red flag warnings, followed by one or more of the following:

  • Disrespectful behavior. Any client relationship should be a partnership, not a stomping ground.
  • Pays late, disputes bills. If you are providing a professional service you should be paid. Someone who constantly questions your bills are questioning the quality of your work or your honesty in billing them.
  • Questions your skills and expertise. If you are providing a service you are getting paid to help someone using your specialized experience. If a client continually questions your decisions, they don’t feel comfortable about your level of expertise.
  • Undermines projects. When working with a  client, there should be a mutual goal of creating something together. For us, that means a web site, a logo, an ad, etc. We should be helping each other. When a client becomes an obstacle rather than a resource, there is a problem.

Many times relationships start out OK, but then sour. Sometimes it’s easiest to just keep trudging along. If a profitable client is hard to work with it can be tough to say good bye to their revenues. But let me share why I think it’s good riddance:

  1. They drain you emotionally. People who are mean, disrespectful, full of negative energy, etc. just eat away at our own personal happiness. Even if you like the work, or like the money, don’t overlook the drain of positive energy from your own heart and soul.
  2. They are NOT generating as much revenue as you think. You may assume it’s clear, you worked 10 hours and got paid for 10 hours. But because of the emotional drain, you generally spend a lot of unbillable time doing things like: bitching about them, questioning your own skills, protecting yourself with excessive papertrails and backups, defending invoices, etc. All of this is taking you away from revenue earning projects.
  3. They can ruin your confidence. For the most part, I’ve been praised by my clients for: the creativity of my design solution; being easy to work with; paying attention to detail; having honesty and integrity; charging fair prices. But a toxic client can question your actions and tear down your self-esteem. You can start to question the quality of your work, your pricing, your behaviors. An entrepreneur, freelancer or business owner cannot spend time at this pity party.
  4. They hurt morale. Even if you are a one-person shop, you get the feeling of being beat up when dealing with negative clients. If you have employees it can be worse. These toxic clients may actually berate employees, or may put a sense of fear and insecurity in them that is hard to rebuild.
  5. They hurt your reputation. The problem with difficult clients is that they are never satisfied. Therefore, even when you are producing stellar work, they are not happy. If they share this unhappiness with others, potential referrals may question your work, not the toxic client’s word.
  6. You’ll be more productive without them. This is real reason to let them go. Spend the time finding better clients to work with. Clients and customers who respect you.

The bottom line is that I should not be writing a blog post about this. But I’m angry and stressed and hurt by the situation. Which just proves my point. If it weren’t for this toxic client, I would writing a blog post about something of more interest to my readers. Or, I could be working on billable design work. Or, I could be working on finding better clients to work with.

If you have a story to share on this topic, please add it in the comments.

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