We, as business owners, get so caught up in making money that we find ourselves sometimes taking in any clients instead of creating a vetting process to find ideal businesses with which to work. Our failure to do so may lead to business relationships with abusive clients.
My husband helped me realize that abusive relationships are not limited to romantic couples. For 23 years I was in a toxic relationship with someone I considered a friend, and it took some deep soul-searching to realize that the relationship needed to be severed.
I revisited that experience recently while dealing with a client that I have been having issues with for a year. I let my need of money and my drive to take care of my family allow someone to use the professional relationship they had entered into with me as a forum for abuse. Now, I know that it is up to me to decide with whom I work. That responsibility will always land on me. Which is why I am taking this opportunity to learn from my lessons and to share with you five signs that you should look for when deciding whether or not you're in an abusive business relationship. If you decide that you are, you may want to strongly consider stepping away. These steps can also apply if you are an employee or vendor.
#1: BOUNDARIES ARE NOT IN THEIR VOCABULARY
You have set office hours for a reason: It prevents you from working 24 hours a day. If your client is contacting you at 2 o'clock in the morning to discuss business, run for the hills. This doesn't include a client who clearly acknowledges that they're calling or sending a message after-hours in order to give you a heads-up for when you get into work during normal hours of operation. This is for clients who are oblivious to the fact that you do not work at this time (or worse, ones who do know but just don't care) and expect you to fix their issue right there and then.
#2: USING GUILT TO GET WORK DONE
Does your client guilt you into doing work at the drop of a dime knowing that it will lead you to push back other orders of clients who took the time to place their orders based on reasonable deadlines? Have these phrases ever been used?:
#3: YOU'RE A PUNCHING BAG FOR THEIR STRESS
Some people cannot handle stress well. They will either choose to take it out on themselves or on others. While it's never good to keep stress in (exercise that anger and frustration out), it should never be taken out on others. You should never be the punching bag for someone's frustration. If they're not able to sit down and calmly have a conversation with you, red flags should be flying high at this point.
#4: THEY NEVER FOLLOW DEADLINES
Deadlines are necessary to get work completed efficiently and with high quality. I bet that you have experienced this: You clearly communicated a hard deadline for a client, but they treated as a mere suggestion.
Warning bells should be going off right now!
If a company pushes away from the idea of following deadlines, you need to say goodbye. Of course, every once in while, a client may miss a deadline for any number of circumstances, which is up to your discretion whether to allow or not. But if a client routinely disregards precisely set time-frames for when work is due, there is danger ahead. Deadlines are the only way for you to keep your business orders on track. When you have a business that derails that, it's time to find another train.
#5: AFTER DISCUSSING YOUR ISSUES, THE PROBLEMS CONTINUE
"I understand" has become a phrase used, in some cases, to nip a conversation in the bud. You might think the other party is hearing what you're saying, but they're really saying, "I think the problem is on your end, and I'm doing nothing wrong." If the client continues to behave in this abusive manner after you calmly and clearly discussed the situation, it's time to part ways.
There are some amazing clients just waiting to work with you. Be selective and create a business relationship that's a match made in heaven.
Stay tuned for our follow-up entry, "The Vetting Process to a Business Match Made in Heaven."
- Written by Teresa Robinson-Ewers
If I can help a business owner create the brand they're looking for, my job is done.