Recently I had an experience with a new client that shocked, amazed and even frightened me – and I should have seen it coming. I met the business owner for just 10 minutes but the signs were there – he said proudly that he had never hired women in his previous role as they were “useless.” His business had high levels of attrition and when he shook my hand at the end of our meeting, he said casually, “You cross me and you will regret it.” I had no intention of crossing him and I would not be working with him on a day-to-day basis, so I ignored those ‘red flags.’ They were a fast growing business and I could see a significant amount of work, so maybe I was being greedy. The reality was though, I would certainly not choose to have a glass of wine with him. I should have gone with my gut. Over a weekend, yes a weekend, I was bombarded by emails and SMS messages with torrid abuse about my level of professionalism, my arrogance and that fact that I was “evil.” I did not react to any of these messages at my lawyer’s advice, which seemed to further enrage him. I was in fear of my personal safety and I am still perplexed to understand his disproportionate reaction. So how do we, as business owners, protect ourselves from the client that behaves appallingly:
- Seek legal advice – We sought legal advice when we knew that we were way out of our depth and comfort zone.
- Have insurance – Like most business owners we have begrudged paying our insurance premiums BUT we had everything – professional indemnity, public liability and management liability insurance – we don’t mind paying so much now.
- Document everything – Lucky for us he was quite happy to send me emails documenting his every feeling.
- Know your niche – Who are the clients that you know, love and trust and that you love working with? Seek them out as doing business with your niche is a pleasure.
- Go with your gut – If it doesn’t look, smell and feel right, don’t go there – trust your instincts and heed those red flags.
- Be prepared to walk away from business – This can be hard, especially at the beginning, but it might save you.
- Believe in yourself – My confidence took a hit, not to mention the emotional impact to not only me but also my family. I am lucky to have many clients that love how we help them. It is not me in the wrong – it is him.
Running a business is a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs, and I have experienced a major down with this experience – but I have lived through it and I will learn from it. If I am not happy to spend some time sipping wine with them, then they are not the right client for me.