How To Survive a Nightmare Client

Working with clients is a mixed bag. The experiences you have are valuable. But there’s no guarantee that they’ll be enjoyable.

Thankfully, most clients are fair and honest. Yes, some can be difficult to work with. But it’s still possible to form a productive relationship with them.

On the other hand, you’ll find the occasional nightmare client. Someone that (intentionally or not) breaks all the rules. They’ll mistreat you, argue about every detail, and generally make a mess of things.

I’ve spent over two decades in the web design industry. I can attest to the damage that comes from working with the wrong person. It can turn both your business and life upside down. It can even be traumatic.

There were times when I questioned my ability to move past the situation. The good news is that it’s possible to survive – even thrive – afterward. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

First, Look at What Happened

When you’re in the midst of a bad situation, things move fast. Our fight-or-flight response takes over. Thus, you don’t always have time to fully understand what’s happening in real-time.

Looking back at an incident or even a relationship can help. It enables you to examine the details more closely. You might even find things you’d missed.

The goal is to identify the root cause of the issue. For example, maybe a client rubbed you the wrong way during your initial conversation. What was it that made you feel uncomfortable?

If a project went sideways, there could be a specific turning point. Maybe it was an action the client took or something they said. Where did things take a turn for the worse?

Digging up the past may be difficult. But it can also be very beneficial. What you learn might prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.

Reflecting on a bad experience can help you find the root cause.

How Does It Change Your Business?

Working with a nightmare client can have a profound effect on your business. That might be a negative in the short term. Dealing with the aftermath can put you behind on projects and hurt your bottom line.

The big picture can be more positive, however. The experiences allow you to see things differently. And a changed perspective can lead to a changed business.

They’ve led me to implement new policies. Some are technical, like having managed cloud backups for the websites I maintain. Others are more philosophical, like insisting that clients control their domain names. Spelling out terms in a contract is also a live-and-learn experience.

And while self-preservation is a good reason to change – it’s not the only one. Taking action feels great. It’s empowering. The confidence you gain in the process can carry through to future projects.

Again, it’s about avoiding bad people and situations. Being proactive is a giant first step toward that goal.

The lessons you learn can lead to positive actions, like using detailed contracts.

Learn To Move Forward With Purpose

I’m happy to say that most of my client experiences have been positive. An overwhelming majority, in fact. If that weren’t the case, I might have left web design long ago!

But you can’t stay lucky forever. Eventually, you’ll run into someone who tests your mettle. They’re way beyond a standard picky client. You might say their behavior is malevolent.

Do you want examples? Well, I really shouldn’t. But let’s see…I’ve been yelled at, threatened, and lied to. If we ever have an adult beverage together, I’ll go into further detail!

That’s not to say I’m a perfect human. I make mistakes and have misunderstandings, too. But I can say that just about every nightmarish instance I’ve experienced had a solution. Better communication can fix almost any situation – except one.

Some people are simply irrational. The reasons behind this are best left to experts. But I’ve learned that it’s nearly impossible to communicate effectively with such clients.

In that case, the best we can do is move forward. You might have to fire them. Or it may require cleaning up a mess before you can break free. There could also be some financial losses.

But it’s totally worth the short-term pain. In the long run, you’ll leave with lessons learned and your dignity intact.

If you're in a bad situation, it's important to find a way out.

Don’t Let a Nightmare Client Steal Your Joy

A nightmare client can make you dread coming to work. And they can give you a jaded perspective that lasts well beyond your relationship. It’s a potential long-term side effect of dealing with them.

But it’s important to consider a broader view. Think about the many clients you’ve worked with. This one bad experience shouldn’t outweigh all of the good ones.

True, the ordeal may leave you shaken for a while. However, you don’t have to stay in that mindset forever.

Do something you’re passionate about. Maybe it’s a side project or just taking time to be creative. Connect with others in the web design community. These things will provide a much-needed reset for your mind.

Nightmares only last a little while. Thankfully, you can wake up from them!

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