Identifying toxic clients

Identifying toxic clients is a valuable skill. Toxic clients are rarely worth the money because they can sap your energy, time and patience. Frequently, it’s possible to identify early warning signs, but we don’t act on them and tend to continue working with the client anyway. But over the long-term most of us wish we’d trusted our initial instincts and avoided working with the toxic client in the first place.

So how do you know when you are faced with a toxic client? Here are top warning signs that can help you start identifying toxic clients:

  • Unreasonable expectations – Crazy deadlines? Out of touch with own business model? Terrible product/offer and expecting high returns?
  • How you feel when you’re together – Does your client make you feel devalued, disrespected, expendable?
  • Your client’s industry – Does your client’s industry contradict your value system?
  • Something doesn’t add up – Something doesn’t feel right? Got a bad feeling? Trust your instincts.

The best thing to do when faced with warning signs that you’ve got a toxic client on your hands is to trust your intuition and sever the relationship as soon as possible–preferably before any work has been done or any contracts have been signed. Listen to your gut feeling, especially during the first contact between you and your client.

However, if you’re already committed to a project, you’ve got an obligation to deliver. That being said, sometimes enough is enough, especially if the client is truly toxic (as compared to simply being annoying). Stay true to your values. Remain professional at all times and never sink down to a toxic level yourself–otherwise your toxic client may be thinking of you as a toxic consultant!

Identifying toxic clients is key, and turning down work from toxic clients is a good idea.

However, it’s also important to take some personal responsibility if and when client relationships go sour. Yes, toxic clients do exist. But quite often there are mistakes made on both sides. Many problems between consultants and clients can be boiled down to communication and expectations. So trust your instincts when something doesn’t add up, but do your best to set clear expectations and provide clear communication to avoid as many problems as possible.

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