What’s your ‘profit to pain’ ratio for client management?

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Posted by Matthew Stibbe

I love my current clients – this isn’t about them. But in the past, mainly when I was a freelance journalist, I have had to deal with a few clients that were very difficult. They went from profit to pain.

Bad client behaviour

  • Asking for more work without paying more
  • Paying very late
  • Insisting on changes even when I had strongly recommended against them
  • Being uncommunicative or hard to reach
  • Epic delays in giving feedback
  • Feedback that was difficult to implement or (sometimes) understand
  • Insist on impossible deadlines, even while delaying their own part in the process until the last possible moment
  • Getting me involved in their office politics

What to do?

Usually, bad clients and bad projects involve a combination of these problems. They cause me a lot of stress.

Over the years, I compiled 40 Essential rules for stress-free client management but the ability to walk away is very valuable.

In a couple of cases, I’ve walked away from clients or projects, even at the risk of a big cut in my income, because the profit : pain ratio was too bad. I made these decisions based on emotion – the pain side of the equation – and I only came up with the idea of this ratio the other day.

Certainly, I can tolerate a lot more stress and inconvenience when I’m being well paid. I’ve heard this described as an ‘arsehole premium’. Ultimately, though, even the best-paid projects become too much if they affect your personal life or threaten your professional integrity.

The profit : pain ratio gives me a way to think about these situations in a more rational and less emotional way. What are your red lines? How much pain will you accept before you walk away from a project? What do you do when clients don’t treat you right? What’s your profit : pain ratio?

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