Learning From Mistakes – How to Recover From a Difficult Client

Marketing Strategic Consultant Services

Learning From Mistakes – How to Recover From a Difficult Client

Bill Gates offered this, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” While we don’t like having an unhappy client or customer there is absolute truth to his statement. Having just dealt with a client who ‘knew more than I did about my life’s profession,’ who was the oil to my water, and who left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I learned a few things that I wanted to share in hopes you could use them if you are ever faced with the same situation.

I was super excited because I just landed a new a client with the potential for consistent long-term work. They needed my skill set so badly and were ready to take their business to the next level. The first few brainstorming sessions went smoothly. We covered a lot of ground, and I had a ton of detailed notes. I was sure to repeat back to them what I heard so that I could get to work preparing a proposal/plan so I could hit the ground running when we were ready to get to work.


While I was developing my ideas and planning out the schedule of deliverables, my client was off getting opinions from everyone about what they think their marketing plan should look like. They were taking surveys from friends, relatives, and even the checkout person. They were googling how to market themselves and gathering nuggets of tips and techniques that they used to veto anything I presented to them. Overnight they became a marketing and digital media expert! Every idea, every draft, every concept I present was shut down. Frankly, I didn’t have it in me to continue to try and convince them that my methods are tried, true, and tested, and that as the subject area professional I only want what’s best for them and their business. After several weeks of this exhaustive, getting-nowhere-banter, I decided to cut my losses, and cancel the contract.

While losing a client hurts financially, it was my pride, confidence, and reputation that were left beaten up, and needed emergency assistance – STAT!

This was my course of treatment to help me recover from this trauma:

  • I brought in a mediator
    When I realized that we were not “working,” I brought in another party who works with me regularly to step in as lead hoping that their voice and neutral position could help the situation. If you are having difficulty articulating your message perhaps bringing in another professional can help facilitate and mend the problems, you are experiencing. Being open to giving up the driver’s seat may help get you to your destination! The bottom line for me is to deliver a product I am proud to put my name on, and one that exceeds my client’s expectations, if I must take a step back to do it, I will.

  • I reached out to my support system
    I am good at my job (as I suspect you are at yours). I reached out to several of my trusted clients and cohorts to share how I was feeling. Their words of encouragement and their examples of my abilities helped bolster my battered confidence. This wasn’t a time to bash my client because nothing would come of that, but rather a time to build me up and remind me that working with a client is like finding true love. You both have to feel the same level of connection and be willing to compromise and collaborate. In the end, it boils down to whether or not you are good together. If you aren’t that’s okay. Timing and fit are everything. In my case, it just wasn’t meant for us to work together…and that’s ok!  
  • I did best to end the relationship on a positive note
    Break ups are hard. But you know when it’s time to just end things. When you know you aren’t communicating effectively, when you just can’t provide solutions to make your client happy it’s best to wrap end the relationship before things get ugly. I wanted so badly to make it work, and perhaps one day down the road we will be able to ‘get back together.’ Instead of avoiding contact with her and emailing or texting, I put on my big girl pants and just told the truth, hoping that my transparency, vulnerability, and sincere apology were enough to make her feel like she mattered and she and her business where and are very important to me. 

These last few years as a small business owner have taught me so much, and I will use this experience as one of those major teaching moments.