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How toxic clients can negatively impact your agency’s health.
How toxic clients can negatively impact your agency’s health.

And how to avoid them.

Tancrède d'Aspremont Lynden avatar
Written by Tancrède d'Aspremont Lynden
Updated over a week ago

You are who you work with.

The clients that you decide to work with will have a major impact on your agency’s success.

Ideally, you’d want to have a smooth relationship with all of your clients. However, it can be difficult to know if a client is going to be pleasant to work with, which can have a direct impact on your agency’s health.

In this article, I’ll share 6 signs that can help you detect toxic clients, how to deal with them, and how to avoid them for good.

6 signs you’re dealing with a toxic client

Recognizing a toxic client can be done quite easily if you pay attention to the right signs and notice them on multiple occasions.

The client always asks for discounts

As an agency owner, you’re providing services to your clients and bill your time for it.

Obviously, there is no harm in negotiating prices, especially at the beginning of your collaboration with a client to find a compromise.

However, if the client is constantly negotiating and always questioning your prices, even after you started working with them, it might be a sign that they don’t value what you do.

This will have two direct effects:

  • You will lose time and energy justifying your prices,

  • Your cash flow will suffer from it as the client has more chances to pay you late.

Ideally, you want your client to accept your prices from the get go and not see this subject come back on the table anymore.

The client always makes unreasonable demands

Some clients may not be conscious that your agency has multiple accounts to handle, but also that your team and yourself have personal lives outside of work.

This can lead them to ask you for some work with an incredibly short timing, outside of working hours, and expect you to actually deliver.

For example: a client that would send you a WhatsApp message on a Thursday at 9PM or on a Saturday at 8AM, for a non urgent issue.

This kind of behavior can induce stress inside of your team but also inside of your own life, which can lead to higher risks of burn-out.

Ideally, you want your clients to communicate their expectations clearly, on a dedicated channel (email for example), within working hours and with enough time for you to be able to handle it.

The client is never happy, no matter how hard you deliver

No matter how hard you work, how much you deliver, and how big your impact is, some clients will always find something to say and never be truly satisfied.

This can lead to doubting your very own expertise and will impact your motivation to work, even on other clients’ projects.

Ideally, you want to define what satisfaction will look like before you actually start working on your client’s project. You’ll then be able to make a lookback when you finish what was demanded from your client.

The client always pays you late

Some clients pay their invoices as soon as they receive them. Others don’t have the same respect and may take weeks to pay you.

Of course, it can happen that a client needs more time to pay. Every business owner might face a more difficult time every now and then, which can impact their cash flow.

But if a client is constantly paying you late, then you might want to consider stopping your collaboration with them or putting your work in pending until they do pay what they owe you.

Ideally, you want to work with clients paying you as fast as possible, to preserve your cash flow’s health.

The client doesn’t trust your advices

While it’s normal for a client to have questions along the way, it’s not normal for them to doubt your expertise.

Of course, a client that asks questions is a good sign, as it shows they are invested in the project and they genuinely care about making it work. However, if the questions or doubts start to become insistent, and start to create friction in your collaboration, it might be a sign that they are not a good fit for your agency.

A good collaboration is built on trust, which you can’t have with a doubting client.

The client never takes ownership of his mistakes

A good partnership requires work from both sides.

Your agency is responsible for answering your client’s needs and demands. While your client is responsible for making the collaboration smooth, by sharing with you all the necessary information and giving you their green light whenever you need to release or deliver something you built for them.

However, if at some point your client is in the wrong (paying an invoice late, not giving you their green light on time, validating something and then changing their mind about it, …) they need to take ownership of it. It shows they value the business relationship they have with your agency.

The contrary, which would happen with the absence of an apology, shows a lack of commitment and respect.

All in all, just make sure your client shows accountability and takes ownership of their decisions.

If one or more of these signs present themselves on a regular basis, you might be dealing with a toxic client and it will have an impact on your agency.

The impact of a toxic client on your agency

If you keep working with one or multiple clients adopting toxic behaviors, it will have negative impacts on your agency’s health and growth.

First of all, both you and your team will experience higher levels of stress. Of course, when you work in an agency, having a bit of stress and working under pressure on some occasions is part of the game.

But when stress becomes the norm, and not the exception, your agency’s health deteriorates in various ways:

  • Your team is less productive and less creative,

  • Your employees’ motivation and well-being go down,

  • You have less energy to focus on your other clients.

Furthermore, the stress caused by a toxic client can also negatively impact your talents’ retention. Your team members might be tired of working for a bad client and start thinking about working somewhere else.

All in all, if you want to perform on the long term and are concerned about your team’s well being as well as motivation, you need to avoid toxic clients at all costs.

How to avoid toxic clients

The first step is to make sure none of your current clients have a toxic behavior. Try to look for different signs that I mentioned earlier. If you do recognize some signs, and if you feel they do impact your agency negatively, you might want to stop collaborating with this specific client.

Of course, this is valid only if you have the financial resources to do it, either because you have a sufficient amount of cash on the side or because you have a lot of potential clients to work with instead.

The more you’re in abundance, and have a lot of options, the more you can choose the clients you work with and avoid toxic ones.

Your agency’s visibility has a major role to play here. Indeed, the more visible you are, the more options you can have.

There’s a lot of different channels that you can work on to improve your visibility. But if you want a quick win, that’s fully automatic and that can bring you thousands of views, then Sortlist’s visibility module was built for you.

It allows you to make your agency visible on our directories, which are ranking on relevant keywords and browsed by thousands of potential customers.

Every month, Sortlist receives more than 750.000 organic visits. The Visibility Module allows you to get a piece of it, automatically and with no time investment needed on your end.

Here’s how it works:

  • Subscribe to a Sortlist+ membership (99€/month).

  • Define a monthly budget you want to invest on your visibility (ex: 300€/month).

  • Select the directories on which you want to appear (ex: advertising, SEO, …)

That’s it! Your agency is now visible to thousands of potential clients. You don’t need to do anything else and can say no to toxic clients without worrying about your agency’s income.

By appearing in our directories, you make sure to put your agency in front of your customers’ eyes, precisely when they want to work with a provider like you.

Watch this video to get more details:

How to stop a collaboration with a toxic client

If you want to stop a collaboration, there is a way to do it that allows you to protect your agency’s reputation and avoid the drama that can be caused by such a break up.

You want to avoid having the client talking badly about you in the future, which could cause harm to your brand image.

Here are the steps you can follow:

  • Book a meeting with your client, announcing you want to stop the collaboration.

  • State the reasons motivating your decision.

  • Be firm, but don’t blame the client (even if you had a bad experience).

  • List the last action items your agency needs to deliver, with a clear deadline.

  • Finish the work and thank the client for the collaboration.

  • Eventually suggest a replacement that your client might want to work with.

By following these steps, you make sure to adopt the right behavior that will allow you to stop the collaboration peacefully and protect your agency’s reputation.

Wrap up

In this article, I shared 6 signs that allow you to detect a toxic client and how to stop a collaboration with them to avoid a negative impact on your agency’s health.

Furthermore, if you want to avoid toxic clients for good, you need to put your agency in a situation of abundance. You want to have a lot of options, to be able to choose which clients to work with.

To get there, your agency’s visibility has a major role to play. The more visible you are, the more opportunities you will receive. The Visibility Module can help you improve your agency’s online visibility in no time.

Check out this video to get more details:

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