The festival of WordPress
January 22, 2021

This is an archive of the January 2021 event

Surviving and Thriving Despite Clientzilla

Not every client turns out to be a joy to work with. Some are difficult, and some can be downright abusive. Working with these clients can wear on you, sometimes in subtle ways that you don’t notice until they’ve had a significant impact on you.

We’ll look at how to realize you’re in a bad situation, how to get yourself out, how to recover, and clues to help you avoid such clients in the future.

Speaker: Topher DeRosia

Time: 5:00am UTC
Region: Asia
Stage: BOH Stage

Hi, welcome to my talk today. We’re going to be talking about surviving and thriving despite client Zilla. What to do when your client seems like an unreasonable monster? My name is . I am a senior WordPress architect at Camber creative and a brand ambassador for big commerce. You can email me at tofor@cmbr.co.

And you can find me on Twitter at tofor1kenobi. And actually that handle works just about everywhere. So you can find me on a variety of Slack instances and Instagram and Facebook, et cetera. So let’s dive in first, some ground rules. We’re excluding from his conversation. People who are disingenuously mean or abusive.

There are some people who are just out to take advantage of you. They’re not nice people and that’s not what this talk is about. We’re talking about people who care and want to understand, but don’t people who seem like they’re monsters, but aren’t because there’s a misunderstanding and some miscommunication.

We’re going to talk about how to repair relationships and how to get things back on track. Have you ever heard words like this? Are you going to be done? When you said you would, why can’t you simply do what I asked for? Can’t you just, once again, I’m emailing you to find out what’s happening with the website and the updates.

This isn’t what I expected at all. Do I have to pay for this? When, how much is this going to cost me? I actually have heard all of these questions and I’ve learned how to preempt them so that they never actually get to me because the client never actually asks. But what causes this almost always a lack of communication.

And it’s almost always your fault. The project is yours. The communication is yours to control. And if you do it right. Questions like that, won’t come up. So first we’re going to talk about how to deal with a situation if you’re already in it, and then we’ll talk about how to avoid it.

So what does it do to your client when there is a problem with communication? There’s fear because they’re afraid that they’re going to end up being stuck with a bill for something they don’t need or want. Frustration because they keep trying to understand and failing. And that’s a terrible feeling, anger because often they feel like they’ve told you what they need and you’re not listening.

And then confusion. Why is this happening? Why would somebody treat me this way? How did I get here? When people don’t have the information they want, they feel frustration. That’s unfortunate. That’s just annoying, but when people feel like you’re hiding information from them, then they feel fear and anger.

It’s one thing to have a misunderstanding. It’s another thing for them to feel like you’re deliberately hiding information from them and it doesn’t matter if you are or not. If they feel that way, then they’re going to feel that fear and anger. And that’s when client Zilla really appears. You’ll get angry calls, angry emails, and it just spirals out of control.

And so what does this do to you? Do these look familiar? It’s the same feelings you have fear. Are they going to call me again today? Am I going to get another email with, uh, an angry rhetoric unit frustration? I keep trying to tell them, I keep talking to them. I keep sending them information and they just don’t understand anger.

They accused me of what? And then confusion. Why would they do this? Why aren’t they listening? If you truly don’t understand what they want, you will be miserable. So this is a two way street. When the client isn’t getting the communication they need. They’re miserable when you’re not getting the communication you need.

You’re miserable. So you’re both miserable. And this is a very sad situation. I know I’ve been there more than once and I’ll bet you have too. So how does it hurt? Beyond just the, the immediate emotions what’s going on here for the client. It makes a time of joy into a time of pain. Getting a new website should be an exciting time, should be like getting a car.

It’s beautiful. You want to show it off? You want to play with it. You want to drive it around. You want to do things with it, but if it doesn’t work or it’s not what you want, or you can’t even see it because you don’t know where it is. Then we get into the time of pain and it’s annoying and frustrating and fearful.

It can disrupt the finances of their small business. There’ve been a number of times when a client has said to me, we need to renovate our business or we’re going under. So we’re putting all our, all our cash on this website and suddenly it’s my responsibility to give them something that will renovate their business.

And that’s going to be. Pretty daunting. They need to know how much things are going to cost. They need to know when you need to. Nope. They need to know when they need to pay. They need to know all of that stuff and they need to be able to plan. Especially when it first small business on the edge, they need to be able to plan it, discourages them from investing more money in the project.

If money is an issue and they’re nervous about it. Uncertainty is the last place they’re going to put money in. If they don’t know how much it’s going to be, or when you’re going to build them, they’re not going to put more money into it. So if you’re a freelancer that depends on recurring business, you need to make them feel comfortable about money and it stresses their mental health.

It’s actually impactful on their health and you need to help your clients stay healthy for the developer. It makes your job miserable. Freelancing should be a wonderful time. You’re free. You get to make your own hours. You get to set your own rates. You get to do what you want. If you don’t feel like working don’t work.

If you feel like living in The Bahamas, go, it should be great. But when your clients are miserable, you will be miserable too. There’s an old saying that, um, when you quit your job to go freelance, You, you don’t have a boss anymore, but the truth is you actually have a dozen bosses and it’s easy for your clients.

If they’re not happy, you’re not happy. It makes you question your own skills. If they come to you and say, listen, I need you to do this thing. And you can’t, it makes you think, should I be doing this? How long does it going to take me to learn this? Doubting yourself will make you unhappy. Try to avoid that.

It puts your own livelihood at stake. This gets back to the, to the finances. If they’re not willing to renew your contract or make the contract larger to fit new needs, you’re not going to get the money you need to pay your bills. That’s very stressful as well. And then again, it stresses your mental health.

You need to stay healthy if you’re consistently depressed or anxious or just frustrated and wound up. It’s not good for you. It’s going to hurt you. So you ask any client Zillow about the situation, and they’ll tell you that they have a problem developer. You feel like you have a problem client. They have a problem developer.

You can fix this. You can make this spectacular. Let’s talk about how first be proactive in communication with practice. You can guess every question that your client is going to ask, and if you can answer it before they ask it, they’re going to feel like you are a genius. They’re going to want to know how long will it take?

How much will it cost? When do I pay? Do I pay in fragments? Do I pay all at the beginning? Do I pay all at the end? How do I make changes? All those questions with practice, you can figure out all the questions they’re going to ask. And answer them ahead of time. If you get to the point where a client is asking you a question, you have communicated too late.

Now there’s always going to be weird questions like, uh, I’m moving this weekend. Can you code extra fast and get done before I move? You don’t know they’re going to move. So you can’t guess that, but you can guess a lot and you could be way ahead of the game. As what they need beyond what you’re giving.

So you’ve answered a bunch of questions you can say to them. Do you need something that I haven’t thought of? Do you need more communication? Do you need less communication? Do you need email? Do you need a phone instead of email? And this is the kind of time when they’re going to bring up that they’re moving this weekend and this is still kind of guessing that question that you couldn’t possibly have guessed.

And they’re going to think that you’re a genius. This allows you to learn, to grow, to find out what people might need, that you never even thought of and become a better communicator all around. Listen, when you ask the question, listen, listen to the answer. You may feel like the answer they’re giving is something that they don’t really need or something you don’t want to give.

That doesn’t matter. Don’t preempt them. Don’t say, Oh, you don’t need that. Or that’s not a good idea. Listen to what they want and do your very, very best to give it to them. Let them know you’re listening. Say, Hey, I hear that you need this thing. I’m going to try to fulfill that this way. If they say they hate email and they want to be on the phone all the time.

If you hate being on the phone too bad, they’re the client. They need to be on the phone. You say, all right, I hear that you need phone calls. I live someplace where I don’t have good cell coverage. So I’m going to try to get to town once it, once a day. And we’ll do a summary phone call at the end of each day.

It could be anything, but listen to their needs and do your very best to fulfill them. Take responsibility in the event that something falls down and they come to you and say, listen, I don’t feel like I’m getting what I need. I need more communication. I need. More information. I need whatever, take responsibility and say, okay.

Yeah, I can see that. I can see where I should have been more communicative. I could have given you this information earlier, and here are the steps that I’m going to take to fix this. You give them a list of things you’re going to do, and it makes them feel like you listened and that their problem is going to be solved.

Nurture the relationship. The client developer relationship is not that dissimilar from a dating relationship, stay in touch, find out what their needs are. Even after you’re done working with them, touch base with them once a month or so and say, Hey, how’s it going? Is the work that I did for you still satisfactory.

Do you need anything else? Can I help you? How are your kids? I remember you moved during the project. Do you like the new house? Just stuff like that. You nurture the relationship. People want to hire people that they have relationships with. They hire people that they know people they like. So nurture the relationship you have with your client.

Remember these questions? We’re going to take a look at how to answer some of them. So these would be solutions for when you already have an unhappy client. Are you going to be done when you said you would, this is an indication that. You have not communicated how it’s going, where you are in the project and whether you’ll be done when you said you would.

And so this is the time to give a good update and to say, listen, I want to stay in better contact so that you don’t have to ask this again. When would you like to hear from me next? Or you could preemptively say, listen, I’m about two weeks out. So I’m going to touch base every two days or whatever, whatever you think they need.

Why can’t you simply do. What I asked for this is an indication that they don’t really understand what you do, what you can do, or perhaps you haven’t decided with them the proper path. So it’s not uncommon for a client to come to you and say, I want X. And you realize that this is the thing that’s never been invented before, and they simply can’t have it.

I want to fly in car. I’m sorry. You can’t have that. But you can work with that client to find something that satisfies them. This question indicates that you have not found something that satisfies them. So this is an opportunity to work together with your client to nurture that relationship, to come up with a plan together.

And the next one is can’t you just, this is the saying that’s forbidden in my home. This is an indication that they don’t understand the difficulty of what it is you’re doing. Can’t you just. Hold your phone up to the screen and have it read everything on there. No, the internet just doesn’t work that way.

So again, this is an indication that you haven’t communicated with them about what it is you’re doing, how the internet works, whether or not their requests are humanly possible. So once again, this is a time to plan with them and to come up with something that makes them happy that you can accomplish at a price they can afford.

How much is this going to cost me? This is an indication that you have not communicated early enough unless they simply jumped the gun on your very first meeting and you were going to get to it right in that meeting. That happens once in a while. Sometimes it’s the very first question and that’s okay.

But if they’re asking you on your second or third meeting, then you’ve communicated too late. If nothing else, you should be telling them. I need more time to scope this project so that I can understand how much it’s going to cost you. And you give them a time and a date when you’re going to tell them.

And then they’re not asking, they’re waiting for you because they know that you need this time to scope it out. Once again, I’m emailing you to find out what’s happening with the website, any updates, those words once again. Oh, they sting. It means that this has happened before. And you failed twice or more.

This is an obvious one. You need to be updating more often. And you may say I’m already updating hourly. Well, maybe you need to update more or maybe you need to work with them to set proper expectations. If they don’t know when they’re going to be updated, then they can assume never. So if you communicate with them, listen, I’m going to contact you.

At the end of every Workday or every two days or every Friday, then they’re much less likely to email you for updates. This isn’t what I expected at all. Do I have to pay for this? This is a scary one, because usually it comes at the end of a project and you’re proud of your work. And suddenly they’re asked if they have to pay that’s hard, but equally scary for them.

They’re looking at a thing that they don’t want, that they don’t need, and you’re expecting them to give money for it. That’s spooky. So this one has come very late and should be, should have been taken care of much earlier when working with your client, show them the work that you’re doing early and often, and explain to them here’s where we are.

Here’s what we’re doing. You asked for this, this is how it’s being delivered, et cetera. And then the final one is when, when, when, when it just indicates that you haven’t communicated timelines, this is when I’m starting. This is when I’ll be finished. This is about where we’ll be half done. This is where I need you to pay for some software.

This is where we need to turn on your domain name. This is where we can remove the warning page that says, Hey, we’re, we’re going to put up a website here. All of those wins, they should be all laid out and clearly communicated to your client. The last resort. This is a hard one because it sort of assumes failure.

You have not saved the relationship and it’s time to end it. It happens. Sometimes people just don’t get along and you might have a client that is a perfectly nice person, but just rubs you the wrong way or you rubbed them the wrong way. And more communication makes it worse. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a person at all.

This happens. It’s normal. I’ve ended relationships with clients and it’s gone fine. I’m still working. They still live their company. It’s fine. Don’t burn your bridges. When it’s time to end the relationship, don’t send an angry email saying you jerk, you need to get out of my life. Say, listen,

it looks like we’re having a hard time working together. I think you’d be better off with a different developer. I have several that I can recommend and they can build your project in a way that will make you much happier than I can. I think this would facilitate getting your project done sooner and we’ll bring peace of mind for both of us.

Be kind, be nice, be gracious. But from the first time you say, listen, I, I think we need to end this relationship. They may come right back to you and say, Oh wait, what? Why? I don’t want to find any developer finding a good developer is difficult. They don’t want to go find a new developer. They just want you to finish it.

But if it has to end, it has to end. Don’t give into attractive offers. If you have gotten to this point, then it is time to end it. They may come back and say, we’ll give you more money. We’ll do whatever we need to. That’s not worth your peace of mind. It’s not worth the pain and struggle. Trust me. It’s not.

You may think, Oh man, that extra, extra $5,000, that’s pretty great. It’s probably not worth it. So this relates back to the beef from if they come back and they try to, will you back. Say, Nope, I’m sorry. This is the way it is. So my last advice comes from bill and Ted. Be excellent to each other. If you’re being excellent to your client and you’re giving them notes, they need, they will not be client Zilla and you can be friends probably for the rest of your life.

Again, my name is Topher DeRosia you can find me at tophor@cmbr.co and @tofor1kenobi. Thanks for coming to my talk.

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