Working and breaking up with toxic clients

There are two sides to every story. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, there is a client who keeps undermining you.

They criticize without being constructive. They have a scarcity mindset. They make subtle insults about your character or the worth of your business.

Even though it is possible to suck it up and deal with these people, it affects my mental health. Countless friends have talked about toxic people they work with and how upsetting it is.

But for me, when my productivity suffers – through mental distress – I start losing money. I can’t work.

So it’s really important to stay away from these people. Filter them out so you don’t even work with them in the first place. Or, if you do find yourself working with them, develop a policy so you can get rid of them as painlessly as possible.

It could be like coming up with a three strikes rule – like I have for relationships in general. If they do three things that cause me to want to break off the relationship, I have to follow through with it.

Of course, professional reputation is at stake when you tell clients to sling their hook. It has to be managed properly, or a situation could turn really sour, really quickly. And that could be damaging to your business.

How you know when you have a toxic client on your hands:

  • They criticize your work without telling you how to improve it
  • They’re unclear about what they want and blame you for not knowing
  • They don’t understand your field (or the internet) but they pretend that they do
  • They have a massive ego that they want stroked
  • They have a scarcity mindset (they don’t equate price with value)
  • They don’t trust you or give you the benefit of the doubt
  • They think they can do your work better than you
  • They treat you like an outsourcing monkey instead of an expert professional
  • They don’t understand building a business – they networked up the corporate hierarchy
  • They are a former journalist with an axe to grind against digital marketers

Most advice I have gotten from non-freelancers on this is to just deal with it. That’s the professional world, they say. Pretty much grow a pair. 

But my business is my life. I am an extremely sensitive person. I pour my soul into my work.

And toxic clients detract from every area of my business.

I’m aware that I could be the one at fault. But I have been doing this long enough to know that my services are valuable, and if a specific mistake had been raised I would own up to it and correct it. So I guess I have the confidence to stand my ground now.

I would also have a scarcity mindset if I stuck with this client, somehow believing I didn’t deserve better or there weren’t better clients out there.

The difficulty is that I work in a partnership with another business who has the primary relationship with this client. So I don’t want to screw it up for them.

At the same time, I recently resolved to put mental health first. There isn’t any other way to live.

That’s why it’s so important to avoid working with toxic clients.

Not all clients have to be delightful and enriching, but they at least have to avoid impacting on your self-esteem.

CatherineCatherine Heath is a freelance writer in software and marketing. She’s obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Photo by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash




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