We all know that having your own business is exciting, just as much as riding a roller coaster is. Besides the learning curve associated with building a business from scratch, through those ups and downs we meet wonderful people that will add to our excitement, and we will get clear about the ones that are not fit to be on this journey with us.
But nothing compares to being threatened by a client that says they want to sue you. That happened to me within my first six months of my new business. Although I realized quickly that the client didn’t have a case, while everything was being clarified, I was terrified!
So, after everything was resolved, and the client even apologized for her confusion, I had to find the gift on that experience. And I did, with more than one lesson to spare. So, I wanted to share them with you, in case you wanted to avoid a situation like this in the future. Just be aware that I’m not a lawyer, all I’m sharing are my own experiences and conclusions – feel free to apply it or not.
1- Grow with Compassion:The whole thing happened following my decision to open a full Marketing Agency, after being working by myself for many years. After its launch, my business tripled in one month, and I didn’t take the time to set the right systems in place to make it run smoothly, like it is now, so I was working around the clock. One of the first things that this whole situation made me aware of is that, when you’re growing your business, your old clients, and some of your friends, might feel left behind. Although I kept doing the same quality work I’ve always done, I might have not given the same kind of attention I gave them before. I should have set expectations better, and help them understand I needed this time to focus on my business, but that I was still there for them.
2- Assume the best:When I got my client’s email with her ideas of why she wanted to sue me, I quickly understood there was a misunderstanding. I didn’t assume the worst, that she was trying to get away with not paying me, and get my services for free, or something to that matter. I knew that sometimes we can get caught up on assuming the worst, and I went to another path. So, my response to her came from a place of understanding that she was making a mistake, that it was solely because she was confused, so I had to help her understand what was really happening. The way I did this was talking to her as if it was the first time I was explaining the services I was going to do for her, and what she should expect from it. Also, I tried to find out if there was something behind it, either a personal issue she was going through, or other dissatisfaction. Typically, threats like that come from clients feeling frustrated, angry, impotent and/or powerless – with your service or something in their lives. They may feel unheard, or panicked and they need somebody to channel those feelings that can hear them.
3- Wait to answer:Although I realized right away that she was confused, and that she didn’t have a case, the solely threat to sue me got me by surprised and it saddened me for a minute. On that state, I would probably answer her in a very low energy, and use words that could be misunderstood. So, I went for a walk in nature, meditated a little bit, and only when I felt truly in peace with the whole thing, I sat down to answer her. Thinking back, I believe I could have called her as well, so she could feel in my voice that I understood her and that I was there to help. Not answering right away gave me clarity to write to her in a better state of mind and heart, coming from a place of understanding. And I believe that made a big difference on how quickly she changed her mind and her heart.
4- Have an agreement:I am the kind of professional that can only work with people I like. And because of that, I build good relationships with all of my clients, and some of them become very good friends. So much so that, when they decide to add more services for me to do for them, I often feel like I don’t need to update our agreements. But, I do it anyway because that’s part of the system I built in my business. I’m really good at keeping everything documented as well: emails, text messages, conversations on the phone. And that’s what saved me on this case. Because I had an agreement, I was able to show her what we have talked about months before. Life is busy, we talk to different people all the time, and as time goes by, people forget what they’ve agreed to. It’s important to have an updated agreement that details the services you’re offering, it is a way of protecting both parties.
5- Create Clear Boundaries: I have been learning this for a while, but this situation made me get it and start applying it more systematically. One of the biggest reasons this all happened was because her expectations were way of, not only about the services she hired me to do, but about our interaction. Despite having an agreement, the way clients interact with us is 100% based on how we have educated them to engage with us and our business. When we create clear boundaries about the relationship (how fast we respond to emails, what channels we use, when we take calls, etc.) it gives them clarity on the relationship, and if they try to ask for more, we can just remind them of what we agreed.
6- Fire Bad Clients: Although we have built a nice friendship, after a while, I have noticed that she was very negative, and she was the kind of boss that would be sarcastic with her employees, talking bad about them when they left the room, things like that. I pretended I didn’t noticed these moments, but I started feeling uncomfortable as I witnessed some of these situations, and was questioning if she fit the culture I’m building at my business. But she was an old client and she paid me well. Plus, she became a friend. It turns out that it’s not worth it. After all, I was helping her build a business with that kind of culture, and I didn’t want to be a part of that karma. After much reflection, I came to the realization that it’s ok to fire clients that become unfit to work with you. They are just bumming you out, and taking space for other amazing clients that need your help.
7- Protect Your Business:I’m not a lawyer or a financial advisor, so I’m not giving you any legal advice, I’m only sharing what I did in my business. One of the things I made sure to take care of is to have my business under a corporation. If anybody sues my business, and the corporation really doesn’t own anything, at least they can’t go after my personal assets. That gave me peace of mind and helped me not panic.
8- Trust the process: From beginning to end, I knew I haven’t done anything wrong, or that I have failed in any of the promises I made to her as a client, so I kept going to a place of faith, or trust, of the process and of her good character. I also started looking for the lesson of the situation presented to me. Reflecting on how I could have set expectations better, and how I could be better in the future, made me find the gift on all of this. Enjoying the journey of being an entrepreneur, and seeing how much I’ve grown with the challenges, makes me trust and enjoy the process even more!
Those are some of the gifts I took from this experience. Would love to hear if you have ever been threatened by a client like that, and what were the lessons you got! Please, share it with me on the comments!