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How to protect yourself when faced with an insistent client

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Promising the unachievable, dabbling in areas that are outside of your area of expertise, failing to ensure that you and your client are clear on the terms and scope of the contract… It’s not hard to see how carelessness in these areas can help to create the conditions where a professional negligence claim will arise. Yet back in the real world, there’s a different set of pressures at play. Saying ‘no’ to a client can sometimes seem to fly in the face of your claims to offer a ‘flexible, bespoke service’. It’s all too easy to forget Risk Management 101 when a client seems ready to jump ship.

Here are some strategies for sticking to your guns and still keeping the relationship alive when a client request means entering a professional negligence danger zone…

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Clients insisting on an unreasonable timeframe…

An existing client approaches you with a new project – but insists on a proposed completion date that’s far earlier than you feel comfortable with. Agreeing to it will mean either having to cut corners or else risking failing to meet the deadline. Do you go along with it anyway?

Here are the alternatives to pretending everything’s fine and then forging ahead with a ‘rush job’…

  • Consider drafting in extra resources. Having a reliable source of external expertise at your disposal means being able to call on it to plug the gaps when faced with out-of-the-ordinary pressures. Can the routine legwork be outsourced, leaving you with scope to focus on quality control and strategy?
  • Provide a detailed alternative timetable for completion. Rather than a blanket refusal, give your client a fully worked counter-schedule. Stress how important it is to your firm to maintain its high level of client care – and that to depart from your suggested timeframe would mean unacceptable compromises.
  • Offer to focus on the time-sensitive aspects of the project first of all. Find out the reasons why the client is focusing on a certain date. Have they plucked it out of thin air – or is there a business-critical reason for it? If it’s the latter case, is there scope for part-completion by that date – focusing on the essentials necessary for the client to meet their commitments?

Being asked to step outside of your niche…

For many professions there’s an ongoing debate as to whether going niche or diversification is the best way to secure a firm’s future. Wherever you stand in this debate, the way forward is not to give in to an ad-hoc request from a client to take on a task that’s outside of your skillset. Sometimes such requests are born out of a misunderstanding of what it is you actually do: for instance, to the uninitiated, it may seem perfectly reasonable to assume that a web developer would have encyclopaedic knowledge of networks. In other cases, it may be a matter of pure convenience: they have you at hand and they simply don’t want the hassle of sourcing another supplier.

This is where strategic alliances come into their own; reciprocal arrangements with firms whose services complement yours. When stepping outside your area of expertise you are putting yourself at risk, and it’s important to speak to professional indemnity experts such as those at Bluefin Professions to ensure you’re fully protected. Refusing to do the work doesn’t mean you can’t offer your client a service; it’s just that you do so by putting your client in touch with suppliers with the right toolkit for the job.


Being confronted with unlimited revisions…

Your contract provides for reasonable revisions to make sure that the original brief is fulfilled. But what happens when things go one step further; when the volume of revision requests builds up to the extent that a client is insisting on a totally different end-product for the same price?

Try to nip mission creep in the bud from day one. Work with your client to draw up a list of mission objectives and a comprehensive list of the features of the end-product. If an additional request from your client involves departing from this list, make it clear that you cannot agree to scope changes without additional payment.

If you do agree to scope changes, be especially careful to assess how these changes are going to affect the ‘critical path’ – i.e. the plan you ought to have to ensure the work is completed on time. Failure to do this could result in a situation where the client assumes that the timescale for completion remains unaltered when in fact, the additional work means a revised timetable is in order.

Micro-management to the point of project takeover

You’ve invited your client to ‘get involved’; to get in touch in the event of any questions and to put forward suggestions. What you didn’t anticipate was that this particular client would insist on micro-managing every aspect of the job – and some of those suggestions show that the client is out of his depth.

There’s a danger here of significant problems with accountability. If you’re being asked to depart from your usual way of working and if the project subsequently goes off-track, where does responsibility lie? Especially if these are the first dealings you’ve had with this client, one reason why a client might take this approach could be down to trust. You need to prove your credentials and demonstrate in practical terms that you don’t need to be spoon-fed. One tactic is to ask the client’s opinion on an aspect of the job that you suspect is outside of his knowledge. Once you provide the answer and explain your reasoning, he should start to respect your specific expertise and allow you to take ownership of the process.

The golden rule is to stick to your guns and set the right tone early: only by doing this can you ensure that you’re not compelled into straying outside of your comfort zone.

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