Be forewarned: this post contains a few more swears than I usually issue.

Every time I come back to this post, I’ve re-written it. You should have seen the grand epilogue I’d written. First, it was a massive missive of mistakes I’d made as a treatise on accountability. Boring! Then, it was an account of the time I allowed myself to become totally emasculated at work and why confidence is the most important thing you can have. Snore!

So only after un-channeling my inner Tony Robbins, I decided that I’d better quit being a tease and get to it:

You are the reason you have “bad clients”. Before you get all sassy with me, let me explain:

When money is involved, people turn from their nice, caring, empathetic selves into complete morons. I do it. You do it. We all do it. We think money buys us expertise. Money in reality only buys us an expert we can consort with.

Here’s why: when we throw money at a problem without fully understanding it, we completely absolve ourselves of any responsibility of seeing it through ourselves. That’s why I always train my clients to become experts.

You can’t (and wont) trust an expert’s solution to a problem you can’t understand.

That’s why things like scope creep, mismanaged expectations, and miscommunication occur. It does no good at all for the “expert” to talk down to us, either – we have to become proficient enough in the problem that we have a basic understanding of why and how the solution works. Forever, and ever, always – amen.

But, uh… no, – I hear you saying, some people are just nightmares to work with. I’ll give you that. If someone is legitimately a dickhead, fire them – you have the capability. You don’t need the money that badly – you’re not a whore, after all.

Everybody else is your fault.

Think about the last time you were between jobs and went to the doctor. Maybe you had insurance, maybe not. The doctor says you need X-Rays, an expensive medication, or a surgery, or all of the above. Dude – you probably thought. I just paid a metric ton of cash to come see you, and now you want me to shell out what? Fuck, just cut it off.

Why do we suddenly hate this person who is supposed to help us stay healthy? Two reasons: first, the doctor violates our expectations. We thought we were operating in a healthy way and it turns out we weren’t – we didn’t have the knowledge to understand the problem. Second, the Doctor takes 10 minutes to listen to what’s wrong and has a solution that we couldn’t find in over 3 hours of searching on WebMD.

The Doc’s solution is based on things that we now know we need to know – and most Docs probably didn’t take the time to educate us on both the problem and the solution in a way that we can become a micro-expert on the subject.

So we complain about the Doctor’s bedside manner, and the price, try to negotiate it down, ask if there’s a payment plan while wondering why we’re paying so much for 10 minutes of seeing the doctor, call back with a dozen related or unrelated questions about “that mole I forgot about”, bitch about it to our friends, family, and anyone who will listen, then when we run out of people who will listen, we turn to Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp…

Ta-Da! We’ve just become the very “nightmare client” we all abhor.

As an aside, what defines a “Nightmare Client”?

I had to laugh when one of my freelancer friends complained about one of her clients: “They don’t get me any materials, even after several emails. I eventually had to call them and get an answer. It’s a total nightmare.”

That? That is a total nightmare? Bitch, please.

I’ve had clients write me emails worded so strongly, declarations of war have been penned in a nicer tone.

When I first started out, I mismanaged a client’s expectations so badly that they bet the farm and lost everything (of course, when “everything” is recouped by refunding the project…it makes you question just how invested they really were). Subsequently, this client has built a much stronger, much more centralized business – and is doing very well. Their “trial run” was a decent attempt, but needed to fail in order for them to get where they are now.

I’ve managed projects with scope creep so rampant, our contract became an infomercial. But wait, there’s more!

Guess what? These things? My fault. Each and every one of ’em can be traced back to a moment where I failed as an expert teacher.

Failures are par for the course when you build your own business. If they happen too often, you get burnt out – not just with your business, but with your life. Every interaction can either grow you or diminish you. It bears repeating, so let me type it again: every interaction can either grow you or diminish you. I’m not talking about your finances (although sometimes they go hand-in-hand), I’m talking about your life’s worth.

Spend too much time around assholes (or cultivating them by not being a good teacher) and your life’s worth diminishes to the point that you become one yourself.

The solution is clear: teach your clients to become experts in understanding their own problem so they can trust your expert solution.

As an aside, I told Ash of The Middle Finger Project that I would voluntarily get a brazilian wax done if it meant I’d never have to deal with another bad client. I’m not quite sure karma works that way, but it’s worth a shot.

This post is part of the Word Carnival series. This month’s topic? The Business School of Hard Knocks. Explore more posts on the topic by clicking the link, yo. You won’t regret it!

(Header photo: Facepalm!)