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Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. We take on a client, and it starts fine, but over time, the interactions become more strained. Communication breaks down. There may be threats of legal action. Now we’re totally preoccupied with this problem. Our team is spending countless hours trying to address issues pertaining to this client. We are snapping at our loved ones and mentally checking out as our thoughts become consumed by the challenges at work. Before we know it, we are dealing with a PITA client.
PITA stands for “Pain in the Assets.” These clients are difficult, make unfair demands and consume extraordinary time from you and your team addressing their needs. Because of this, you may be paying more to serve them than the revenue they bring into your business. OUCH!
There’s a significant impact on your stress level and mental health. When you are preoccupied at home because of problems at work, your loved ones sense it. When you zone out during conversations or are grumpy and easily irritated, the impact of PITA clients is spilling into your personal life. This can damage relationships. Chronic health problems may arise from long-term stress.
What makes us vulnerable to PITA clients?
The mindset we use when we start our businesses makes us vulnerable to having these problematic clients in our businesses. When we’re in the startup phase, we say “yes” to every opportunity that comes our way just to get money into the business. We’re happy somebody will pay us to do something. We can survive another day and keep going.
That’s an effective startup strategy. It is not an effective strategy for the long term. You’re opening the floodgates. You will get some good clients, and you will get some bad clients. You also will find yourself delivering products or services that may not be aligned with your sweet spot. That may take a lot of extra work for you to do. Even though money comes into the business, a lot of money could be lost as you deal with PITA clients.
People-pleasing is another way to become vulnerable to PITA clients in your business. It’s impossible to please everyone. I used to lay awake at 3:00 a.m. replaying conversations and wondering, “How can I fix this? How can I make this better? How can I make the client like us again?” That was bad enough when it was just me working in the business. When I added team members and allowed these demanding clients to remain in the business, I let them create stress for my team members.
Another vulnerability is a lack of clearly defined standards in the business. If you cannot say, “This is how we do business…” you are saying to your clients, “Hey, however you guys want to do business is fine with me. You guys make the rules.”
How to prevent problems with PITA clients
The best way to prevent problems with difficult clients is to define your immutable laws. These are your core values. These become your standards for doing business. They also become powerful tools for pinpointing your struggles with a particular client. It’s quite likely that the client is violating one of your immutable laws. When your immutable laws are identified, it gives you the language to explain why the breakdown occurs.
For example, in my business, we support our clients in creating great places to work. Our clients want to learn leadership skills to attract A-Player team members. We value team members and believe in treating them with respect. When a client revealed they were engaging in shady payroll practices, we discontinued our work with the client and explained the value conflict.
Eliminating PITA clients increases your profit
The 80/20 principle is illuminating when we think about the impact of PITA clients on profit. If 80% of our revenue comes from the top 20% of our clients, the inverse is that 80% of clients are responsible for only 20% of our revenue. Typically, PITA clients will be part of that 80% of clients who are not contributing significantly to our revenue. The time, energy and resources used in serving PITA clients take away from our efficiency. It can actually cost us more to serve PITA clients than what they pay us!
When you stop serving PITA clients and focus your freed-up time and energy on serving your top clients, you will find additional ways to deliver value to your top clients. You are also likely to find ways to replace lost revenue from PITA clients quickly.
Steps to eliminating PITA clients
Think of your team and top clients as precious gems to be protected. Put a velvet rope around your business. This velvet rope consists of your immutable laws and the qualities of your top clients. Use this criteria to screen clients. You do not have to say “yes” to every client who wants to do business with you. When coaching business owners dealing with PITA clients, I ask them to identify the early “warning” signs they detect. Listing these warning signs will help you identify future PITA clients. It’s empowering to decline business.
One of our clients commented she feels as though she has fallen back in love with her business because it felt so good to turn down work that was not within her sweet spot and to be able to fire clients whom she and her team were unable to serve effectively. Although the loss of income initially was scary, her expenses decreased over the coming months because her team spent less time trying to please perpetually difficult clients. She then used her awareness of what her top clients valued most to attract better clients.
It can feel scary to turn away business. Once you do so, you will breathe a sigh of relief as it becomes fun to go to work. After all, you are getting to focus your energy on serving your top clients who appreciate you.