3 Lessons a Toxic Client Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Slavish people pleasing is not a professional demeanor. Think through your relationship with your clients, what works and what doesn't, before a bad one does damage.

learn more about Maleeka T. Hollaway

By Maleeka T. Hollaway • Mar 3, 2019 Originally published Mar 3, 2019

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The day I knew that I'd lose a long-time client came when they told me, "I'm the boss. You work for me." Upon hearing those words, I knew I was in a toxic work situation. Many people start a business because they want to be their own boss and have the freedom of working when they want, how they want and with whom they want.

I launched into entrepreneurship because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others using my unique communication skills. I could have easily decided to be an employee, but I opted to take the road less traveled.

Hearing the words I'm the boss! being thrown at me sobered me up from looking through the rose-colored glass of entrepreneurship. From that moment on, every integration I had with the client felt heavy and tense. I dreaded any interaction with them. I knew that I could not continue on being the high-energy person I was feeling as if I had to be under an iron thumb. I had allowed my client to kill my vibe!

Related: Do You Have a Bad Boss? Here's What to Look For. (Infographic)

Since ending that working relationship, I've learned three things about being an entrepreneur that has made me do business better.

1. Setting work standards is a must.

I once had the fear that if I didn't respond to every email or text message as soon as it came through, my clients would hate me. Although I had set working responsive hours for my business, having a client that demanded that I respond to them whenever they messaged me became a prison.

It's true, every client is different and every client will have their quirks. But I learned quickly that if I don't set expectations and standards upfront, I can easily be railroaded by demanding clients. Now, whenever I get a new client, an onboarding process is a must. I let them know up front what is acceptable and what is not acceptable when doing business with me. It has saved me a lot of headaches, and my clients appreciate the clarity.

2. All clients are not my ideal client.

When I was a newbie, I never considered who my ideal client would be. I wanted to make money, and I wanted to make money quickly so whoever came my way, I signed them on! And it was a mistake.

Related: 4 Types of Clients Your Growing Business Can't Afford to Work With

I learned quickly that the lines of being an independent contractor or an employee can be blurred when you're in the thick of things. I learned the signs that let me know if a prospect would fit my business culture. I learned that being too eager to serve from the highest version of myself simply won't be enough for some people -- and that's okay.

3. Character trumps genius any day.

As a communicator who works heavily in the public relations space, reputation and public image is a must. One can be an Einstein in their industry but if you cannot trust their character, it'll be hard to accept their message. I never want to be the entrepreneur that everyone loves to hate.

Sure, I'm an acquired taste, but overall, I've managed to create an authentic reputation that is driven by results. And even though I am known for being a straight shooter, there is a way to establish my expertise without coming off as crass or disrespectful. People will be attracted to your authentic self, but they will not stick around long if your vibes ward them off.

Related: Craft Your Personal Brand by Embracing Your Weirdness

As an entrepreneur, you are the captain of your ship. You have to consider that everyone who you let onto your ship feeds into your energy and your success. When you take on new clients or you prospect for more business, don't just consider the monetary cost. Consider the value of your ship. Consider your integrity. Consider your peace. Consider the environment you desire to create for yourself and others. And by no means should you ever have to negotiate your personal convictions to appease your client.

Maleeka T. Hollaway

Branding & Communications Specialist, Speaker & Best-Selling Author

Maleeka T. Hollaway is a millennial entrepreneur, speaker, and writer obsessed with professional development and small business growth. Her goal is to teach entrepreneurs to position themselves to grow sustainable businesses and brands using social proof. Meet her on socialproofsuccess.com.

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