In part #3. of this blog post series, I'm diving into what we can put into place to help your potential clients show up as their best selves **in the onboarding process and at the beginning of working together**, and set up the relationship dynamic from the get-go, and how to gracefully navigate when red flags show up! (I tackle all the scenarios for red-flag clients in this 3-part series*)
SETTING THE STAGE: IN THE ONBOARDING PROCESS
Brand new clients either feel like they've just jumped off a cliff and are currently falling, OR they feel finally safe, and that they're in good hands.
REGARDLESS which category your new client falls into, you want to make sure that either their sense of safety is confirmed, and that your anxious new client is made to feel safe by your smooth onboarding process and support.
Here's how to do that:
1. GUIDE THE PROCESS + SET EXPECTATIONS
Tell them how this is going to go. And set clear expectations. If there are specific things you won't/don't do or offer, let them know upfront as well.
Ironclad contracts + clarity on legal consequences. Clear expectation setting. And a human-centered approach when stuff happens: i.e. a client has a major life event and needs to be released, or they need to pause their package.
Every time something happens that's causing a sense of unsafety/unease in your body, ask yourself: do I need to add something to my contract/add something to how I set expectations?
3. OPEN CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION
How and where can people ask questions about details/logistics if there are any leftover things they're not clear on? Make sure you tell them!
Ask them regularly for feedback as well, so it doesn't fester into resentment when you could've simply added something small to take their concern away, or clarified something that wasn't clear to them.
4. HELP THEM PRIORITIZE
Create a plan with them that helps them understand what's important and what's not (yet). It tells your new client that you're thinking with them, and are not going to overwhelm them.
5. REDIRECT BEHAVIOR WHEN NEEDED
If you've set expectations, but they're still expecting things from you that fall outside the scope of your work (or how you work), gently but firmly redirect them, and let them know why adhering to your process is going to help you help them better.
Release them as a client when: if the client is already kicking back as they go through simple procedures of your onboarding process, I recommend you hop on a second call to clean up whatever is going on, and if they continue to push back on procedure, to release them.
DREADED SCENARIOS: WHAT TO DO/SAY WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
- Giving you the wrong details (credit card number, zip code)
They're subconsciously not sure about working together (sabotage), or they're sloppy with details. If the first, maybe do one more subtle check-in when you're reaching out sending them a payment link (don't ask for them to share CC information via email or messenger, it's not safe). If the second, ask yourself if you're OK working with people who potentially have trouble concentrating or are easily distracted.
NOTE: the exception here are clients who have chronic/mental health issues or who for other reasons (that are outside of their control) struggle with focus.
- Not being able to charge the CC
When your company is trying to charge the amount due and it bounces, that could mean they're not in touch with their credit card limit (which isn't a good sign, especially if they're an entrepreneur), or they don't have the money.
Offer them a do-over to figure it out (keep it light and friendly), and if they continue to give your team extra work because of missed payments etc. ask yourself if the lead is worth it to put up with this or not.
- Not signing contract (or signing it after the due date)
Have your team send a friendly reminder 24 and 48 hours before the due date (make sure YOU are notified if they still haven't signed 24 hours before the due date. If your team pings you with a “still not signed,” send a quick email (or message), saying:
“Hey [fname], quick reminder your contract is waiting for you in your inbox. I have some INCREDIBLE ideas for you regarding [their biggest pain point] that I can't wait to share (this is going to be a game-changer, especially because [reason that gives away you've been listening carefully to what they shared with you]. See you then XO”
Or you can go this route…
“Hey [FNAME], I saw you didn't sign your contract yet. Do you have some questions I can answer or concerns I can address?”
- Back and forth about the contract (and requests to change contents)
I love replying (or having my team reply) with something like:
“We've put extraordinary care into creating our contracts, and everything in there has been thought through carefully and represents our values. If you feel uncomfortable signing, it's maybe a sign that we're not a fit at this moment [followed by what the next steps are, or setting a clear expectation].”
If it's a private client, I'm happy to clear up something in the deliverables section, however, I don't feel comfortable changing terms and conditions for anyone (when I still had a private client roster, that is). Those are my carefully worded guidelines and expectations, and I stand by them. I suggest you do the same.
- Emailing with the request to reiterate what they're getting
Usually it goes like this: “This sounds great, can you send me a proposal so I can look it over and make my decision?“. And usually, that means, “I'm not getting the offer, and this is wasting my time,” or “I don't want to move forward, how can I get off the call without giving that away?”
I like calling it out (delivered with a smile):
“I'm happy to summarize, but I don't do proposals and here's why: usually it means the prospect isn't into the offer, and wants out in a polite way, if that's the case, you don't owe me a yes, and we can say goodbye and wish each other the very best, OR… there's a piece of vital information we've missed in our conversation that you need to make your decision. Which one is it?”
If the first, let them go.
If the second, ask them, “what is it you're not sure about?”/ “what is it you feel you need to know?”
Note: in some industries, and especially when working with corporate, proposals are needed and expected. Because there is a set of decision-makers. Or if “proposal review” is a part of their policy.
- Secretly wishing they won't sign and you don't have to work with them
Reach out before they do, and share that after careful consideration, you've decided there isn't a fit. Although you don't owe them a reason, people usually want one.
You can suggest a type of referral you'd like to make. However, don't do this if you’re choosing not to work with them because they were difficult in any way. You don't want to pass on someone who isn't coachable to a fellow business owner. If they reply feeling hurt and upset, know that you've probably dodged a bullet. Sometimes people are in a place in their life where drama is a go-to. And unless they're able to shift out of that place themselves, there's not much you can do.
- Feeling afraid that if you “fuck up,” they'll try and ruin your reputation
Whether it's something you picked up on (like a power play, or maybe a subconscious memory of something you've seen – this happens), or it's a mindset issue you carry within you, it really doesn't matter. Feeling you can't make a mistake (or you'll pay for it dearly if you make one), is going to invite making mistakes. And then making more mistakes because you're scared. So it's a no. UNLESS you know it's a mindset thing and you've got both the support you need (like a mentor or therapist) and the dedication to overcoming it, no matter what.
- Not responding to (payment/contract reminders)
See 45 for an example personal message you can send them. However, we usually send them a note saying:
“It's our commitment to only work with women who are absolutely poised to have the results you see in our marketing. However, it's our experience that when clients have trouble recognizing deadlines, there's something there holding them back. We're not saying this is the case with you, but it's our company policy that after the second deadline missed we don't move forward. [add more clarity on how the package will be terminated]. Wishing you all the very best, [team member's name]”
We've been accused of being impatient and not having faith by someone to whom we sent this email, but I'm OK with that. I have zero desire to work with people who push back on procedures, because it's a pain in the ass, and makes it difficult to create fabulous results.
- Not responding to your “hey, what's up?” kind of message
Let it go. They're not ready to have the transformation you offer (for whatever reason), or they don't feel a fit with you as the person to lead them there. Don't make it personal. Reflect on what you could've done differently (like, did you create a personal connection on the call?), if anything, and move on knowing there are at least 20 highly qualified leads about to collapse into reality and show up in your world.
- Ignoring your team, and wanting to deal with only you
Falls under push back on procedure. Whatever they're reason, they're not respecting your company's policies and ways of operating. Spells trouble.
If they're an extremely good fit otherwise, kindly remind them to accept your team member as the one communicating all logistics, finance, etc. If they smarten up, great. If not, let them go and don't go along with their behavior.
Because they'll find more and other ways to make it hard for you and your team to serve them, inevitably creating unmet expectations or other communication breakdowns further down the line.
SETTING THE STAGE: AT THE TOP OF THE PACKAGE
In this phase of your project/package you want to focus on continuing to build credibility to confirm they've made the right decision to trust you. Share client success stories. Walk your talk.
Share a cool article you've been featured in that talks about something they might be interested in. Also, continue to shape a plan and schedule regular check-ins (or check-in moments).
Continue the “setting the stage” tips you find under the onboarding section. Next, what to say and do…
DREADED SCENARIOS: WHAT TO DO/SAY WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
- Giving you uninvited, “positive feedback”
If you're getting almost immediate pushback, and they communicate in a crummy way that they have a problem with your process or find fault with your work (especially if you're a service provider) – you have a choice to make:
- hop on a quick call where you help them understand why you've delivered what you've delivered and if they can get onboard with trusting you in this process. Sometimes it simply takes a “what do you need to trust my process?” and you'll be surprised. Maybe they simply need a quick weekly email to keep them in the loop.
- a quick refund of the initial payment and release them from their contract
Let them know that although you welcome feedback, it's clear that there's, unfortunately, no fit moving forward based on what they shared. If they get angry when receiving this reply, feel relieved you didn't try to work with them longer, they'd have caused you lots of frustration down the line.
Only use option A if you feel there's a good base of trust and respect.
- Missing a payment
If it happens once, no problem. Happens to the best. If it becomes a pattern, it's a reason to let a client go. If you choose, you can offer a longer payment plan, or a temporary pause in payments (if they're experiencing a bit of a tight financial season). Don't feel obligated to keep on delivering without payment though. A 30-day delay (grace period) is industry standard.
- Overusing access (voxer, email, messenger, etc.)
Set clear expectations from the beginning. Although you might think no “normal person” will be so weird as to start firing multiple emails at you a day, it happens.
Don't make assumptions, and create rules around even unlimited direct access (maybe don't even use that word “unlimited”). Here's what I do with my Voxer clients:
“I'm here for you, and you can Voxer me anytime. Expect my reply within about 48 hours (weekdays). I turn off notifications on the weekend and in the evenings. Make sure your messages are (generally) about 1 minute long. If you have multiple questions, record 2-3 shorter messages instead of one long one. If you ever feel the need to have a safe space to verbal process, feel free to use our channel, but I won't listen to the entire thing. You can then afterwards record a quick question that has arisen from the clarity you got from speaking out loud. Most of my clients connect with me on Voxer 1-3 times a week for a quick interaction. Big questions and requests for feedback on specific assets we'll leave for our calls.”
If the new client replies with: “So does that mean I can't do X, Y and Z?“(like, contact you on the weekend), hold your ground. If they ask you “But what if I have an emergency?”, you can reply with:
“It's my commitment to help you build an “emergency free business”, but let's say something urgent comes up, you can simply write the word “URGENT” in all caps in Voxer before you hit record in Voxer and I will be able to prioritize your message”.
- An invisible co-decision maker who is derailing the project/package behind the scenes
The moment you get a sense there's someone behind the scenes who is influencing your client in a way that interferes with the work you're doing together?
Call it out.
“You've mentioned ________ a few times now. Can you tell me, do they need to be included in this project? I notice I have a concern about there being a person who is a crucial part of your decision making process, that I don't know or communicate with”
You can make a demand that this person joins the package/project out in the open, with the consequence, in case you receive a no, that you will terminate the project/package.
This can be a partner, spouse, business partner, mentor, friend, spiritual teacher etc.
- Expressing fear this won't work out for them
Remind them of their self-confessed yes from the sales call (their why, what created urgency for them), and incorporate an experiential element at the beginning of your work together, that speaks to “what will help you get through, when we experience a rough patch?“.
Expect concerns to show up. Help your client expect it to show up, and when it does, remind them of the strategy, ritual, thought or belief they can use to feel the fear and move on in a powerful way. This is also why I believe in developing coaching/leadership skills, even if you're a service provider and you work with clients on deliverables.
I also like to ask: “Why do you feel it won't work out for you?“, as a conversation starter. Let them spill the beans, get them to talk.
- Emailing you expressing disappointment in the package/project/program
Try to be as curious as you can be, and not shut down.
I always reply right away, with a big “thank you for reaching out and trusting me with your concerns”.
A call is preferred in cases like these, so that you can show them through your body language, and tone of voice, and your listening, that you're here to have a conversation.
Now, in some cases, there's no saving the package/project.
And that's OK.
Approach this with as much detachment as possible. There are always more potential clients to reach out to and close.
If they're critical of how you run your projects/programs/packages, see if you and translate their complaints into requests.
So instead of “I don't like that the training videos are 1 hour long”, help them reframe that to “I wish the training sessions were cut up into 5-10 minute segments, so I can find time to watch some in between other responsibilities”.
Next, you have to tune into whether you're able/willing to make the changes necessary to accommodate their request. And also, if your business is set up to be able to provide that right now.
If you don't want to/can't offer a certain format right away, be honest.
If you're not willing to incorporate different structures/schedules etc., be honest.
It's OK to say no.
- Expressing discomfort with you sharing their wins anonymously (as part of your marketing)
Rule of thumb: always ask for permission.
The other rule of thumb: create a culture of celebration in your community.
When people sharing this discomfort with you wanting to share wins?
Why are they uncomfortable with their wins being shared, even if their name and everything isn't visible? It tends to signify some old wounding around being visible, or being celebrated. That's the conversation I choose to have at that moment, instead of defending myself.
I also make sure it's in my expectation setting, “in a couple of weeks from now, you're going to send me a note saying [whatever type of win] and you're going to be one of my success stories and we'll drink champagne and be merry!” (or something along those lines).
- Expressing disappointment about results not showing up fast enough
This is usually because expectations setting could've been more effective. The key is how to sell your offers in a compelling way WITHOUT going into overpromising. Here's the thing, people actually love it when you set reasonable expectations. It makes them feel safe because they know you're not trying to ignore the fact that big transformations require a commitment to the process. Through the ups and downs.
When this happens, don't make it about yourself (“there's something wrong with me”).
Take a deep breath.
And do the following:
Remind them of the trajectory.
This is what we've done.
This is where we are right now, and why.
And this is the exciting thing that's about to happen.
Remind them that “we're here to create lasting results, not a quick, superficial win“, and that creating lasting change, often takes a little longer, but is oh so worth it.
You can also coach them and ask: “what's the rush, what's the fear?”, and get them to talk so they give you all the information you need to coach them in calming their mind, thinking long term and staying the course.
- Confusion around scope, despite clear contracts and expectation setting
Have your team respond with a kind, and detailed email, offering support if they need to hop on a quick call to make sure they fully understand everything.
Key is to not do this yourself.
Even if you have to hop on a call with your VA to instruct them, don't spend time with your clients (re) explaining the scope and structure of your offers, or (re) setting further expectations.
If this pisses people off, they're going to be very difficult clients down the line (** almost ** guaranteed). If necessary, release them at that point.
Now, here's the other thing…
If people are not catching basic logistics, there's something going on that's taking up that bandwidth, you want to discover what that is, and when… ask yourself: “is this something that's going to stand in the way of me doing my best work with this client?”.
- Realizing they want more, but reluctance/unwillingness to pay for it
Make it really clear it's their choice: “If you want X, we'll have to add on _______. If that's not in your budget right now, we'll have to stick to _________. ” If they keep trying to have you do things that are outside of scope, remind them. If they're insistent, and get resentful, it's unfortunately time to let them go.
- Equating time with VALUE
Help them disentangle time, or time with you, with value. That can look like a kind, but firm, “Yes, time with me is really valuable and an important part of helping you create/achieve ___________. But your success isn't dependent on the amount of time we spend in a Zoom room together, it's the result that matters.”
- Not showing up on time for calls
Some of my best clients are 2 minutes late for every call. Basically, they have a slightly different relationship with time.
If there's no further red flags, and you can live with their relationship with time, and how that plays out, it doesn't have to be a problem.
If they're wildly too late (5 minutes or more, qualifies for me), without an explanation, and maybe even expecting you to go overtime at the end of the call, that's reason to share that's it not working for you, and what you need from the client to feel great about the client relationship.
Sometimes, showing up late is a way to seize the alpha role (they're making you wait for them).
If you notice that also during the calls, they're wanting to direct the conversation, instead of being in receivership (beta) mode, feel free to raise your hand, stop them (with a smile) and say something along the lines of:
“Thanks for sharing, so for the next couple of minutes I'd love for you to sit back and answer these questions. I need your input on X Y and Z so I can [what they hired you for].
Let's aim for 2 minutes per answer. Here's my first one. Ready?”
Whenever you're re-establishing alpha status, a sassy smile tends to really help “the medicine go down”. Not a “nice” smile, a flirtatious, slightly sassy one.
If you sense an underlying insecurity, call it out.
“I'm noticing you're trying to direct our conversation and workflow, what do you need to feel safe in letting me lead?”
- Expecting reschedules after canceling calls within 48 hours
Kindly have your assistant (not you), remind them of the agreements they've made about how this relationship works and doesn't work.
I always make an exception when they have a family matter pop up that needs their attention. But exceptions mean once. Not all the time.
If it happens a second time, they get a final reminder (you don't have to tell them it's their final reminder).
If they continue to disrespect your time (because unless there's a solid reason, that's what's happening), and you're getting tired of that shit, this is a reason to let them go. Because imagine if all your clients started to show up this way and make unreasonable requests? Nope.
- Talking to someone who does what you do, but has different insights (and then bringing those up during the call (“I talked to X, and she disagrees with what you told me”)
This only happened to me when I wasn't charging enough.
Because of the lower price point, they doubt whether they made a sound decision in hiring you (can it be this cheap and this good?) and as soon as a different opinion pops into their reality they chase it like a rabbit. If this does happen to you, raise your rates for the next client, share lots of social proof in your content (trust building), and guide your clients' attention back, by using one of the following lines:
>> “What do you need to see for you to trust me?”/ “why are you finding it hard to trust me right now?” (after they give you their “what if you're wrong” spiel) – followed by a conversation about what they need to have faith in the process, and what you need from them focus and confidence wise.
>> “I can't work with you, unless you have faith in my process. What do you need to make that a reality?”
>> “[FNAME]… you hired me because I'm excellent, and I have a track record. If you choose to focus your attention and your trust on others to the extent where you're starting to doubt what our process is, I simply can't work with you, and we need to end our work relationship – what do you choose?“.
Often, what's really going on is that the client has trust issues, period.
Not just with you. So, don't take it personally. And kindly call them on the fact that they're always questioning everything, including you, including themselves, and what it's doing to their success and happiness in life. **IF** you even want to go there, because that starts to get really close to therapy territory.
- Ongoing confusion around timezones, schedules and calendars
Get your team to support them through finding clarity. Have them hop on a quick call if necessary (have your assistant offer it). If despite support they're feeling unsupported and are getting demanding and frustrated, it's a reason to release them.
That is, unless you and your team are OK spending hours trying to get someone to show up for calls on time and on the right days.
- Having unreasonable expectations (according to you)
Refer back to the contract (why you want to have really clear contracts). And if this keeps showing up as a pattern with different clients, ask yourself “how can I do better with expectation setting?”.
When a client reaches out to you with a “I thought I was getting X and I'm only receiving X” type message, here's what I would do:
Hop on a quick call.
And remind her of the contract she's signed.
HOWEVER, you want to make sure she feels seen and served, and ask her to put into words what would make her feel amazing if it were to be included in the work you do.
If she comes up with something that's relatively easy for you to deliver on, add it in and make it sound like an extra special bonus (not an open ended “you ask, I deliver scenario).
If she comes up with something outrageous (in your opinion, because it's your opinion that matters here) you don't want to deliver on, you can either say …
Option #1. I'm happy to add this on to the scope we decided on a couple of weeks ago, and would translate into X more calls and X more money per month – is that what you would like?”
Option #2. I'm so sorry – but this isn't close to what we agreed upon, and I have to kindly decline. What it sounds like is that you want X, and what I offer is X. [followed by what you suggest as the finalization of your work together).
- Turns out, the client actually isn't ready (or poised to have the result)
This can be a tender, edgy moment for both coach/service provider and the client. Nobody likes to admit they aren't ready. And nobody loves releasing a client, especially when refunds etc. are involved.
Being discerning about who you allow on your client roster/into your programs is something you'll become better at over time, and it's ongoing. You will never get it “right”.
My advice is that you're honest with yourself and your clients. And remember that “some money is too expensive”. Don't struggle on if there turns out to be no fit.
It's much better for your brand if you let them go (honor your refund policy), and refer them out to someone who they're better matched with.
- Overwhelming insecurity
People who doubt themselves, tend to take a longer period of time to see results.
Because you'll be spending a significant amount of time building up their confidence, rather than helping them implement what you teach.
And in some cases, that's OK (especially if you love doing that kind of work).
Here's the thing you want to keep in mind:
Are they taking responsibility for how they feel, and how it's influencing the pace at which results flow in (or don't yet).
If they start to point fingers at you, invite them to grant themselves a slightly longer timeline, based on their speed of implementation.
Help them see there's no shame in taking longer, make this about them (because it is, and that's OK), don't make this about you (because it isn't).
- Expressing doubt you/your offer was the right investment (maybe I jumped the gun)
First of all, maybe they have a valid concern. They might be right.
But if you sense they simply need some quick wins to boost their confidence in themselves and what they signed up for, hopping on a quick call with the question, “How could this become the best investment you've ever made”, can be life changing.
Underlying this statement, which might land harshly on your end, might be an unanswered question, or unaddressed concern.
Dig it up, bring it into the light and address it as early on as possible!
I could go into helping them take responsibility for their experience, and digging into why resistance is showing up for them, but here's my opinion:
If people struggle with what comes across as “not taking responsibility” (I tend to err on the side of being very careful to label behavior), or “being in resistance”, that disqualifies them as a client, at least for that moment.
I've found that getting people to be different leads to frustration for both parties. People are going to be who they're going to be. So it's more about an assessment if it's worth your time, and even your place to suggest changes, or if that's maybe a battle you're not willing to engage in!
- Requesting to take a break (with the request to “pause” payment plan)
We have two different “grace” options inside our program.
If people struggle to make payment, we have a one-time option where their payment gets tagged on to the back of their payment plan. If, after that, they still struggle, they are released, because it indicates they're not a true fit for the pace of the program.
If they have things going on in their personal lives (a diagnosis, a death of a loved one, a divorce, a court case), they can get an up to 3 mo pause. But it's a pause in participation, not payment.
So that by the end of the container they've paid up and stay up until 3 months after that, without paying (because they're already paid up).
This does away with the entanglement of people who struggle to make payment, VS people who have extenuating life circumstances going on.
They're two different needs, and it helps people not feel they need to hide behind (existent or non-existent) personal issues, to get out of having to pay a bill that they can't or don't want to pay.
DID I MISS ANY TRICKY SITUATIONS? PUT THEM BELOW IN THE COMMENTS
AND I'LL GIVE YOU YOUR HOW TO HANDLE!