In part one and two of this series, I covered a type of vampirism among client types that draw a high emotional toll in exchange for their business. I introduced you to both the “airy-fairy” client and the “looking into” client, neither of which are prone to readily offer commensurate pay for your experience. You can’t do much to change these types of clients; but you can change yourself. To succeed in business, you’ve simply got to have a pirate attitude. This doesn’t mean you have to loot and plunder; it means you have to know what you deserve and go after it with full force. In the case of the third client type here, the “sounding board” client, it means you’ve got to have a cut-throat business attitude that leaves no room for nonsense.

Type 3: The “Sounding Board” Client
I wish these stories were fictitious, but they’re not. Recalling this type of client leaves me with a sort of business post-traumatic stress disorder. The “sounding board” client will talk and talk and talk; sometimes it’s to sound their ideas off you, while other times I’m convinced it’s to hear the sound of their own voice.

In one case, I had a client who came in for a meeting about her project and left four hours later – after recanting what felt like her life story paired with her business hopes and aspirations. Though exhausted and frustrated, the team at the time endured what this client saw as a friendly chat simply because they needed her business. We walked away from that meeting with two key tips for the next meeting.

  1. Tip 1: Set up an appointment window. Do not tell a client they have an appointment at 1pm, per say. Rather, tell them you have a window from 1-1:45 (because no one actually leaves at their appointed time, and since goodbyes and exits take another 15 minutes, you can reasonably expect to be done by 2pm and neatly on to the next item on your list).
  2. Tip 2: Create a meeting memorandum that you share with the client at the time of the meeting (or at least let them see you have an agenda to go off of). This gives you a good excuse to cut short a rant and move on to the next important item of business related to their project. If there’s simply no getting around a client with these handy tips, you might just want to consider factoring in long meetings and chats into the cost of the project. After all, it is your time they’re using up.

Another type of “sounding off” client holds a similar behavior pattern in terms of using you as a sounding board to share their business aspirations, goals, strategies, and roadblocks. They’ll want multiple meetings with you to discuss their plans – even though they haven’t signed off on a contract or offered a deposit. This type of delusional client feels like they’re including you in their great idea. Mind you, they’re not including you in the profits; they’re just including you in the conversation (and usually in the hopes of soliciting free advice). They indulge in a sort of vanity that makes them feel important. They might even go so far as to invite you for last minute Sunday brunches so they can tell you all about their business.

Emotional Toll: You have enough on your plate. Unless you’re a psychiatrist, you don’t need extensive details about other people’s business problems.

Lesson Learned: Watch for Any One of These Trigger Traits

You’re their sounding board, their therapist, their new best friend…everything but their vendor. Don’t hold your breath for this type of client to ever sign on the dotted line. Still, if you’re hard pressed and need the business, then use the rule of “thought value” as seen in part 2 of this series and let the client know that you can only do business (or offer consultation) once you’re on retainer and have secured a deposit.

In each client type, the “airy-fairy” client, the “looking into” client, and the “sounding board” client, you’re looking at a cocktail of emotional toll and minimal earning potential. Yet the real nail in the coffin here isn’t a loss of potential earnings or taking on an extreme load – it’s spending time on a project or person that you weren’t able to walk away with. For any business, particularly first timers, it’s crucial to not only have a successful transaction but to also have a transaction that you can build on. You don’t want the desperate one time client. You want a client you can work with again and again – to both your mutual benefit and gain. Unfortunately, early entrepreneurs are vulnerable to exploitation, most typically faced in the three scenarios in this series.