Grow Your Image Business

Navigating difficult personalities: How to handle tricky clients with grace and professionalism

If you’re a member of my Savvy Stylists Facebook group, you’ll have seen that often I go live in the group to answer your burning questions about anything related to growing your image business. I had a juicy question come up recently and just had to share my thoughts with you. 👇

Here is the question from Vanessa:

“You know as we take on a client, we become in a way therapists/cheerleaders/style buddies/teachers of our clients, I’ve found myself in uncomfortable situations a couple of times with clients where I have tried to be very cautious about addressing the situation in the most professional way and trying to subtly remind her that our relationship is strictly professional.

I’ll present two examples below:

1) I once had a client who would write me and vent to me details about her personal life and wrote me once telling me about the fight she had with her boyfriend and asking for advice.

I understood that with her confidence and style transformation came other internal subjects that were associated with this self-improvement journey, but I also couldn’t be investing my time and energy being her therapist-friend because, well, time is money, aside from it being unprofessional.

2) There was one time when I was doing some Personal Shopping with a client (who had been a client for a while) and she loved everything we bought, everything was great and projected the woman she wanted to project, and 2 days later she wrote me and said she hated everything we got and that she looked ridiculous in those clothes and who was she trying to fool, and that she was taking back everything.

I was stunned. I knew her and knew it was a matter of lack of self-confidence, but I struggled a lot to say the correct words as a professional trying to calm her down and convince her she needed to take a step back and breathe and not return those clothes because she wasn’t thinking clearly, and we could address it the next day.

I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on how to handle such sensitive issues with clients, Aileen. Thank you.”

Here’s what I recommend that you do to avoid Vanessa’s tricky client no.1 who was looking for therapist-type support.

1) Enforce clear boundaries.

t’s essential that you’re clear on the services you do and don’t provide. You need to be clear on whether you provide colour, style, wardrobe editing and shopping. Then you might have other qualifications or experience in additional areas like confidence coaching, career coaching, millinery or makeup artistry, for example, that you tie into your image services. Your services are your boundaries, and if clients ask you to step outside your boundaries, that’s when you should recommend them to someone else who is an expert in that other area.

It’s very common for our clients to try and cross boundaries because helping them with colour, style and shopping is a very intimate experience and you build strong relationships. However, you can easily end up with clients messaging you every day or popping in to see you.

It happened to me in Singapore. I had one particular client who would drop into my studio every time she’d been shopping and ask my opinion on the clothes she’d bought, and after a while, it became a problem. My boundary should’ve been something like, you can pop in twice after a consultation for my opinion on new purchases, but after that, you’ll have to pay for another appointment. It’s easy to see in hindsight!

It’s all well and good, enforcing clear boundaries with new clients, but how can you re-establish boundaries if you’ve let existing clients blur them, I hear you ask?

In this case, I’d send a general email to everyone on your mailing list highlighting your boundaries and explaining that you’re making changes to the way you operate your business now because it’s getting busier, and you have less time available to support with issues outside of your core services. If your clients persist in pushing you, you can politely point them to your email and say no.

2) Build a network of contacts you can refer to.

Successful business comes down to building relationships, so grow your circle of contacts. LinkedIn is a brilliant place to find like-minded solo business owners. Look for people who might be able to help your clients if they have problems you can’t solve and refer them. If you get to know people, you’ll find that they refer clients to you too, so it’s a win-win!

I developed a good relationship with a counsellor and therapist, which was perfect for clients who were going through messy divorces or needed a lot of emotional support. I also had relationships with an excellent hair salon, even a plastic surgeon and a hair transplant specialist!

Building your network and being clear on your boundaries upfront avoids any awkwardness later on because you can immediately refer to someone else for anything that’s outside of your area of expertise.

Turning now to Vanessa’s tricky client no.2 who changed her mind about her lovely new clothes:

I agree totally with Vanessa’s assessment that this poor lady was really struggling with a lack of confidence and self-esteem. There could also have been some additional mental health challenges at play too.

I’ve had a similar challenge in the past with one of the clients who bought my online colour training program. Over several weeks she was telling me she was loving the course, but then about six weeks in, she came back to me asking for a refund because she’d got no value out of it! I replied to her message explaining it was a surprise that she’d had such a change of heart about it, and then the next day, her husband contacted me demanding the refund.

Fortunately, I was able to share the emails where she’d said how much she was enjoying the course and how much she was learning from it. I then pointed him to my refund policy on my website, which clearly states the timescales in which to request a refund, which had passed, and I declined it.

What I’m saying is, to avoid clients who change their minds, having previously loved your work and support, you need to plan in advance and create a clear refund policy and don’t shy away from applying it.

I think Vanessa handled her situation well, getting the client to step back and take some deep breaths, after clearly being quite wound up and upset. Was there any correspondence, emails, texts, or WhatsApp messages she sent you, saying how pleased she was after the shopping trip? If so, I’d have resent them to her and gently reminded her how happy she’d been and that it’s normal to have off days and blips in confidence, but she really did look fabulous and said as much herself!

If you’ve followed the advice above and developed a network of contacts, you could even signpost her to someone who can help if she feels that she needs support to work through any issues with self-esteem.

There are many people with lots of deep-rooted issues out there, and from time to time, you’ll get them to work with as clients and it will be a challenge. It’s more common in the earlier stages of business because until you’re confident in your marketing, you’ll get the odd one who isn’t the best fit. However, over time, as your confidence grows, and you refine your messages, you’ll get clients who are a much better fit and, rather than cause you problems, are a dream to work with!

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