Top 5 Tips for Developing Well-Behaved Clients

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

We may like to think that animal training and child-rearing have nothing to do with establishing and maintaining business relationships with peers . . . but in some ways they’re not so different.  Puppies and babies and clients are like new love:  happiest when given a healthy set of boundaries and consistent expectations.  Here are the top 5 tips for making sure that your clients are giving you the respect (and the payments) that you deserve to receive!

1.  Start training your clients early on.  Set the standard from the beginning, especially when it comes to your expectations for payment.  It helps to have these set out in a written agreement with them so that there are no surprises.  While “old clients can be taught new tricks,” what’s learned earliest is often learned quickest and easiest.  Moreover, the more long-standing the clients, the more likely that their bad habits will need to be “un-learned”.

2.  Make sure your requests are clear.  I have heard complaints from entrepreneurs that some clients can be “stubborn” and “refuse to listen.”  Before blaming the client when he doesn’t respond in the way you want, look at your own conduct first.  Does your client know what you want?  Does he how to comply?  Are you sure he is not simply being unresponsive due to stress, confusion, or outside factors?

3.  Use the one-for-one (or two) rule.  One request (from you) should equal one response, so give your clients only one request (twice max!), then gently enforce it.  Clients tune out repeated requests (same as with nagging); the repetition teaches them that the first several requests are a “bluff.”  For example, repeatedly asking for an installment payment on a project is neither an efficient nor effective way to issue commands.  Simply give your clients a single written request for the payment (two, if absolutely necessary) and then gently let your clients know that you won’t be able to proceed unless and until they make the payment.  Once they do, don’t forget to say “thank you.”

4.  Avoid “threats” that you will not enforce.  When a client brings you to boiling point, it may be tempting to threaten to stop work, charge interest on an outstanding invoice, or take other action.  Don’t do it unless you are prepared to go all the way.  Every time you indicate that you will take a step to get clients to “heel” and don’t, teaches your clients that your word is “optional” and can be ignored.

5.  Finally, don’t reinforce misbehavior.  Often, small business owners inadvertently reinforce their clients’ misbehavior, by giving their clients lots of attention (albeit negative attention) when they act up, act out, get demanding, or repeatedly change their minds about the decisions they’ve made.  If you rush to appease a pest, rest assured that that behavior will be reinforced, and is therefore likely to be repeated.


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