Last week in our VAClassroom event, a question arose on how to deal with “Draining Clients”. I am sure we can all relate at one time or another to those clients who

• Relentlessly invade our time and space

• Assume they are our only client and should demand our immediate attention

• Skype us late at night for an urgent demand the next morning

• Are highly disorganized and “fly by the seat of their pants” all the time

• Want us to be available full-time but are only willing to pay us part-time.

I could build a much bigger list, but I will stop there. Have you experienced those types of clients recently? Are they causing you great anxiety and sleepless nights? If so, what can we do to effectively and tactfully manage these high-maintenance clients?

Here are a couple helpful tips to consider

1. Be honest with the client. Sometimes, clients are not actually aware of how they are behaving with you until you have a candid conversation with them. In talking with them, I would lead with the positive. Let them know the things that you enjoy about the work, but then be honest about those areas that need to be improved. These conversations are not always easy, but what is the alternative – more stress and sleepless nights?

2. Set clear communication boundaries with the client. This should be done from Day 1 (ideally), but let the client know the best ways that they can communicate with you and also clearly outline the times you are NOT available. If you hate the relentless Skyping, then present a more attractive communication alternative to them. It is important to let them know that you have other clients and that quick turnarounds on urgent projects will not always happen. You might consider setting a standard communication turnaround time that they can expect. For example, let them know you will always respond to their emails within a 24-hour period unless it is on the weekend. Setting healthy boundaries with your clients will liberate you. Yes, you run the risk of losing those “ultra-demanding” clients, but that might not be a bad thing.

3. If you have been honest with the client and reset new boundaries and the client continues their “old ways”, then it might be time to have that difficult conversation and “disinvite” them from your client list.

Important Note: In this challenging economy, it might not be financially viable to simply “fire” your client, so my suggestion would be to ramp up your marketing efforts and seek to find a client (sooner than later) that will fill the spot of this difficult client. Once you have that in place, then you can fire him or her!

Of course, the best way to deal with difficult clients is to avoid getting involved with them in the first place. This can be tricky, but the blog post “How to Spot Difficult Clients before Signing a Contract” first of all recommends listening to your gut:

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book, Blink, that “your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions” about people or situations.

So, don t discount that ‘iffy feeling you get when you first start discussing a project with a client. That ‘feeling is your gut telling you to pay attention. If you get that uneasy feeling, jot down why you feel that way and see if they add up to a strong reason NOT to take the project.

This post also goes on to list a few easy-to-spot red flags you can look for during initial discussions with a client that can help determine his or her “potential for difficulty”.

our upcoming Project Management Skills clinic, we will continue to address the issue of client relationships head on and discuss some communication strategies for managing projects if you do find yourself working with a difficult client.

In the meantime, though, we hope the above tips have been helpful in giving you some tools for handling high-maintenance clients. If you have any questions or advice from your experience as a Virtual Assistant or online business owner, please share your thoughts in the comment box below or on our VAClassroom Facebook Page.