Why You Should Let Your Client Make a Mistake

Why You Should Let Your Client Make a Mistake

Some clients don’t want your help.

They say they do. They come to you for advice and listen to your good suggestions on solving a problem they complain about.

And then they do nothing. No matter how easy, fast, cheap or effective the solutions you propose might be, some people can’t be convinced to go for it. They’re comfortable with their problems. They’re used to their misery.

Better the devil they know, after all.

Change?

Well now. That’s just crazy talk.

It’s much easier for many people to stay stuck sighing about their problems and hesitating on change. “It’s just not the right time… I’m not sure this would work… it sounds too risky right now… maybe I should just leave things as they are. It’s not so bad.”

Fear wins, every time.

It’s easy to get frustrated with this kind of behavior, especially when you’ve moved past it (for the most part) and know how great life is on the other side.

I’ve heard many freelancers complain about clients who won’t move forward, even though it’s painfully clear they should. Ugly websites, bad strategies, terrible copy, outdated everything… no wonder these clients aren’t getting any new business coming in.

You’ll likely recognize the frustration of these freelancers: “But I can help this client, and it’d be so much better for him!! It’s like I’m talking to a wall. Why won’t he just try this one thing?! I can’t understand him…”

I can. Clients get stuck in hesitation because there’s something they need to learn, something they need to understand, or something they need to do – and they’re just not ready for it yet.

Being willing to change is one thing. Being ready to change is another.

We all hold ourselves back to some extent or another, in different areas of our life. I do, you do, everyone does, whether we’re avoiding making a brave step forward or hesitating on some tiny little change.

If only we had a crystal ball. If only we could know we weren’t making a mistake. If only we could be sure…

Your clients feel the same way. They have worries and concerns and fears, and some aren’t comfortable with taking risks or experimentation.

You can address their objections – and you should. You can use your best, most convincing arguments in hopes of changing their mind. But working to convince them when you’re clearly not getting anywhere is a waste of time.

Best to just give up. Even if it hurts. Even if it frustrates you to no end. Even if it makes you angry.

Give it up, and let it go. Be kind to people, of course, even if you think they’re total idiots for not making this change. Be sympathetic and understanding. You’re still dealing with real people and while they may not be ready to move forward, they still deserve your support and respect.

You don’t have to respect their fears, of course. Fear never really deserves respect. But the person does. Respect that they’re struggling with a fear, have much yet to learn, and leave them to it.

Read that again: Leave them to it.

Many people need to learn their lessons the hard way. You know you could help them avoid that heartache, but they just won’t listen, and that’s okay.

Let your clients make a mistake. Your clients need to fail from time to time. They need to get poor results. They need to have their blog flop or their website die a slow death. They need to have stuff go wrong.

If they never experience negative consequences, they don’t learn to make better choices. Positive experiences are nice, but they don’t teach you as well as the school of hard knocks.

Don’t hold back when a client asks for help, of course. Just recognize when you’re wasting your breath, and let it go. It’s your client’s opportunity to learn and grow, and you shouldn’t take that away from anyone.

Of course, offer to be there should your client ever change his mind or need assistance. Some clients realize that they’re about to make a mistake and see the light. Some make the mistake and come back for help fixing things up.

Then you get to hear these lovely words: “You were right. I should’ve listened to you in the first place.”

If you truly want to help people change for the better… wait until they’re ready to make that change. They’ll come to you, with a look of fierce steel in their eyes and a determined growl in their voice as they say, “I want this. I need this. I have to do this. Help me, please.”

It sounds so much better than, “Yeah, I know, but…”

Your time, expertise and experience are precious. They’re worth sharing with those who are ready to put them to good use.

Those who aren’t? Let ’em be. You aren’t being cruel. They’ll come to you… when they’re good and ready change.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. James, that is spot on!

    And… the 80/20 rule applies here as well.

    If you use your time and expertise to help those that are ready to change, you’ll produce a lot more results for your clients. And once you’ll become known for producing results (and don’t forget to highlight that in your sales copy), you’ll attract more clients that are ready to change and so on.

    • I agree, Yoav, and the 80/20 principle would also apply to your mental frustration and wasted energy trying to convince people to do something different. (Unless you’re billing for your time, of course – ha!)

  2. Bravo! I can identify with this from both sides of the fence. Certainly there have been clients (and…ahem…family members) who chose not to act on my advice. But I have also been the one to be slow to act on advice from someone ahead of me on the journey, and it must have been frustrating for them. Even now in my mastermind group, my mentors seem to see more potential in me than I’m exhibiting or seeing myself. BUT, timing is everything, and I know I have been moving in the right direction, albeit slowly at times. This was a terrific post, James.

    • Oh for SURE! We all have areas in our life where we’re the ones holding back because we just aren’t at the point where we’re willing to do the work to go forward… or sometimes even just face the fear that first step of going forward requires.

      Like giving up a fine glass of wine after a good day’s work. Just. Not. Ready. To. Go. There. 😉

  3. What you’re talking about here is not just courageous; it’s a great business practice. As editors, ghostwriters, project managers – whatever our role – our time and expertise is valuable. It’s easy (if we’re compassionate folk) to want to hang on to the unhelpable (not a word…), but its not wise. The greatest benefit I’ve received by letting go is that I now work exclusively with clients who are teachable and desire to vanquish their fears, no matter what it takes. They’re willing to put in the hard work, which makes me more enthusiastic to work hard for them because I will experience satisfaction, not frustration.

  4. I agree totally. Great article. I am working with a client right now on two different projects. I agreed to them both several months ago, signing contracts on the same day. The first project I was told at the time was a major priority to get done. I jumped in with both feet and began to plug away, but in order to fully complete even a draft of the type of content writing the client was seeking I needed access to both people and information within the firm. I was told I would be given access to both. It never occurred. I put together what I could on that first project and sent it for feedback, I never heard back. I followed up…you get the picture. The second project, which was lower priority, actually gained some traction before that too went by the wayside at some point a few months ago. I resigned myself to the fact that they would come to me when they were ready. It is difficult but I have other clients and other projects that deserve my time on top of the news writing pitches and assignments I have received over the last few months which have kept me very busy. It is tough but necessary, maybe one day they will come back, and I hope it will be because they are “ready” this time.

  5. You’re right. Sometimes it’s not worth the stress trying to convince your client to change or to accept your advice. You just have to realize that they won’t always do things you tell them.

  6. Ha, great article…and let me tell you, this works with husbands too! I can’t tell you the number of times I “leave him to it,” knowing full good and well that whatever he’s proposing is going to run into complications or other obstacles. It’s always easier to just sit back and let it happen (of course, not if it’s life threatening or dangerous) and then pick up the pieces and work together towards a better solution afterwards. Just have to bite my tongue, and never say “told ya so,” because that would just breed resentment.

  7. This is remarkably true in the therapy business. Perhaps more true given – much to our shock and disbelief – therapy doesn’t actually work for everyone. Leaving our own expectations at the door and letting the client make the mistake(s) – and accepting that it’s okay to make mistake(s) – is a valuable life lesson I believe. For all involved.

    Reminds me of the psychological axiom; nobody does anything they don’t want to to do.

  8. Oh James, it’s as though you’ve been sat in my office listening to me rant at the dog! I have had so many clients – and potential clients – in this position it’s actually encouraging to read that it’s not just me (I did on occasion wonder whether I just wasn’t communicating WHY effectively enough).

    You’re right though. We all need to learn from our mistakes and there’s absolutely no reason why that should be different for our clients. I will bear this in mind in the future – because I’m sure it will happen again 🙂

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