How Being a Service Provider Attracts Nightmare Clients

Think back to your worst client experience ever. How much money would it take for you to be willing to work with them again?

We all have a nightmare client story (or four), don’t we?

…Maybe it’s the client who sends 50 emails a day and then takes forever to get back to you. 
….Or the client that expects more work than initially discussed, and then balks when you charge them for it.
…Or the client that shares feedback and changes from their husband/wife/brother/neighbor long after you’ve made a decision together.
…It’s the client that can’t communicate what they want from you and ultimately shrugs and admits they are just waiting for the feeling that it’s right (also known as “I’ll know it when I see it”).

I’ve been in all these scenarios many times—but never again!

What turned it around? 

I realized that these clients weren’t nightmare clients at all— it was me the whole time!  It turns out that, despite my best efforts and intentions, I wasn’t communicating clearly, I wasn’t setting and managing expectations, and I wasn’t managing the process like the leader that every project needs to succeed.

In other words, I was acting like a service provider instead of acting like an expert, and that was the reason my clients were driving me nuts.

What I learned later is that the transition to expert is the key to eliminating the nightmare clients from your life forever.

Service Provider vs. Expert

One of my clients, Joy, started in business as a service provider: “Hire me for $40/hour to write your blog posts!” she said. A client hired her, and she quoted three hours for an article. 

The client liked the first draft but requested some changes. Joy disagreed with some of the changes, but she wanted to make her client happy.

Then the client showed it to his wife, and she had some more edits to suggest. These edits, in Joy’s opinion, made the article more vague, which she didn’t think was very effective. But the client insisted that his wife was a smart woman, and he wanted the changes. Joy struggled to implement the changes as they went against what she believed was good writing. 


Then, after a few more rounds of revisions, Joy realized she had gone two hours over her quote (not even including the phone calls and back-and-forth emails). Now, she was more than five hours into the project, and she had to bill the client $200 instead of the $120 she quoted. 

The client didn’t understand—the article needed lots of editing; why would that mean the client had to pay more?

Joy didn’t understand—the client wanted more work; why shouldn’t he have to pay more?

Stressed out and worried about angering this client, she suggested splitting it down the middle and charging him $160. He begrudgingly paid but still asks for one more final edit before he’d send the money.

And that, my friends, is just one small and all-too-common example of a service provider and a client playing out.

Sure, Joy got the job done, but who was really in control of that scenario? What value did she bring to the table? The client hired an order taker, not an expert, and I know that’s not how most of us want to be seen in our business.

So, let me break down the difference:

  • Service providers are hired to do what the client says, while experts are hired to lead the client.

  • Service providers charge hourly, while experts charge based on value.

  • Service providers have a cap on their income, but experts can continually raise their prices, usually without question.

  • Service providers are in a position to try to please, while experts are respected for their opinion, even if it’s the hard truth.

  • Service providers operate like the client is always right, while experts are hired to give guidance.

  • Service providers are treated like outsourced employees, and experts are brought in as hired guns.

Why would anyone want to be a service provider? I don’t think it’s really a matter of desire but rather not knowing the difference or how to make that transition.

What Does It Take to Gain Expert Status?

If you’re a service provider right now, don’t feel bad. We ALL start this way because this is the default “model” that everyone falls into without a plan.

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We fall into this trap because we have a desire to please our clients and be liked by them. Many people are scared that if they DON’T act like a service provider, they will scare away sales.

Truthfully, most don’t have the confidence to lead the client. It feels easier to let the client lead and do whatever they ask to make them happy.

Without a framework for acting like an expert, EVERYONE naturally falls into the default model of a service provider. And when you act like a service provider, prospects can’t see the value you bring.

You end up attracting the very clients that drive you nuts AND scaring away the clients who actually want an expert and are willing to pay for that value. 

As a service provider, you’ll always have to work more to make more, and that’s not why you went into business in the first place, is it?

Granted, you can’t fake being an expert when you’re just starting out. But what you can do is structure your business so you are more than just an order taker, and then work your way up to expert status.

This means knowing what a good client looks like and putting them through a vetting process before they sign on. It means recognizing your value and what you want your clients to walk away with. It’s being able to set the right expectations upfront, prove your value through your work, and remind the client you have their best interest at heart when making decisions for them.

To get to that expert level, focus on building your credibility and expertise first—in fact, you will gain traction FASTER by being already set up as an expert because you will be focused in your efforts and learning.

Something Magical Happens When You Go From Service Provider to Expert

It’s not easy to stand up for your client’s best interests, especially when you’re new in the business. You’re eager to get started and will accept whatever work comes your way until you can start being more selective. But when you’re on this route, you’ll either never really reach the point of being selective, or it will take you years.

But when you stop being a service provider and start acting like an expert, an amazing thing happens: you get to spend your time doing what you love and do best instead of wasting all your time with scope creep, chasing invoices, and “urgent” client requests.

You get that time-freedom as well as the freedom to name your price (as long as it’s supported by the value you bring). Your reputation soars and can help you attract the clients you really want to work with. You’re doing things your way rather than bending to every whim and wish of the client, which means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.

And you’re happier and more successful as a result. Why would you want to be anything less than an expert? 

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Pia Silva