It’s taken me a long time to write this story. I’ve avoided it – sat down to do it more than once and then found some distraction or another. It’s a hard one for a number of reasons – firstly, in how close we came to the edge. Further, in how personally responsible for that I was.
I’ve had to do a lot of healing and self-forgiveness around it, and I’m still not totally there.
It’s scary talking about this – which is why I think you don’t hear about it often – because a part of you is afraid that you’ll give people ideas. Or that it’s the equivalent of standing on a mountain in a thunder storm holding a lightning rod, screaming that all Gods are bastards (I stole that analogy from Gulliver) – that is, that you’re tempting fate and that you’ll be punished for it.
Yep – even people who see themselves as being as big and bad as The Leela get jumpy and fearful around this. It leaves that much of scar on your psyche.
So, okay, here goes – disclaimer, all Gods are not bastards and I respect you all – let’s talk about:
In every coaching business I’ve ever encountered that’s managed to get itself past the $1Million mark (in cash, annually) – there has been a client rebellion.
If you’re resistant to this idea – if you don’t believe it, think it won’t happen to you – than one of two things is true, either:
- You’re not at the million dollar mark; or
- Your rebellion is just around the corner.
It’s not a personal failing – it’s a right of passage. Although it often doesn’t feel that way at the time.
What Does It Look Like?
A client starts going through the group and talking to other clients privately. This is not necessarily someone who is discontented with their results – on more than one occasion, I’ve seen this person be someone whose gotten massive results with the coach – in fact, it’s more likely to be someone who covets what you have. They figure your success is pretty obvious and easy to replicate – if they had all of your clients, they’d be making the same money as you.
So they start talking to people and trying to sow seeds. You get the first drop out and you’re like – okay. The second and you start to get suspicious because they’re using similar language. The third, fourth, fifth and so forth and you know for sure – you’re in the middle of a client rebellion.
It’s natural to take this personally and to start to look at what you could possibly have done to offend people – that’s a sign of someone with a high level of personal responsibility, which is why you get to where you are in the first place.
And there is always a lesson you can take away from any situation like this. Maybe your contracts need to be better. Maybe your delivery needs to be better. Maybe you need to up the value. You can always find something to improve.
But taking too much responsibility for it is the kiss of death.
I like to look at it like seasons.
It’s autumn and your least healthy clients are dropping off like deciduous leaves. Because, with the exception of maybe the instigator, it’s never your best clients, is it? It’s not the ones who were hitting goals and smashing it. It wasn’t the top 8 percent who were doing the hard work and moving forward.
Oh, no – it’s always the ones at the bottom. And sometimes the ones languishing somewhere in the middle.
While you may be tempted to blame the instigator – you have to remember, people make their own decisions.
I always think – God. What kind of a person would you have to be, firstly to teach this? Because yes Virginia – there are ‘coaches’ teaching ‘join a program and steal the clients’ as a marketing and sales strategy. I know. I was also blown away.
Secondly, what kind of a person would you have to be to hear someone tell you to use that strategy and think “oh, great idea!”?
And thirdly, what kind of a person would you have to be to see someone who’d done well in the same program as you, badmouthing their coach and encouraging people to drop out and think “THAT is the person I want to learn from!” like legit, if they’ll cheat with you, they’ll cheat on you.
Why do they do this?
Without fail, if you scratch the surface, these people all have really serious money issues.
I’ll guarantee that they run patterns around ‘everyone who has money is evil’ and ‘you can only get money by fucking people over’.
And instead of dealing with those limitations before they start their business, they’re like – okay, well if you can only get money by fucking people over … and I want to be successful and make money … then I’ll just have to fuck people over!
How To Deal With a Client Rebellion
Okay, so the whats and the whys are all fine – but what do you do if you find yourself in the middle of a client rebellion?
Firstly let me say – this is pretty general advice. When I’m working with clients and this issue comes up, we deal on a case by case basis. Some are pretty tame – others are more extreme. Some you can deal with yourself, others require a lawyer.
The most important thing, though, is how you deal with this situation mentally.
The adrenaline and cortisol spikes that go with this kind of an event can cause real and lasting damage to your body – the burnout is real, kids.
If you can process this all while it’s happening, you’ll find yourself better able to deal and make good decisions – and you’ll limit the long-term damage you’re doing to yourself.
Step 1: Where is my responsibility in this?
This stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I’m not saying the behaviour on the other side is right – but you can’t control other people. All you can do is look at yourself and what you can improve.
One of my biggest take aways from our major rebellion in 2014 was to get proper contracts done up. Before that, we’d been really like “yeah, come, go, whatever – it’s all cool”.
I had this moment where people were dropping out and refunding – but I have a working class girls commitment to paying my bills. We were in a US$40,000 program we’d committed to, but because of the circumstances we found ourselves in, couldn’t take advantage of.
One day, as I hit the $50k in refunds mark, a US$5k bill for this program became payable. I wasn’t going to miss it, because that’s who I am. But I found myself annoyed. I said to Gulliver,
“The buck always stops with us. Like, we pay our bills, but other people treat us like they don’t have to pay theirs, and we get stuck holding the bag.”
And suddenly, it hit me.
We weren’t demanding that people hold their commitments. We weren’t even taking it seriously enough to have a contract in place.
And if WE weren’t taking our business that seriously, how could we expect our clients to?
That single breakthrough, right there, was worth every cent and all the heartache of that rebellion – it took me to a whole new level of personal responsibility and serious commitment to my business.
Step 2: It’s not about you
Here’s the thing, I’m pretty sure if you look at the clients who are rebelling you can tell me about the twinge you had when you sold them. The moment of knowing – this might not be quite right.
I’m sure there were warnings beforehand – grumbling in the Facebook group (or total lack of communication).
There are definitely things you could fix in your process and your business.
It’s easy, then, to blame yourself.
But the reality is – it’s not about you.
For people to work themselves up into doing something like this, they have to create all kinds of stories and make all sorts of meanings.
I often say that people talk to ‘imaginary Leela’ – and that chick is a HARD ass. She’s all like, “I don’t care if your grandmother died and your husband left and you’re dying of cancer – get on the damn phone you pussy!”. Whereas real Leela would be like – “dude, sounds like you need some time off. Family is the most important thing – your business will be there next week”.
But they treat Imaginary in-their-heads Leela as though she’s real. They have conversations with her. They get into arguments with her. And then they blame me for it. It’s kind of the equivalent of being mad at someone for what they did in a dream, I guess – I mean, I know it feels real, but it’s not.
One time, I had a client join a rebellion because she was outraged that when she tried to fat shame me, I shut her down and refused to feel guilty and ashamed of who I was.
Another time, I had a guy start a rebellion because he snuck into my house without my knowledge while I was away and engaged in behaviour I refused to tolerate.
Some people don’t like it when you draw boundaries – especially when they’re paying. They seem to think they have the right to do anything if they’re giving you money … but without fail, if you dig down you’ll see – they project what they tolerate.
They let people who are paying them treat them poorly, so they project that into other relationships.
Stories and projections – they’re always at the heart of this issue.
Step 3: They’re not bad people – they’re just on their own learning curve
This is probably the hardest one to deal with, when a person (or people) are assaulting you from all sides.
When you find yourself muttering under your breath,
“You *?%$# #$%#$%”
You have to remind yourself – no one is evil in their own minds. Every one on the planet – including rapists and murderers – can tell you the perfectly reasonable explanation for why they had to do what they did.
You know that old saying about how resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die? That’s what this is.
Of everything that’s happening right now, this is the most dangerous to your business.
Because there’s always more clients and more money.
But if you let these situations make you believe that everyone sucks and everyone will fuck you over, you’ll destroy your business in the process.
The best advice I can offer here is – take all of that energy you’re putting into being angry at people who are attacking you … and put it, instead, into over-delivering to the clients who are still with you.
Focus on gratitude and love for the good clients, instead of letting the resentment towards the bad clients eat you alive.
Don’t let this situation turn you into a bitter despot – it’s easy to do. I’ve seen it a million times. The reality is – you can’t control human beings. They’re going to do what they’re going to do.
All you can control is how you respond and who you become in the process.
If you focus on anger and resentment, you’ll become angry and resentful.
If you focus on love and gratitude, you’ll become loving and grateful.
I know, from personal experience, how hard that is. Really I do. I know it feels like a Sisyphean task, and you don’t know if you’re up to it. But I promise you – if, every time you fall into brooding and anger, you catch yourself and redirect your energy to love and gratitude – you will come out of this stronger and better for it.
Avoiding Client Rebellions in The Future
Look, here’s the thing – I get that when someone else’s failed client comes to you and bitches about their last coach, it’s easy to get egoic about the situation. You know you’re better than the competition. You know that YOU can get them results.
Except that no one ‘gets’ anyone else results. I mean, I have some of the best testimonials in the industry – I have clients who regularly go from $100k to $1M+ in 24 months. But I didn’t ‘get’ them those results.
Sure, I gave them the tools. Sure, I helped them. But I guarantee you that every one of those clients would have gotten there with or without my help. Maybe we sped up the process – but even that was because they chose to do the work, not because of anything I did.
I have had a LOT more clients over the years who’ve done various levels of nothing. Because that was their choice. I’m sure a good chunk of them have some things to say about how our material “doesn’t work”.
And at the end of the day, they’re right. Content doesn’t work. People do. And if the people buying the content don’t learn it, and then work with it, there won’t be a result of any kind.
After having made this mistake multiple times, I’ve learned my lesson – if someone comes to me bitching about their last coach, I won’t take them on.
If I find out they’ve been involved in a client rebellion with someone else – I will literally avoid them like the plague.
Because I know I just said they weren’t bad people – and they’re not – but the best indicator of future performance is past behaviour.
If you’ve shown me that you’re someone who can’t take responsibility for your decisions and own your actions, I don’t want to work with you.
I’ve bought some crappy programs in my time – I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on things that ‘didn’t work’. Not once have I asked for a refund. Not once have I stolen another coaches clients. Not once have I sued, attacked or badmouthed people for my own gain.
Instead, I’ve chalked the situation up to experience. I’ve taken the value I could from it – even if the value was: this is how I don’t want to do things and who I don’t want to be.
I’ve sat with myself and asked – what was it that attracted me to this persons work in the first place?
Very often, when I dig down, it was my own weakness. In a fit of ‘There has to be an easier way’, I bought the great ‘internet button that rains millions from the sky’ or some other such ridiculous promise that I know, deep down, isn’t true.
That’s okay – I’m able to forgive myself for that.
But a lot of people, instead of forgiving themselves for having a moment of weakness, project their anger onto the person they bought from – and no one will ever attack you with as much vehemence as when their anger is really aimed at themselves.
At the end of the day – client rebellions are a natural part of existence within this industry. They suck – but they’re also a good personal learning curve, if you choose to take them that way. You can let them destroy you – or they can be the catalyst for strengthening your business, and becoming a better person.
The choice is yours.
Next week, I’m going to put out an article on staff rebellions – what happens when it’s not the clients, but the internal staff, that cause these issues.
If you’ve got feedback, questions, or stories on the topic, and would possibly like me to include them in the article, e-mail them to me here. I’m happy to keep it anonymous if you want, just let me know.