How to handle haters and angry customers

4 min read
08 Jul

I will be real here, I do not handle confrontation well. I'm very much a fight or flight person and my first instinct is to fight. I'm like an angry little chihuahua where I know I'm short and I'll probably get my teeth knocked in but I'm sure going to make a lot of noise and get at least one bite in. But in the professional world you can't act like that and expect to get anywhere in your business. Even if you are right in the argument you still can be seen in the wrong light and it hurts your brand and reputation. Now I've been yelled at by my parents, scolded by teachers and bosses, I've been fired and I've been in fights with friends. In most of those cases I held back my true feelings and spoke my mind. Most...of...the....time. My mouth has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion and I can't say I'm always proud of that because I may have gotten the last word in, it sure didn't help me in the long run. 

So with all of that said, since starting my own business I've learned to bite my tongue and just shut up instead of making a situation worse. Oh I still hold my own with my sister and husband but I don't write anymore angry posts on Facebook no matter what the situation is. No need to be a keyboard warrior and fight battles that don't matter or post random posts complaining about family. 

Recently I've run into two situations that set me back a little in the biting my tongue department. I won't get into the details of each because again I'm not here to openly discuss these situations but I do want to mention them and how to handle them.

1st situation: A webdesign client seemed to be pleased with my work but then 10 days later was not happy at all. During a meeting, words were exchanged as well as me ending my services. Okay I was flat out fired. I was surprised by the whole thing because I thought everything was working out and was not expecting this. I will admit I was angry and confused at first and then very hurt after because I tried to figure out how I was not wrong in the situation. I don't like to be wrong. I could have been immature and fired back on the internet. I could have yelled and made accusations back during the meeting but we parted amicably and I think this is important because this client does live in my neighborhood and our kids go to the same school but also we are both small business owners who again work in this area and meet with the same people. I have since looked at the situation with clear eyes and I'm thankful I didn't act out. Part was I was in shock but the other part was I had to be mature. I didn't have to be right and I didn't need to put the situation out there for everyone to read or hear about. It sucks to be fired and it's not fun to be told you were wrong and did wrong when you feel like you need to defend yourself and your work. But what does that do for my future business? Does that get me more clients and customers when I'm trying to be right? I've learned from this situation and now I can apply that back to my business. I need to work on my calendar so I can make sure I schedule enough time for certain projects, apply a few new policies to my contracts so I make it clear what is expected of me and the client and I can be passionate about my work but I don't need to take it personal. This is business and one critique is not going to stop me from doing what I love.

2nd situation: I am in over 20 some business groups or mom groups that allow business posts. I honestly can't even keep track of half of them anymore because some start to blend with others. Last week I went to post in a group I hadn't posted in in a while. I go to search for it and when it comes up I find out I'm not a member. I was a member a few weeks ago so this is weird. I go to message the founder of the group who I've had a few chats with and we were friends on Facebook. I find out she's not my friend. Okay so that is weird because I didn't realize we weren't friends either. So I send her a friendly message to ask why I was kicked out of the group. She responds to my message shortly after and explains that my group, The Broad Collective is too similar to her group and she felt I should focus on my group. She removed herself from my group because she felt that was fair. She also explained that the admins for her group all took a vote on this and if I felt it was unjust I could state my case to them. After continuing our chat I find out she's also kicked my admins out of her group without telling them and then continued to tell me things about my group that weren't true. Sure I could be upset and believe me later I was but in my defense The Broad Collective is very important to me. It isn't like my business where I get paid to work hard. No, it is a group I truly believe in and am proud of the direction it is headed in. So of course I'm going to get offended when someone starts saying incorrect information about it. But I let that go. What bothered me was that my admins were now being punished for not being allowed in a Facebook group because they were part of my group. No where in the rules does it say anything about being in other groups so not only were we kicked out for no reason but on top of it we weren't told about it. Also our group IS NO COMPETITION TO ANYONE because we aren't out to be competitive. We want to educate and empower. All women female business owners are welcome. We have multiple women from the same companies, we have more than 1 photographer in the group besides me. Never once have I thought when adding people to the group "nope sorry this person can't join because they are a direct competition to my business". Every single female who has requested to join has been approved and I am proud of that because there is plenty of business to go around. I am up for the challenge when I'm 1 of 1,000 photographers and trying to get picked for a job. So it bothers me that this group which is supposed to be for women business owners is now kicking people out for no reason other than competition but still hiding under that empowering women girl boss banner. That isn't empowering at all. Once again, I could have gone off about being kicked out of this group. And I did write a message to my admins saying I wanted to say something to this person but after I cooled off and they said they didn't care about being kicked out, I let it go. What do I need to prove to this person? If they don't want me in their group because I have my own group which is not hurting theirs and is not in competition with theirs then I will be the bigger person. They clearly are the ones with issues and by going off especially on social media it only hurts my group and me. And if I hurt my group I'm not only hurting it but I'm directly hurting the 300+ members because now they are associated with a group that is all about drama. I don't want that at all. It isn't worth it. 

In both situations they were really minor disagreements that could have gone way worse but I think if I was just starting out in business and not be as mature I think I would have blown up and not cared about the consequences. I've seen other small business owners do this especially on Facebook. It is so easy to get on there and complain about a client or someone else and hide behind your keyboard. The person wants to be right and get their opinion out there so badly they don't care how that makes them look to their clients and customers. Even if you are "right" it doesn't paint you in a good light. And just because you "won" this conversation what makes you think you will win the next? What are you willing to sacrifice to win? I'm not willing to sacrifice my 6 years as a small business owner and 14 years in the photography world. 

This also applies when I'm not in business mode. I am the face of my company. I am the brand so even though people don't always know I am the owner of a business I can still be traced back to it. The last thing I would want is to be arrested for something and have my mugshot online and when people go to find my business and see my name then google me and a mugshot comes up. I advertise on my vehicle so if I'm driving erratic, flipping people off, cutting people off and all of that then people will see that and associate it with my business. I'm not squeaky clean by any means. I have dark sense of humor, I was a wild child in my youth and yes I have been in trouble with the law in the past. But I work with children and I want parents to know they can trust me as their photographer.

I choose to avoid political discussions and taboo subjects even on social media because I don't want to lose out on a potential client or customer because I felt I needed to be right about something that isn't that black and white. Now I do stand up for a few things that I'm not willing to compromise on. I am an ally for the LGBTQA community and I will not argue with someone who disapproves of my stance. If you have a problem then you can find another photographer or artisan. I am an organ donor and believe in organ donation. I am an advocate for children, women and minorities. I back the Blue but I also recognize corruption just like there is in any profession. I believe in same sex and interracial marriages. These things do not define me but I will not compromise myself for someone who is against what I see as human rights. 

To end this post, I just want to say you really do have to watch what you say and do as a small business owner the same as if you are in another profession. Teachers can't say whatever they want on social media without consequences. And in the news there are always stories about someone running their mouth, usually racist/sexist and they get themselves fired. But you don't really get fired for your views when you own your own business. You just aren't hired for jobs. Sure you are entitled to your opinion but no one has to listen to it and no one has to buy from you. Every large business has to cover their butt in the public and same here. Public relations is important and PR reps make killer money doing damage control when someone's actions or words get them in trouble. Think before you speak or act. Social media is a beautiful thing because its free advertising but it also can kill your business if you don't work it correctly.