This article was based on Episode # 29: Rachel Brenke’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!
“I’m good but I’m not God.” — Rachel Brenke
This is by far the most straightforward and practical story we have for you, out of all the client horror stories we have. If you’ve been following the client-horror story series, you’ve probably already seen a lot of surprising lessons and terrifying experiences from our guests. They were terrible and stressful, but this time we’ll attempt to lighten things up by sharing a lighter version of Rachel Brenke’s client horror story.
Rachel Brenke is the very first lawyer that would be sharing her client-horror story. I know what you’re thinking; Rachel is a lawyer, so surely she has a lot of horrible client-horror stories to share from her previous cases. But no, let’s not put pressure on her because not every lawyer faces awful clients.
As I said, we will calm things down and listen to a light story, so her narrative will become a welcoming relief from the more challenging experiences. Nevertheless, the lessons she will impart to you are the most practical and realistic teachings that everyone should be aware of. Let’s not drag things down, so sit back, take down some notes, and let’s begin Rachel’s client-horror story.
Rachel shared two different stories and highlighted two main lessons from them. The first lesson she imparted was the need to constantly communicate with your customers about what they may expect from you. It seems simple right? But wait till you hear how important setting your expectations is when handling clients.
To start, Rachel was diagnosed with cancer when she was 20 years old. During 2005, the doctors told her that they found a lump in her throat, and she was also pregnant during that time. At her initial visit, the physicians informed her that the lump was not malignant since it was too early in her life for her to be diagnosed with the disease. The doctors told her that she did not fall into the appropriate age category and that the tumor was just a minor issue.
The doctors advised Rachel not to be concerned, so she persuaded herself that the lump on her neck was not a major problem. If you were in Rachel’s shoes, you’d probably trust the doctor as well, wouldn’t you? After all, who wouldn’t? Doctors became doctors for a reason, and they are relied upon when it comes to providing medical advice to their patients.
Rachel was also pregnant when the doctors discovered the lumps on her neck, making it difficult for the doctors to pinpoint the side effects of the lumps. Rachel gained an extra 60 pounds in only three months, which she attributed to pregnancy-related side effects. Little did she realize, that she was gaining weight because of her cancer. Rachel’s age was another element that encouraged her to conclude that she did not have cancer.
She was 20 at the time, and she had developed the belief that she was invincible and that nothing could harm her. Rachel was still not persuaded that the tumor she had discovered was cancerous, so she went to the doctor and inquired about it. Rachel had to go through a series of procedures merely to get rid of the tumor in her throat. The physicians continued to tell Rachel that she did not have cancer and that they did not believe it was malignant despite all of the procedures she had.
Rachel was positive that she was not suffering from cancer since the doctors had repeatedly assured her that she was not, and she was just resting well. However, if it turned out to be cancer, she hoped that the doctors would tell it to her in a calm manner so that she would not be startled. I mean, with all of the assurances that the doctors provided, it’s safe to say that it isn’t cancer anymore.
One day, Rachel was getting ready for another surgery when she overheard the doctors talking about her well-being. The doctors were saying that Rachel was diagnosed, she was malignant, and that she would face a lifelong medication. Rachel was confused, and she couldn’t clearly hear what they were talking about. Then Rachel got a phone call from someone telling her about her malignant tumor removal schedule. Rachel was shocked when she heard the malignant tumor removal, and that was how she knew she had cancer.
1. Be gentle when delivering bad news
Rachel had to learn this lesson the hard way, as you may imagine. Being kind while giving terrible news is realistic and practical since it can be applied to every situation, regardless of the circumstances. Cancer is a severe illness, and the most remarkable thing doctors can do for cancer patients is to inform them about their condition in a way that makes them feel confident in their own life.
If you are the owner of a company and you want to terminate an employee, please have the decency to inform them in a courteous manner. Nobody desire to be fired. Thus, the least you could do is terminate them with dignity. Another example is when you’re having a conversation with a client. In the event that you must break the terrible news to them, be sure to do it courteously and allow them to process it quietly.
2. Be cautious even if it’s only a 1% threat
Another mistake that Rachel made was not being cautious enough. This mistake is usually the beginning of all the client-horror stories we have shared. People tend to neglect the threat because they think that it doesn’t affect them significantly, but that 1 % threat could grow instantly, and before you know it, you have yourself a terrifying client-horror story in front of you.
3. Communication is important
You can clearly tell that communication was the main problem of Rachel’s first story. There was a miscommunication, and the doctors kept on saying that Rachel didn’t have cancer, so clearly, the doctors failed their client. The doctors should have communicated with Rachel well and avoided reassuring her that she didn’t have cancer.
The doctors could have told Rachel that there is a possibility that she has cancer, but they will do everything to cure her if that happens. At least Rachel would be aware that there is a possibility that she has cancer but still have the confidence that the doctors will do everything to heal her.
Going back to the story, Rachel then knew in a horrible way that she had cancer. She had no other choice but to face it, and she did. The operation was successful, but it took her several weeks to recover. While all of those were happening, the operation, surgery, and the recovery phase, Rachel still had a lot of clients.
This is where her first work-related mistake occurred. When she was finally done and ready to leave the hospital, she saw one of her clients on the elevator. Rachel knew that it was her client, but she was doubtful that the client would recognize her because she was a hot mess from three days of being quarantined.
When Rachel got home, she received an email from that client saying, “Hey I haven’t heard from you for a while. Are you okay?” Rachel then realized that she failed to inform her clients about her situation. She should have told them what they could expect from her during those weeks rather than leaving them hanging. Because of that, her clients ended up having decreased confidence in her simply because she couldn’t inform them.
4. Always tell your clients what they would expect from you every week.
This lesson isn’t only applicable to Rachel’s case because this can help many entrepreneurs and business people in any industry. When you have clients, make sure to inform them what they can expect from you in that period of time to avoid your clients from being angry at you for not satisfying them.
Rachel’s case is quite acceptable because it was in the early 2000s, and she didn’t have an autoresponder yet for her emails. But now, this would be a great lesson for you to always inform your clients what they should expect from you every week.
But it isn’t ideal for telling your clients that you have cancer or anything because it’s like you are trying to blackmail them or guilt-trip them. You don’t have to go to the specifics because when your clients are respectful, the word hospital is enough for them to know that you need time off.
It’s also different during these times, especially because of COVID. When clients or employees tell you that they will be gone for a week, you would immediately incorporate it as a medical emergency, which is a good thing. Because finally, people are starting to be open and considerate to situations and will not take your leave for granted anymore.
Now going back to her story, Rachel’s clients really lost their confidence in her because of miscommunication. But she can’t blame them, and she knows that. Rachel even shares that if you fail to set an expectation, you don’t have the right to feel resentful towards them.
Picture this: you have a client, and you both agreed that you would do the project. You failed to tell them what they should expect from you, so the client expects that you will be done in just 12 hours, even if you need 48 hours to get it done. Now, if the client rushes you after 12 hours, you don’t get to be angry at them for rushing your professionalism because you failed to tell them that they should expect the project to be done in 48 hours.
Of course, your client doesn’t know that you are still not done yet. They might just be excited for the project to be done or just checking in on you to ask for an update.
For example, in Rachel’s case, if Rachel were not a good lawyer, she would have got mad at that client for asking her and throw a fit. She would have told her that she had been through a lot of pain and surgery and was just diagnosed with a tumor. The client who didn’t know what Rachel was going through would feel guilty because she questioned her, but it isn’t right. Maybe her client was just checking up on her, and Rachel’s reaction was just right.
5. Not every time it’s your client’s fault.
It’s easy for the business owner to blame the client, saying things like, “They are entitled, they are rude, they want to rush things,” and many more. This might be true to others, but you should also ask yourself why the client ended up being like that.
Most of our stories have these reasons in common. They had client-horror stories because their clients were entitled and rude, but in reality, when we understand it deeply and take the lessons out from them, you will know that the sharers are also at fault. Their clients rush things because maybe you failed to set the expectation right. Your client was rude because maybe your communication wasn’t that great at all.
You also have to avoid having a mindset of 50/50 with your clients when it comes to who’s at fault. Others might prefer thinking that it’s 50% their client’s fault and it’s 50% their responsibility to have balance, but thinking that isn’t actually a good thing at all. There will definitely be times when it’s 90% your fault and 10% client’s fault, but because you are thinking about that 50/50, you will fail to see your fault and fail to correct it.
That was the end of Rachel’s first horror story. She was still happy despite what she was going through, and she didn’t let that cancer take down her entire life. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that she had rose-colored glasses every day. “I don’t jump out of the bed in the morning, greeting the birds that are singing, doing a little dance together like on Disney movies.”
At the end of the day, you still have to remind yourself that there will always be problems in life, and you can’t do anything but face them head-on. “We’re not invincible and we only all have a finite number of years, weeks, or even days.” Life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, and we don’t know how long we’ll live, so you have to avoid as many issues as possible to enjoy your life.
Even if everything seems hopeless, you still have to try and make some progress, even if you are only doing 1% at a time. Rachel shared what she learned from a book called Atomic Habits, where the context was that you need to keep the needle moving every day, even if it is only 1%. When you are in a situation where you feel like you will give up, just work on it 1% every day because if you reverse it, it is another 1% loss if you don’t give it a try which will result in a larger problem.
Now that we are done with Rachel’s first story, let’s proceed to her second one. Back in the day, Rachel was doing a lot of copyright infringement work with photographers, bloggers, educators online with courses, and many more. Rachel always got photographers complaining about their images and other intellectual properties being stolen by others.
Rachel solved each of them with ease, but not this one that she was about to share. A photographer owned a company that actually had a big name in the industry. This company approached Rachel and asked for her help because someone stole their intellectual property. Rachel has gone through many copyright infringement cases, so she already knows the entire process and how it’s going to happen.
Rachel accepted the offer immediately since she could use that as an opportunity to market her business. If she were successful in helping that company, her services would grow, and so does her business. But she was also ready to accept the other possible future that might happen. She immediately took the case, but she told her client what they should expect in a frank manner.
She said, “I’m good but I’m not God. In a copyright infringement situations, we can send demand letters all day long, telling them to stop stealing your intellectual property, asking and demanding them money, all these things, but I physically can’t force them to stop and pay you.” She told her client this because she already had gone through a lot of copyright infringement cases, and maybe the same exact things would happen in this type of case.
Rachel was hoping that her client would understand, but she thought wrong. That particular client became very upset because Rachel couldn’t get enough of the financial return that her client wanted. Rachel tried as much as she could to please her client, but unfortunately, she couldn’t fulfill her promise. Rachel and her team could not get the client a payday that she expected.
Rachel’s client began to get furious at them and demanded all her money back because she wasn’t getting what she wanted. Rachel was kind of shocked by her client because she was doing the exact same thing her infringer was doing to her. Rachel’s client was mad because the infringer didn’t pay her, yet she also won’t pay Rachel for her time and services.
Rachel still tried to fix their relationship, but it became personal when her client was already neglecting boundaries. Because of pressure, Rachel was forced to work even if she was on a family vacation. Rachel and her family were on vacation at Magic Kingdom at Disney World, and all she did there was coordinate with her team back in their office to command them what they should do for that client.
Rachel couldn’t enjoy her vacation because she kept on talking to her team and her client, telling them what to do to get payments, and many more. But this wasn’t actually her client’s fault because Rachel had a choice that day, and she chose to work and allowed her client to infringe on their family vacation.
After that, Rachel realized that it wasn’t worth it at all. The money was not worth it because her client did not appreciate her time and effort. In the end, Rachel gave the client her money back and ended their working relationship there.
Let’s take a look at some series of lessons found in Rachel’s second story.
6. Be careful around working with big-name clients
Rachel immediately accepted the client’s offer without doing enough due diligence, without a formal contract, and without thinking it clearly, all because the client has a big name in the industry. Rachel also knew that the client’s family members were also in another industry, so she was thinking about how her business would boom if she was successful in helping that big-name client.
She was too focused on the price that she forgot some factors to consider. As a result, Rachel saw the red flags but allowed it. “I saw the red flags, but I allowed it, and that was also I think part of the reason I was fine with just the refunding and blessing and releasing type of thing because I ignored the red flags. I took that responsibility.” Just because they have a big name doesn’t mean they are excused for their bad behavior.
That’s about the end of Rachel’s client-horror story, full of practical and realistic lessons that everyone could apply to both work and life.
A little recap about her story, the first one was all about setting your expectations first to avoid losing your clients because of their decreased confidence in you. The second story was all about being blinded by the price, which resulted in a series of neglected red flags.
Remember that money can’t buy respect, and it’s better to earn less but have a lot of respect coming from other people than having a lot of money but being treated like a slave. Remember these lessons and make sure to avoid the series of red flags, or you will become the next guest for the next episode of client-horror stories.
This article was based on Episode # 29: Rachel Brenke’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!