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When And How To Fire A Client

How To Fire Your Clients Like Trump

How To Fire Your Clients Like Trump

How do you know when to fire a client, and how can you do so without ruining a potential referral relationship? That’s what we’re talking about today.

This can be a touchy subject for many, and if you’re operating your business from a scarcity mindset, worried that a single client will make or break your business, then you’re going to keep putting up with the garbage heaved upon you by horrible clients.

On the other hand, if you know and fully accept the fact that clients are the commodity rather than your talents, then not only are you in the right place but you won’t have an issue letting one (or sometimes more) go.

Now I’m not suggesting to start wholesale firing your clients; after all, you are in business and clients keep you in business. But there are definite circumstances when it’s time to clean house, so to speak. Let’s look at them.

When To Fire A Client

I’ve fired a number of clients in the past, and it isn’t because they’ve questioned my methods. I’m not a prima donna and I hope you aren’t either. But there are some very definite lines you should draw in the sand:

  1. The person is repeatedly abusive to you or a member of your team, subcontracted or otherwise. Just because someone is paying you it doesn’t give them the right to treat you like crap. Give them one warning, and when done again, fire them immediately.
  2. They continue to question the value you provide. This one is more an issue of a mismatch between you and the client. If they are paying you then obviously they saw some value in what it is you do, or they weren’t paying attention. But if they continuously demand you to justify what you’re doing then either they don’t trust you and you shouldn’t work with them, or something is going on in their head that they aren’t telling you. Either way, it’s time to go.
  3. The client doesn’t pay on time. You’ve got a business to run just as they do. Not being paid is a problem, and once the payments start to slip (and they get away with it) the precedent is set. Don’t let that happen.
  4. They won’t conform to the way you work. As with #2 this is a mismatch scenario. When I had my web development business we used a method of rapid software development called “agile” that required a lot of communication and fast action. We use it at Dempsey Marketing too, applying it to marketing projects. Not all clients are willing or able to be as available as needed to get their project done in record time, which seriously inhibits delivery. If they can’t or won’t keep up then it’s danger Will Robinson! Time to work with someone else.

What are some of the reasons you’ll fire, or have fired, a client? Add your reasons in the comments below.

Now that we’ve seen why you should fire a client, let’s look at how.

How To Fire A Client

If possible you never want to burn a bridge, especially if you’re letting a client go because of a mismatch. Also unless you’re dealing with an abusive or non-paying client I highly recommend you complete the project before firing them. If you’re in the middle of a contract check with an attorney to see what kind of out you have and what, if any, repercussions you may face.

When firing a client the most important thing to remember, regardless of circumstances, is to leave emotion out of whatever communication you send their way. You might be ready to hop on the next plane so you can kick down their door and punch them in the face, but don’t do it and don’t act like it either. Instead, thank them for their business and tell them that you will not be working with them again.

If you can, get them on the phone and explain the situation. Direct communication is the best. Second best, and perhaps the best option when you are feeling really heated, is to send an email. BUT write your email in Microsoft Word or something like that so you don’t accidentally fire off an incendiary.

Let your email sit for 30-60 minutes. Go back, review it, and then send it out.

Ever Fired A Client?

Do you have any stories of firing a client? Why did you fire them and how did it turn out?

Let us know in the comments below.

I’ll see you there.

Comments

  1. Hi Robert,

    It must be hard to fire a client, but I truly understand why it’s important to do so. To me, it’s all about having fun (and earning money as well), but fun is the most important part. If a client is doing anything that will stop me from having fun, I wouldn’t hesitate from firing him. But, I guess I would talk with him first, and tell him about the “problem” and after giving him a warning or two, I would fire him. It all depends on the reason, it’s a lot easier to fire someone who’s not paying, instead of doing so because you just don’t like working with the person :)

    Jens

    • You’re a bit nicer than be there Jens. If I’ve layed out what my expectations are and they’ve had a warning for violating them, the second time they do it they’re out.

      “It’s all about having fun” is a great statement. Another way to put that is it’s important that what we do be enjoyable. Working with others, especially clients, should be enjoyable. And our clients should completely expect the same when working with us.

  2. Robert, you know how I feel about this subject–it’s incredibly important. I’ve fired my share of customers in the past, and for me, the biggest tell is #1 on your list. The minute someone is verbally abusive to me or my employees, Hasta La Vista Baby. ;-)

    Great post bud,

    Marcus

    • Hi Marcus, I do know how you feel about this topic. It’s amazing to me that some people believe they can treat you badly because they are paying you. Those folks have got to go.

  3. This is the first time I’ve come to your site and I wanted to make two comments.

    First, I just finished an article about gamificaiton in the workplace and as soon as I started writing this comment I got a badge from your site :) How did you do that? That is very clever.

    Second, the topic fascinated me because I have a local professional I go to for his services, but he’s been lax on returning calls and testing his work. My wife had to call him eventually, because he answers to women much better. However, my wife expressed the problems we were having.

    I was afraid he might dump us and we would have to pay much higher prices from others who usually are much more expensive. So anyways, I looked over your criteria and I think we might be safe, HOPEFULLY.

    Good work.

    • Hi Bryce. Thanks for coming today and leaving a comment. I appreciate you doing both.

      It sounds like you may have to drop that vendor. If someone isn’t responsive in a timely manner (for me that’s 24-48 hours max) then there can be problems. Now that’s not to say that people don’t run into issues where they cannot keep the communication flowing, but then you as the customer need to be aware of that, and the onus is on the vendor to let you know.

      For the gamification bit I’m using Big Door for that. Nifty eh? I’m in the process of creating a rewards program as well. Stay tuned for that.

  4. Hi Robert, great article.

    I’m a journalist for a B2B magazine called The Recycler, and I’m currently planning a feature on staff recruitment and other similar areas of business. I think the client relations angle of this article would be a great side piece to that.

    Are you interested in discussing this advice in more detail for inclusion in the magazine?

    Please email when possible and we can discuss it further. I look forward to hearing from you.

  5. A client that needs to be fired is like defining obscenity, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart noted, “you know it when you see it.” Unfortunately, for some of us, we don’t see it until it’s too late!

    I have had to fire clients lately and it’s usually a direct result of me not qualifying my leads in advance, operating from a place of scarcity (good point there!) and being in denial. When I do realize it and then actively do something about it, boy do I feel better. It’s like a load has been lifted off my shoulders and that’s a tangible feeling of affirmation that I’ve done the right thing.

    I will typically handle as you’ve describe here: I finish the project or at least get it to a point that’s easy to transition; I recommend someone else to handle the project and even have a transition meeting to pass the baton; and, I thank them for the work we’ve done together. The last thing I want is an unhappy customer, no matter how bad the fit, out spreading a word of mouth referral that I DON”T want! Good to end things as professionally and courteously as possible.

    • Great tips for a transition Erica. My wife was in real estate previously and they refer “bad fit” customers to other real estate agents frequently. As you said it’s a great way to keep the mood good and ensure that the customer isn’t SOL.

      Thanks Erica!

  6. I find that usually when the tone and the output of the outsourced work does not resonate between the client and the customer, it is really hard to keep up. And the top most reason for firing a client remains the “not paying in time” issue.

    • Hi Jane can you expand on what you mean by “does not resonate between the client and the customer”? Do you mean that basically the customer can’t keep up with the delivery they’re getting?

  7. Yes, Robert there are times when it’s the only solution.

    I fired a client because she repeatedly sabotaged my efforts. Here’s the skinny.

    As you will remember 2009 was a record year for finances. With people literally jumping from pent houses in NY because of the dips in the market, people losing jobs right and left, stocks and bonds tanking, financial planning was not the best business to be in. So say it was the worst year since the depression.

    My client, a financial planner had a 60% increase in her business that year. I saw this as a miracle and she didn’t think it was anything to speak about.
    The way I saw it, she worked double time against all my efforts and I had to fire her because she lied to me, didn’t follow through and has emotional issues that she needed some REAL professional help with. I know she’d still be working with me today if I would have let her.

    Eventually, it because such a source of anxiety that I couldn’t deal with her anymore, it was disruptive to my life and my health. I found it hard to breathe when I was around her. Never a good sign….

    Thanks for these tips Robert, we all need to hear them. Often we keep focusing on the work that we could do and the value that we can provide and not the BS we are getting. We need to stand up for ourselves. Thanks.

    • That’s quite a story Lauri! Surreal to be sure. It’s sad when clients work against you and you’re unable to deliver the service that they hired you for in the first place. I think there’s some underlying psychology there, namely fear of success. I’ve seen people sabotage themselves as they are wholly unable to see themselves as successful. There are many people and groups we could blame for that, but I’ll step off the soapbox for now.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. And yes – we need to stand up for ourselves. Spot on.

  8. Brave post to write. I have fired to odd client and I’ve never regretted it. The reasons you list are the main ones. I will not tolerate rudeness from clients. Not getting paid is an obvious reason to fire a client.

    It’s a very difficult thing to do when you’re just starting out (actually I was lucky as I had fantastic clients when I was starting out, as I have now) but if it’s not working, it’s not working and it’s better for both parties to separate.

    If you tolerate bad clients your business will suffer.

    • Hi Rob – I agree that it is very hard to fire clients when starting out, but ultimately a bad customer will cost you way more than they will pay you,in both time and stress.

  9. Lack of Turn around time(TAT) had made me do this twice for my employee. That was hard but I believe in business emotions should be kept out of the office.

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