• How to Fire a Client

    in Small Business Management on June 15, 2020

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    Getting to choose who you work with is one of the highlights of being in business for yourself. Unfortunately, learning what type of people with whom you work best sometimes means making mistakes. Choosing the wrong match from time to time is inevitable, but how you deal with the situation can make all the difference. Burning bridges to light your way won’t get you anywhere, so in this post, we’ll discuss how to fire a client tactfully.

    Know when to walk away, and know when to run

    it's not me, it's you cupSometimes clients are difficult but worth the challenge. If ultimately they are helping make your product or service better, and you are making money, you may want to put up with the wrestling. However, there are times when you definitely should end the relationship. For example:

    • You are not fairly compensated. Perhaps your client keeps making requests that add costs but don’t want to pay you for the extra work. Even if you like them a lot, it’s not sustainable if you want to turn a profit. Look for an opportune time to walk away.
    • They don’t respect your time. Slow response time from a client is a waste of your time. For example, if they delay getting you information or materials that you need to complete the project and still insist that the job be done on time, they show little regard for your time, and you should walk away. Remind yourself that this behavior is not likely going to improve with time, and you may be missing out on other great projects due to this client’s delay.
    • They don’t respect your expertise. If they don’t listen to your advice, then get mad and blame you when they don’t get the results they want, it’s only a matter of time before they will decide to leave. By the time they make that decision, however, they will have a story to tell about how you didn’t perform well. If you cut bait and walk early, at least you can control the narrative.
    • Your client is abusive. No amount of money is enough to work with people who stress you out, especially to the point of damaging your health. Disrespect comes in many forms and varying degrees, but none should be tolerated. They may simply bark out unreasonable demands, or they may speak offensively in ways that don’t align with your values (e.g., racist, sexist, bigoted talk). You are not paid to be abused. You are paid for your expertise. Don’t walk away. Run!

    How to fire a client: Prepare for landing

    There are definitely some best practices to follow once you have decided to cut ties. Following these simple guidelines will make the process go smoother:

    1. Create your exit plan. Finish the latest project and give them proper notice, so they can find a replacement. If they owe you money, get it before handing over final assets. It’s not professional to leave them with partially finished projects, and it’s also important to get paid for your work, so have a plan in place for how you will get both accomplished.
    2. Give them a heads up. When scheduling your meeting, let them know that you want to talk about the future of your business relationship. This will give them time to ponder how it’s been going, and blindsiding them will more than likely produce a negative visceral reaction.
    3. Put it in writing, but meet in person. Depending on how long they have been a client and their preferred method of communication, it may be fine only to send them an email. However, make an attempt to also meet with them in person. If you met face-to-face for your first meeting, you should do the same for your last to make sure you are communicating in a professional tone.
    4. Be polite and direct. It’s not the time for bargaining. You reached this point because the client didn’t live up to the standards you hold or the rules you’ve set for yourself. Let them know that there will be no negotiating, that it’s a business decision, and you have made up your mind. Remember that even if the client’s behavior improves for a time, it will most likely still not work out, so don’t waste any more time. If they become angry and abusive, remain calm, and excuse yourself from the situation.
    5. Tell them what to expect. Set clear expectations of the relationship going forward. Make a list of items that will be completed and by when. Offer them resources to help them replace you. You may even consider referring them to a competitor (unless they are an abusive client).
    6. Don’t make it personal or blame them. No one likes to be rejected. If you point out their flaws, you are setting yourself up for a bitter end to the relationship, one in which neither side wins.
    7. Don’t lie. Lying can blow up in your face, and once discovered, you will be labeled as untrustworthy. Besides, it’s just wrong. At the same time, you don’t have to be brutal. You can be diplomatic and honest by saying something like, “We feel like we haven’t been able to find a mutually beneficial way to work together.”

    Once you have cut ties, take note of what went wrong with the relationship in the first place. Think about what you could have done better and how to avoid getting in the same situation again. For example, if you agreed to an impossible deadline to get the client in the first place, then you probably had something to do with establishing unrealistic client expectations. Be honest with yourself, learn which types of clients are a good fit for you, and pursue more like them. While you will still have to fire a client from time to time, you will reduce the frequency over time, and you’ll now know how to fire a client if you need to.

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