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How to Fire a Bad Client

CanIFireMyLawyerNot all clients are created equal. Some are easy to work with, clearly articulate what they want, and consistently pay on time. Those are the good ones.

Others demand constant changes in your deliverables but never make clear exactly what will make them happy. They won’t pay you what you’re worth and they rarely pay on time. They cause stress and discord. They are the bad ones.

Any small business owner is naturally reluctant to sever ties with a client. But the time comes when it’s apparent these clients are far more trouble than they’re worth. Then it’s time to take concrete steps to fire the client and end your relationship with them.

Here are tips for taking action—before, during and after the firing:

Before

Decide without emotion. A bad client will make you feel frustrated, angry, spiteful, etc. Don’t make important decisions while you’re in the grip of these emotions. Find time to relax and reflect upon the situation.

Seek advice and counsel. Describe what’s going on to a trusted friend and colleague. This person will help you get the right perspective on things.

Get the timing right. Schedule a meeting with the client on a day that’s relatively free of other stressful situations (big project deadline, family issues, etc.). Ideally, the conversation should take place in person. If that’s not possible, set up a time to talk over the phone.

During

Be professional. Firing a client isn’t something you do every day, but it’s imperative to stay focused and unemotional. Bring along any documents related to your collaboration, including contracts, invoices, etc. You’ve made your decision. Now is the time to follow through in a calm, professional manner.

State your reasons diplomatically. Sometimes it may be enough to simply say, “I don’t think this is a good fit for us.” But some clients will want a more in-depth explanation. In a polite way, let them know the reasons, be they late payments, a series of missed deadlines, brusque treatment of your staff and so on.

Give them a chance to explain. You can be resolute in your decision to end the relationship, but there’s no reason you can’t hear them out. It’s best to let the client express his feelings and offer a compromise (if he wants to). You’re not obligated to change your mind about the situation.

Say something positive. Assuming the conversation remains cordial, come up with one or two things you can praise about the working relationship. If you can direct the client to another resource—probably not one of your colleagues, since you don’t want to saddle them with this client—now is a good time to do so.

After

Attend to final details. If you’ve already been paid for part of a project, make sure to deliver it. Any remaining paperwork should be completed and signed. Equipment or other property should be returned to the appropriate party.

Put it in writing. Following your “firing conversation,” send a letter or confirmation email summarizing what’s been discussed and any steps need to achieve closure.

Don’t bad-mouth the client to others. A true professional ends the relationship in the best way possible and moves on. If someone in your network expresses interest in working with the client, describe your own experience honestly and let them take it from there. Avoid spreading gossip or otherwise defaming the client. Your relationship is over and nothing more needs to be said.

You run your own business because you want to make decisions for yourself. One of those decisions is who you choose to work with. If a client proves to be too difficult or undependable, let them go. There are many others out there more worthy of your time and efforts.

One thought on “How to Fire a Bad Client

  1. Even though the actual process of firing a client is difficult, and most businesses don’t want to lose business, letting a troublesome client go can be really beneficial for a business. For example if there is one client who demands the majority of your staff’s time (and not paying nearly enough for their services) letting them go can allow your business to take on two clients in their absences because so much more time will be made available among the staff.

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