One of the suckiest things about being an entrepreneur is having to fire a client. I’ve had to fire a client or two of my own. One in particular stands out. There’s no crazy psycho client story here; it was simply a matter of misaligned goals. I began to dread emails from the client because I knew it would require more work than I thought needed to be done on a project. At that point, I realized it wasn’t worth the anxiety to make a little extra money each month.
And so I fired the client.
The client was shocked, and tried to convince me to stay. I appreciated the effort, but when two parties don’t jibe on a project, it makes it difficult for it to succeed. And so I stood my ground.
I’ve only fired a few clients in the past ten years, and let me say: it’s both terrifying and exhilarating. Terrifying because you certainly don’t want to upset a client, or worse: have them run and tell everyone that you suck. And terrifying because you’ll have to scramble to replace that lost income. But it’s also exhilarating because you realize if you have a negative situation, you hold the power to change it. And so I did. You can too.
Why Fire a Client?
The entire point of running your own business is to be happy doing what you love. When you have clientele that make you unhappy, it negates your efforts to seek entrepreneurial bliss.
There are many reasons you should consider a client that isn’t serving your goals and greater purpose:
- They’re paying far less than you’re worth (maybe you signed them on when you charged a lot less)
- They require more work than they’re paying for
- The services you offer aren’t ones you want to focus on
- They require more energy than you have time to give
When to Fire a Client
Never fire a client when you’re upset. You’ll say things you shouldn’t, and you’ll regret it. Instead, sit on the decision. Ask yourself what the benefits of continuing to work with this client are (maybe money), and what the benefits would be if you fired them (peace of mind, sleeping at night). Make the decision rationally and never, ever when you’re in the heat of the moment.
And when you let the client know you won’t be able to continue to provide services for them, don’t do it at a critical moment, like in the middle of an important project. Wrap up whatever you’re working on and then begin the discussion.
5 Tips to Firing a Client the Right Way
There’s definitely an art to firing a client. Use tact and always remain respectful. Even if you have frustrations (or even anger) toward this client, remember: burning bridges won’t do you any good.
#1. Work it Out if You Can
Be honest in your reasons for wanting to end the professional relationship because you never know what might come of it. If your issue is low pay, the client may offer to pay more if he truly values what you do for him. If you’re frustrated with how you’re being treated, find a way to diplomatically explain it. I’ve worked with female clients who didn’t realize that their brusque manners were such a turnoff for me that I didn’t want to work with them. Even if telling them so doesn’t help your current client relationship, perhaps it will help them when they work with others in the future.
If there is a possibility you can work out the situation, do, even if it takes some compromise on your part (but only what you’re willing to bend on). After all, the client has become accustomed to working with you, and would prefer to keep working with you, even if it means making changes to the process or pay structure.
#2. Be Helpful
If you and your client decide it’s best to end the business relationship, if you are able to, offer an alternate service provider. I try to keep a list of contacts that perform various marketing-related tasks so that I can refer people to them if it’s time to end our work together. Do your best to make your client whole in your absence.
#3. Write Out What You Need to Say
This is especially helpful if you’re emotionally charged with the situation. I tend to cry when I get really angry, which I feel weakens my stance, so in a conversation with a client who was mistreating me, I had every point I’d been fuming over written down so I could refer to it even if I derailed from my businesslike approach to the conversation. I didn’t forget to tell her anything, and came away feeling like I’d said what I needed to say.
#4. Make Sure You’re Not Breaching a Contract
Before you even entertain talking to your client, check your contract if you have one. If you signed an agreement to work a certain time period or complete a certain amount of work, make sure your a#% is covered, otherwise, you could risk being sued. Is there a cancellation clause where perhaps if you refund part of the client’s investment you can get out of the contract? It’s better to complete your agreed-upon work than to breach a contract if at all possible.
#5. Do it Over the Phone
Firing via email is chicken. Don’t do it if you can help it. You owe your client the dignity of a phone call where you can discuss the issue and potentially work it out. It sucks, and it’s scary, believe me. But you’ll be proud of yourself once the conversation is over.
If possible, strive to not burn bridges. If you can stay friendly, that client may end up referring others to you down the road. Just because you and that client weren’t a good fit for one another doesn’t mean he won’t be willing to refer others to you, so keep that in mind before you say what you’re really thinking!