This might sound like a crazy title but if you’re a business owner, you’ve probably had your share of dealing with difficult clients. And, “difficult” is a nice way of saying “impossible to please” clients. I’ve been blessed that I’ve not dealt with this much but I do have a story where I fired a client. I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version and then later I’ll list some of my tell-tell tips that can help you determine if you need to end a toxic client relationship.
Case story: This happened in my 3rd or 4th year in my business. My services was referred to this client that we’ll name, “Danny”. I did a lot of typing manuals for him at the time. He was nice at first and I thought it would be a really good long-lasting partnership. But, it was anything but that. When he gave me projects, he literally would call about every 15 minutes to see how close I was to finishing it. At first, I just thought he was nervous working with a new person and eventually he would trust me and the checking up on me would stop. But after a year, it got worse.
I would turn over my projects to him as soon as I got them done and then I’d send over my invoice. He would get outrageous with me for invoicing him and one time I learned through a source who was in his office that he used one of my invoices as his coffee cup coaster! He was never on time paying me but he always demanded his work. The stress grew and I wondered what I was going to do. The money he was paying wasn’t enough to take the abuse. Finally, the incident that made up my mind happened…
When a client causes you so much stress,
it’s time to re-examine the relationship.
I had just finished a big project for Danny and turned it in. I faxed over my invoice which was giving me problems recently. So, I wasn’t sure it was working again so I called Danny to ask if he received it on his end. Otherwise, I was going to have to have my machine go to a repair shop. Well, Danny calls me screaming at me, I mean at the top of his lungs, that I didn’t need to call him to remind him of an unpaid invoice I had faxed over. He then says, “we all need our money!” “I don’t need you coming behind me about getting paid!”
I was in shock! I just sat there and let him go off which lasted for more than 10 minutes. Finally, he quieted down. I guess when he realized I was not going to yell back he felt embarrassed. I explained to him that my fax machine was on the blink and that was the only reason I followed up with a phone call. He apologized but I had had it. I just politely told him that I needed to go. I then spoke to a colleague about the situation and learned he had berated me to other people around his office. He never complained about my work so I don’t know what the deal was but that was the camel that broke the straw back! (I meant to say it just like that!)
I politely had a conversation with him after this happened that I would not continue working with him. It was a hard decision but a good one. I never thought I’d ever stop working with a client. It’s not something a business owner wants.
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We want good customers that pay for our products and services. But anytime a client that causes me so much stress where working for them is like having an ape on my back, it’s time to reassess.
5 Tell-Tell Signs that a Client Relationship Needs to End
- The client is getting more than you are. If you’re the one turning in work to them on time or even ahead of schedule and it meets their specifications but they don’t or won’t pay, it can be sign of things to come. I’m not talking about not receiving payment after one week of sending the invoice. Sometimes a company pays on a 30 or 60-day timeframe. You’ll want to know that upfront before you work with a client. However, if it’s been a lot longer than 60 days and you’ve done more than 5 projects for them and they haven’t paid you for project 1, you’ll need to speak with them about it and don’t be afraid to say that you will not do anymore work until they catch up on their past due bills. You as the business owner are not in business for freebies. You have to make money too.
- Personality conflicts. Sometimes you just can’t get along with another person and you don’t like their personality or the way they do business. There’s no reason why you should continue to work with someone you don’t get along with. You’ll just end up dreading everything you do with them even if they’re paying you well.
- Client expects you to be exclusive. You’re an entrepreneur. You have several clients who are ALL important to you. But one shouldn’t try to dominate your time making it difficult for you to have time for your other clients. And beware of a client that wants you to sign some kind of exclusive contract where you can’t work with anyone else but them. That would make me run for the door like quick! If you were to go into an exclusive contract with a client, be very sure of what you’re doing and make sure there is some kind of clause in the contract that allows you to be notified promptly and with enough time to fill the void should your client decide to terminate your services before your contract expires. I would definitely recommend speaking with an attorney first before signing any contracts.
- If there’s frequent miscommunications between you and the client. For example, you get the project description, details and the timeline for completion from your client. You go back to your office and draw up plans or sketches to show them if you’ve understood what they want. They okay your vision and you go through with the project. Then you’re told it was not what they envisioned and you have to start from ground zero. The next few revisions to the project are also rejected and the communication is just lacking. This could be a sign that they don’t really know what they want and hoping to get a few ideas without having to pay a whole lot. Now, I said “could be”. Either way, this is a client that you’ll need to speak with candidly and perhaps bail out altogether.
- Client demands you do something that goes against your beliefs. If your client wants you to lie or in some way be dishonest or work on a project that makes you uncomfortable, politely say “no”. Your reputation is paramount if you want to be a successful entrepreneur and even if they offer you the moon, it’s not worth it at the end of the day when you don’t feel good about the work you’re doing. No amount of money is worth trading your soul for!
There’s a really good article by Entrepreneur.com about this topic, “6 Signs It’s Time to Fire a Client“, read it here.
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- When to Fire a Client and How to Do it Right – Prospify
- 8 Signs It’s Time to Fire a Bad Client & How to Do it – Search Engine Journal