Brand alignment is a measure of how well your business fulfils its brand promise, and sometimes getting the wrong type of client can affect the fulfilment of your brand promise. We’re here to tell you that you don’t have to deal with impossible clients just because they help you pay the bills. it is not only clients who can fire an agency but believe it or not, even you as a business can fire a client, and here we explain how to fire a bad client politely.
90% of your clients will be fantastic. They will bring you interesting projects, they learn and adapt based on your recommendations, they teach you interesting new things and allow you to grow and challenge yourself. They may even become lifelong friends.
But throughout the life of your business, you’ll come across some clients who are just… argh! They will question everything you do for them, argue incessantly, refuse to give you the information you need, undermine your work and then blame you, refuse to pay, or just do flat-out insane things.
When a client becomes a bigger hassle than the money they bring in is worth to you, then it’s time to get rid of them.
But how do you fire a client without the negativity coming back to bite you? Here’s our guide:
Bad clients are costing you money
Often we feel as though we need to just deal with nightmare clients because they are part of doing business. After all, if they’re paying the bills, then what does it really matter in the end?
Not true. Your bad clients can actually end up costing you money. If they consistently pay late or haggle over fees, they interrupt your cash flow. If they are constantly requesting changes or calling with questions, they eat into the time you have to devote to other clients or to growing your business.
They can also damage your reputation. Many nightmare clients refuse to listen to your advice, and then complain when they don’t get the results they expected. If that client has a large audience, their complaints may reach others in your industry and cause them to reconsider partnerships with you.
And if they’re just a nightmare to work with and they’re bullying your team, they create additional stress. According to Karen Higginbottom from Forbes, employees with high stress levels: engage less, are less productive, and take more sick leave than workers who are content. Getting rid of the source of this stress will improve morale and productivity, and that has a positive impact on your business.
Nightmare clients hurt your team, your culture, your, and your bottom line. It’s time to let them go.
How to identify a nightmare client
There are several different types of nightmare clients. Have you come across any of these?
Ian-I-needed-it-yesterday: Ian believes that just discussing an idea means the work will get done immediately. He doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact you have other clients who aren’t him. Every project he has is extremely urgent – however, they will often get held up for approval on his end. No matter how many times you try to set appropriate expectations, Ian just doesn’t get it.
Celine-can’t-pay-that-right-now: Celine seems professional and put-together, but not only is she extremely demanding – requesting multiple revisions and lots of attention from your team – but only when it comes time to pay the bill does she mention that she might be having some cash flow issues. She argues about every cent of the bill and becomes so belligerent you end up knocking the price down just to get rid of her.
Fred-this-is-all-your-fault: Fred loves the sound of his own voice. He loves to talk over people and And more than anything in the world, he loves to blame other people when things go wrong – loudly, and in front of their colleagues. Fred delights in making others feel small. Your staff are terrified of him and are all mysteriously “out to lunch” at the same time whenever he comes to the office.
Julie-I-just-don’t-know-what-I-want: Even if the fate of the world was at stake, Julie couldn’t decide between plain or deckled paper for her flyers. Julie can’t choose a package, can’t decide on which services she needs, can’t confirm or agree to anything, and will procrastinate to the point where deadlines get missed and you actually forget she’s a client.
Ursula-I’m-a-unicorn: Ursula is the perfect, dream client dangling the most amazing opportunity in front of your face… that never actually happens. Ursula knows she’s a mythical creature you desperately want to obtain, so she will dangle that promise in front of you and get you to jump through hoops and complete quests and bow to her might and majesty, and then just when you think she’s within reach… she will disappear without a trace.
Charlie-change-it-up: Charlie seems like a great client at first – he’s talkative, keen to learn, and excited about your project. But then he takes the work you’ve done and chops it up and adds things to it and twists it all around and by the time he’s done, it bears no resemblance to the project as initially conceived. What’s more, he’s made mistakes and invalidated much of your work, then has the nerve to blame you when he doesn’t get the results he’s after.
In whatever form your nightmare clients takes, the key things to watch out for are clients who:
- Don’t respect your time or the fact that you have other clients who also need you.
- Constantly check up on you, in case you’re escaping with their money.
- Disrespect you or your team.
- Expect results you can’t possibly deliver.
- Act irrationally and unprofessionally.
- Believe they can do your job better than you can.
- Are envious of you or another client’s success.
- Regularly pay late, haggle over bills, or refuse to pay at all.
How to fire a client: the approach
Depending on the problem you have with your client, there are several different ways you can approach getting rid of them.
When firing a client, always:
- Check your engagement letter. What terms do you have in place to fire a client? Make sure you strictly adhere to what you’ve included in your contract.
- Maintain your integrity. Stay calm, rational and polite. Give reasons for terminating the relationship, but keep emotion and name-calling out of the conversation.
- Follow-up with a phone call. You can start the process with an email, but you should follow-up with a phone call to talk your client through the process and answer any questions.
- Resist the urge to engage. If your client tries to bait you into getting angry, don’t give in. Maintain your cool and keep things about the business. Don’t resort to personal attacks.
- Give them a referral. If possible, refer the client to another firm who may be a better fit.
- Finish the project, if at all possible. Try not to leave a client hanging in the middle of an important project. If you can’t finish it, find a service partner who can and refer them on.
Here is sample for firing a client below, complete with some sample email templates to start the process.
The straight talk
Sit down with your client and in frank and diplomatic language explain that you can’t deliver on their expectations and that you aren’t the right fit for each other.
To start the conversation, you might say something like:
Unfortunately, we’re going to need to terminate our contact effective from the close of this month, per clause 3.5 of our agreement.
Due to the recent problems and delays with your website project, it’s come to our attention that we’re not a good fit for each other. Your requirements are outside of the scope of what we do as a company. We’d like to recommend The Good Website Company, who have a focus on the SEO side and might be a better fit for your needs.
If you’d like to discuss this further, I’d be happy to discuss the situation over the phone or in person. Thank you very much for your business, and I wish you all the best for the future.
This letter shows that the reason for the breakdown of the relationship is due to the issues, but without casting blame and emphasizing that you both aren’t a good fit for each other. Giving a referral shows that you bear no ill-will and still want them to succeed.
Preventing more nightmare clients in the future
Now that you’ve got rid of that client, doesn’t it feel as if a weight has been lifted from your shoulders? Isn’t the sun brighter and the coffee more delicious?
It’s great that you’ve taken this step. Now you need to reflect on what caused the breakdown in your relationship with this client and whether there are any steps you can take to prevent it happening in the future.
- Improving your qualification and onboarding process: Most client problems occur because the client has expectations that don’t match the service you’re providing them. Look at ways you can disqualify clients who don’t match your ideal profile before they sign up for your services, and create a more thorough client onboarding process to demonstrate the results they should expect.
- Changing your pricing structure: You may have gated yourself into a fee structure without clients that means you don’t have a lot of wiggle room when clients demand more of your time. Dorie Clark at NBR recommends looking at your fee structure and adding additional charges for excessive support or changes.
- Prioritize your client list: Xero has a useful guide on prioritizing clients into A, B, C, D, and E categories, to help you better understand the types of work you’re attracting and whether you have too many bad clients on your lists.
- Looking for reliable lead-gen sources: Where are you finding your clients? Are you getting too many of these nightmare clients from certain sources? Look for new strategies to source the kind of clients you actually WANT to work with.
We all deal with nightmare clients every now and then. The key is to identify them early and escape with your dignity and integrity intact, before they destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to build. If 90% of your clients are amazing, then they deserve to have 90% of your energy directed toward helping them.
Have you ever dealt with a nightmare client? How did you handle the situation?