In the News

How to Fire a Client

How many times since you opened your doors have you heard that the customer is always right? Now, be honest—how many times have you rolled your eyes so hard you saw the sky when you heard it?

That is because, as business owners know, the customer is not always right. Sometimes they are not right for your company or brand. Sometimes they are right, but they have the wrong attitude. And sometimes they are just wrong.

It can be hard to think about losing the revenue, but a client who disproportionately taxes your resources is a drain on your bottom line and can put your company at risk.

How do you know when it is time to fire a client? First, check your gut. Some bad customers are easy to spot—they do not respect you, your staff, your work or your time. You do not like working with them. Your instincts are probably telling you it is time to show them the door.

Many times, though, it can be hard to differentiate between a difficult project (which can be draining but also invigorating) and a difficult client (which is just draining). Other times you really like the client (or you are close with them personally), but you just cannot meet their needs. It may also be that your client is pulling your business in a direction you do not want to go.

The good news is firing a client is relatively simple. The first step is to clearly communicate your expectations and consequences of boundary violations before you begin to work. Have a contract that protects your ability to pull the escape hatch. Be honest and direct if an issue comes up, and do not let problem behaviors go unchecked. Be sure you are exploring all options before you head for the exit.

Once you have checked your contract and ego and determined the client is no longer working, it is time to just get it done. Come up with a script, sit down with them and end it. If it is reasonable, try to end on a high note with a clear exit plan and a referral to a colleague.

(Of course, if your client has physically assaulted or verbally harassed you, your staff or your other clients, or if they have failed to pay you per your contract, contact your lawyer for assistance in ending the relationship cold turkey.)

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, and firing a bad client is rarely the best part of your job. However, it is still an important part of your job. Your mental wellbeing, your productivity and your bottom line (not to mention your staff and your lawyer) will thank you for it.