No one likes having to fire a client, but sometimes it’s for the best.
Toxic clients are more than just difficult to deal with – they can make your agency less productive and profitable, too.
Here’s when and how you should say goodbye to a bad client.
8 Signs You Should Fire a Client
Every situation is unique, but bad clients tend to have some traits in common.
If any of these red flags remind you of a client in your roster, your agency might be better off dropping them.
1. The Client Doesn’t Respect Your Time
Do you have a client who expects you to finish work in an unrealistically short time-frame?
How about one who doesn’t seem to understand that you aren’t at work 24/7?
Clients who don’t respect your time are exhausting – and exasperating.
2. The Client Doesn’t Respect the Scope of the Project
If a client keeps trying to get you to do work that isn’t in their contract, they’re probably a drain on your agency’s resources.
We call this scope creep.
3. The Client Is Verbally Abusive
Being picky or demanding is one thing. Berating you or your team members is another thing entirely.
If you have a client who regularly yells at you or calls you names, it’s time to drop them. Now.
4. They Want Things You Can’t Give Them
If a client has a completely unrealistic view of what your agency should be able to do for them – and if they refuse to listen to reason – continuing to work with them might not be worth the headache.
5. You’re Losing Money on the Client
If a client is taking way more of your time than you planned on giving them, they’re hurting your business.
Dropping them will let you find more profitable clients.
6. The Client Is Wearing down Your Team’s Morale
Your team is the reason your agency exists at all, so pay attention to their well-being.
If everybody at the office dislikes a particular client, there’s probably a reason why.
7. You Hate Doing the Kind of Work the Client Needs
Sometimes a client just isn’t a good fit for an agency.
If you dislike the kind of work they need done, you feel unqualified to do it, or you feel ethically uneasy about it, it’s probably best for both of you if you part ways.
8. The Client Is Underpaying (Or Not Paying)
Maybe this client has a bad habit of paying you weeks late, or maybe you just aren’t charging them a high enough rate.
Either way, payment issues are a sign it’s time to move on.
What to Try Before You Cut Ties
Problem clients are a fact of life for most agencies, which means it’s important to learn how to live with them.
Whenever possible, it’s better to fix a working relationship than it is to fire the offending client.
If your client is abusive or hasn’t been paying you, skip directly to the next section on how to break up with your client.
Otherwise, consider whether these ideas might help you work with your problem clients more easily.
Take a Deep Breath & Check Your Perspective
Being annoying isn’t necessarily a fireable offense, but it’s easy to forget that when you’re feeling fed up.
Ask yourself if your problem client is truly making you miserable and damaging your agency’s bottom line, or if they’re just not so great to work with.
If they’re the latter, you may want to hold off on ending things until their contract runs out.
Consider the Context of Your Working Relationship
If you’ve just picked up a client and they’re already making your life difficult, it’s probably fine to politely drop them.
If you’ve been working with your problem client for years, though, firing them should be a much weightier decision – especially if they’ve come to depend on your agency.
Set Firm Boundaries
For instance, remind the client about the scope of your current project, or reiterate when you will take phone calls and when you won’t. Stick to your boundaries once you set them.
Communicate More Frequently and More Clearly
If some aspect of your relationship isn’t working for you, let your client know (as nicely as you can, of course). The client may not realize they’re doing something that bothers you unless you tell them.
Get a Fresh Start
If the client’s contract is nearing its end and they want to renew, draw up a new contract that’s easier for you to live with.
Or, if the client’s project isn’t going as well as you or they would like, try sitting down with them and drawing up a new plan from scratch.
How to Break Up with a Client in 5 Steps
Still think it’s time to stop working with your problem client?
It’s always a little awkward to have that parting conversation, but breaking things off isn’t as hard as you might fear.
Here’s how to fire a client with as little drama as possible.
1. Check Your Contract
Make sure you’re legally allowed to fire the client.
It’s easier to end a working relationship at the end of a contract than it is to break things off in the middle of one.
2. Finish All the Work You Owe to the Client
Make sure all your loose ends are tied up so you can cut ties cleanly.
3. Think About What You’ll Say Ahead of Time
For most people, this is the tricky part. How do you actually tell a client you’re firing them?
You can take a couple of approaches.
- Raise your rates: By a lot. Pick a number you’re fairly sure the client won’t be willing to pay. Then tell them that you’ve gotten busy lately, and since your time is in such high demand, you have to raise your rates to compensate. The client will most likely decline to keep working with you, but if they do surprise you by paying your new rates, you’ll be well compensated for putting up with them.
- Be direct, but tactful. Take the “it’s not you, it’s me” approach, even if you don’t really feel that way. Highlight why you think your agency isn’t a good fit for the client, but avoid blaming the client for the mismatch. You don’t have to give too many details. Just don’t leave the client wondering why you’re dropping them.
- Bite your tongue: If you’ve had a terrible time with this client, you might be tempted to tell them what you really think of them. Don’t do this! Keep your message professional and polite. It’s always a bad idea to burn bridges, even if you don’t foresee having any contact with this client in the future.
4. Break the News
Call your client or send them an email to let them know you’ve decided not to work with them anymore.
Choose the contact method you use to communicate with them most – no need to pick up the phone if you mostly talk over email.
Be polite, but don’t apologize.
Most importantly, don’t let the client talk you out of your decision.
5. Don’t Leave the Client in the Lurch
It’s unprofessional to leave a client hanging, especially if you’ve been working with them for a while.
You may want to give the client advance warning that you’re ending the working relationship after finishing a specific milestone in the near future. This gives them time to find another agency.
Another idea is to refer the client to a different agency yourself.
Firing a client is never fun.
Most agencies have to do it at some point, though.
Don’t make the decision in haste, but don’t feel guilty about doing what’s best for your agency and your team, either.
If you take the high road throughout the process, fulfill all your own obligations, and help the client find someone else to work with, your agency will come out with a clean reputation – and you’ll be able to replace that problem client with a great client instead.
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