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How, Why, and When to Fire a Client

I recently learned how to fire a client. 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.

walking out the door

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 seven 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. 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.

Why Fire a Client?

There are many reasons you should consider a client that isn’t serving your goals and 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 Do It

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 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.

How to Fire a Client

There’s definitely an art to firing a client. Use tact and always remain respectful. Be honest in your reasons (you never know; if your issue is low pay, the client may offer to pay more), and if there is a possibility you can work out the situation, do. 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.

If you are able to, offer an alternate service provider. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone I could refer to the client I fired. Do your best to make them whole in your absence.

Strive to not burn bridges. If you can stay friendly, that client may end up referring others to you down the road.

It’s never fun to fire a client, but doing so can free you up to find more of the types of clients you really enjoy working with.

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Susan Guillory

Susan Guillory is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, a content marketing firm based in San Diego. She’s written several business books, and frequently blogs about small business and marketing on sites including Forbes, AllBusiness, and Cision. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.

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