Dear Client, you’re fired.

October 24, 2013

How to fire your clientsWe work our collective butts off to win clients, it is the driving force behind our business’s growth. But there comes a time for all of us when a bad, negative, demanding or (gasp) whining client breaks into our inner circle.  What to do!

I received this email last week from a client with a suggestion for a post and on the very (very) slim chance that her client has ever come across my blog, I won’t include any names:

Justine I have a blog topic for you….. 

How to get rid of those clients that don’t do you any good,   Or are some clients worth their business?

I’m meaning the ones that cause you more stress than you need.  They can make you angry or upset.  Challenge anything you tell them and just plain drive you up the wall. 

Thought it might be good as you deal with small business and this can be a hard one for someone to realise or they could be worried about what they think might happen if they don’t keep that person as a customer.

Was helping another business owner out with this the other day AND

YES, I have one of those clients as well.  This client that has basically changed the way they behave etc since I have moved offices.  I have tried everything to get rid of them, even to the point of saying fully booked and saying I think you need to see someone else … but they keep on coming.  

WHY fire your client?

A so-called bad client can be costly, both from a financial aspect and emotionally.  Here are some good reasons why you need to clean house:

  • In terms of rework, returns, complaints, credits and the admin cost of processing these, a bad client will affect your bottom line.
  • A bad client can affect the attitude of you and your staff.
  • We are all working hard and it’s important to enjoy what we do.  Someone who affects this passion and sense of doing a good job has the ability to impact how much we enjoy coming to work.
  • Most importantly, these clients take time and resources away from good clients.

Note: I am not talking about genuine customer complaints, these are a valuable process your business must master.  I have made mistakes with great clients and honestly, I bend over backwards to put these right.  I cannot afford to lose great clients.

WHEN to fire your client?

Startups obviously need every client they can get – every sale counts when your income is on the climb.  But as soon as you have a good base of ‘good clients’ you can start to phase out those undesirables.

For established companies, as soon as you have a bad client in your sights I’d suggest you initiate the firing process.

HOW to fire your client?

I haven’t had the misfortune to have many bad clients slip through my defenses.  When I have I’ve been honest and luckily, being in a professional service industry, I’ve been able to bring it back to personalities.  And I’ll be honest, I’m a nervous wreck leading up to the big phone call.

My script might go something like, “Joe we’ve been working together long enough now to get a feel for each other and to be honest I don’t think I’m the best VA to support you in your business.  I really think you need a VA who can come into your office on a weekly basis to work side by side with you on your processes and this is not something I am able to offer.  How do you feel about my working to help you find someone who’s a better fit for you?”  

Plan your script before you call so you can state the reasons why you can no longer work with them.

Be honest and be firm.  Always try to end the relationship with respect and integrity.  What goes around comes around, you know it does!

I’ve also had clients go through this process only to come out the other side with a new, improved client.  In these cases you need to set clear expectations.  This definitely works if the client hadn’t realised that the relationship wasn’t working, and if they really want to work with you.

In the case of the email featured above, again … what to do!  What can you do when you’ve suggested they would be better with another provider and stating you don’t have time to help just doesn’t do the trick?

  • The gentle approach hasn’t worked.
  • The referral approach hasn’t worked.
  • The unavailable approach hasn’t worked.

Solution: Raw unplugged honesty!  In this instance your option is to be brutally honest and tell the client you are no longer prepared to work with them.

They will ask why.

Plan what you will say beforehand.  Be honest without being emotional.  Refuse to be drawn into an argument and be absolutely truthful, it is then up to them whether they take your comments on board.  You have no control over their actions and every control over your own.

It helps me, before making the dreaded phone call, to imagine that the conversation is over and I no longer have to deal with the client.  Sometimes the medicine is bitter as it goes down but feeling better makes it worth it in the end!


Your turn: How would you treat the client in the email.  What suggestions do you have that would help her to resolve this?



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