Are you frustrated with a particular client?
Do you imagine how wonderful life would be without them?
Sometimes client relationships go sour. This can happen early in the relationship. But it may also deteriorate even after years of working together.
The thing is, once a client relationship goes bad, it begins to threaten your agency.
Over time, this negative client relationship affects your other accounts too.
That's why, sometimes, you have to make a tough call and fire a client.
I bet it's not something you find easy. So, in this post, I decided to share a few ideas on how to fire a client. You'll learn how to do it peacefully, gracefully, and without unpleasant consequences for your agency.
How to Be 100% Sure That You Must Fire the Client
Let me make something clear:
Not every seemingly bad client relationship must end.
In fact, just because you face problems with a client, it doesn't mean they have to go.
Perhaps, you and the client could work out the challenges you face. An honest conversation might save your agency from losing an account. And then, having to find a new client to replace them.
Ego, unfortunately, could be the culprit too. I've seen many small business owners getting frustrated with clients to the point of letting them go just because:
A client asked for a revision out of the project scope. It wasn't an unreasonable demand, mind you. The founder was just too busy to do it, and their response was anger.
Or acted in a similar way after a client rejected their idea.
You get the picture.
Pricing is another issue. I know many agencies consider firing clients just because they're on legacy rates. They rarely consider the alternative though—upgrading those accounts to new prices.
But I admit, sometimes client relationships deteriorate beyond rescue. And when they do, they threaten your agency.
I love how John White, the CMO of Social Media Solutions explained it in Forbes:
Toxic business relationships can suck the life out of your company and prevent growth. Once the relationship breaches certain boundaries that each company sets for acceptable behavior from its clients, it often makes sense to cut your losses and move on.
So, what are those boundaries? Here are the most common ones:
Broken client communications
Imagine, you work on the client's projects but get little or no support or interest from them. You keep reaching out to them, week after week after week. Eventually, you hit a wall and need their input. But there's none.
You may feel that your time would be better spent on other accounts, right? And, most likely, you'd be right.
This is such a common scenario. Some clients disregard the original scope of work. Some go even further. They become aggressive in getting their way.
They threaten you and your staff. Block payments until you do what they say.
And in turn, they drop the company's morale down.
No support for projects
With these clients, you find yourself running in circles. They veto all of your ideas. But they never offer any insight to get the project moving.
The result, accruing more costs. And on many levels at that—your staff has to work on new ideas all the time, often while neglecting other valuable clients too.
A new process that generates more cost
This scenario often happens when you subcontract with other companies. The process you've been using to work together changes. And the new one results in you having to spend more time and money to deliver the work.
The client might require more meetings, or more revisions, forcing you to dedicate more staff to the project too.
Poor anger management
Abuse towards you or your team member. Bad temper. Attitude. None of these make up a great client either. And certainly, your staff shouldn't be subjected to any such behavior from clients.
Nobody likes to chase invoices constantly. Not to mention, struggling with the cash flow as a result. Although in many cases, you can overcome this challenge, some clients remain bad payers. And sometimes, it may make more sense to replace them with someone else.
If any of the above happens to you regularly, it might be time to take drastic measure.
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Here's How to Fire a Client. 3 Approaches to Ending a Bad Client Relationship
In this section, we'll discuss two things:
1. How to end the client relationship: We'll cover what you should and shouldn't do to avoid any unpleasant consequences for your agency. After all, you don't want any hassle from a toxic client after you let them go.
2. How to tell a client you've fired them: I know that this, by far, is often the trickiest part. We'll look at three approaches you could take here.
Let's go through them in turn.
How to end a client relationship
Here's what NOT to do:
Never blame or offend the client. Even though they might be at fault, try to push the blame somewhere else.
Do not fire them without ending their project first. Or at least, without identifying the steps to hand it over to whoever is going to be working with the client next.
Don't ever get into any discussions about your decision. Make it final. Don't let the client sway you their way.
Don't fire them over email. You might send the initial message this way. But meet with them face-to-face or have a phone call. Even if only to discuss their project's completion, account hand-over, etc.
And here's what you SHOULD do:
Create the final task list for you and the client. Include all things each side would have to do before ending the relationship. On your side, it could include the final tasks on a project, preparing documentation to hand it over, a list of assets, etc. On the client side, what documents do they need to sign off, remaining payments, etc?
Suggest your replacement. Recommend another business or freelancer who, you think, could take over their business.
Now, you don't have to make any recommendations. But it's always worth helping the client look for another agency. Call it good karma or whatever you want, it works.
How to tell a client that they're fired
I've already mentioned the best approach to fire a client: never blame them. Losing an agency might be stressful enough. Hearing that it's their fault might only aggravate them more.
So, take a different approach. Blame other circumstances, personal or business, instead.
You won't burn bridges this way. And who knows, your contact in the company might be gone in the future, and they might become clients again.
You'll also avoid leaving any negative attitudes towards your agency. The client will be less likely to shatter your online reputation in return.
So, what you could say instead to fire them?
#1. Mention a change in personal circumstances
State that a new personal situation might prevent you from giving the client your fullest attention. Caring for their business, you prefer to recommend someone else to take over.
I've found that, in most cases, clients are quite understanding about this. They move on but retain a strong, positive attitude toward you.
#2. Changing business direction
Another option is to mention that you've decided to change the business focus.
It could be anything—moving to another industry or focusing on other services. However, for this approach to work, your new direction must sit outside of what the client would need you for.
After all, you don't want them to move with you.
#3. Amend the service delivery process making it unsuitable for the client
I'll admit it, this approach isn't as effective as the two above.
But with some clients, you may not want to use your personal life as the reason. And you can't claim to have changed the business direction. For example, if you're a highly specialized agency, providing one service to a single market already. Any such claim would make no sense then, right?
In such a case, amend your pricing or how you deliver the service to make it unsuitable for the client. And in turn, let them end the relationship instead.
Now, I must warn you. This approach could backfire if they agree to new prices or processes. So, use it with caution.
Or perhaps, only when you're not 100% certain you want to fire a client.
Firing a client isn't easy. The emotional weight of such a business decision can be heavy. But at the same time, toxic client relationships could affect your agency's growth.
That's why, sometimes, you have to make the tough call. But hopefully, you've just gained some insight into how to do this without any consequences to your agency. Good luck!