If your organization has clients, you’re eventually going to have to fire one. It’s inevitable.
As much as we’d like to believe it, none of us is perfect. We can’t get along with every single consumer, and there are consumers that are just never happy. But there’s a fine line separating those clients who are unsatisfiable and those who just need some extra attention. And we all have different tolerance levels for those people.
Not only can clients like this drive you crazy, but they can affect your bottom line. Sometimes the time you put behind a big account isn’t even worth it when you crunch the numbers. Just remember, revenue is not profit.
If you keep alert, though, you can spot some warning signs. Here’s three most common types of clients that should be fired.
This is the most dangerous. These folks are often good people who are inexperienced dealing with companies in your industry. They have no idea what is standard and how the process is.
If you just have that feeling that the project will never end and your client will never be happy, just call it quits while you’re on good terms with them. If you don’t you’ll end up exhausting yourself both physically and emotionally and worse: you could be left with a negative reputation.
I’m not talking about the clients who decide to change the scope of the project and ask for a new proposal. That’s perfectly acceptable.
The re-negotiator is the client that decides to change the scope of the project without asking for a new proposal. They agree to a price and add requirements after the fact, or they try to change the payment agreement without lowering the requirements. They believe that you’re so desperate for business that you’ll fold and do whatever they ask.
A great way of spotting a re-negotiator early is if they ask you to do spec work first.
It’s important that you don’t buckle. You will slowly chip away at your reputation as a professional if you do. If you see a client starting to do this, you should lay down the law. Remind them firmly (but politely) that they agreed to a proposal, and that changing the scope would require a new payment agreement and vice versa.
When even answering a client’s phone call feels like a chore, you need to reconsider if you should be working with them. This is another type that the client may be a nice person.
Often, Stalker clients are just worried about their project. They may have never worked with a company like yours, or you may even have a bad reputation. Stalker clients just need a little extra communication. Before you decide that this type of client should be fired, you should examine your own communication practices.
How to Avoid “Firable” Clients
It’s near impossible to avoid these kinds of clients but you can definitely safeguard yourself against them. It’s a simple matter of fixing your sales process.
First of all, before you even submit a proposal, you should explain the process of what you do. For example, while we build a website proposal, we send our clients a handout that explains the process we go through to build a website. This is normally enough to guard yourself from the Never-Satisfieds.
In your proposal, its important to painstakingly breakdown the scope and cost of your project with as much detail as you can. If there is a change in cost or scope, it will be easier to re-negotiate and re-quote this way. You should also establish a rigid payment schedule, and note any late payment penalties.
You should also include your business hours, deliverables, and a detailed timeline in your proposal. Always allow yourself a three to five business day cushion between milestones.
How to Fire a Client
It’s never easy to actually fire a client, especially when you need the money. Weigh the decision carefully, as it could have some serious consequences. There’s several ways to fire a client, but we’ll cover the most obvious and difficult here.
You could just tell them “no”. You should avoid this if you can, and never use this method if you’ve already had rocky relations with the client. Here’s a couple of things to consider:
- Who do they know?
- How influential are they?
- How will not having you on their side affect their business? Are you ready to have that on your conscience?
- Are there any other companies you could refer them to?
If you can refer them to and help set them up with another company in your industry, this process is likely to be a lot smoother.
For other ways to fire a client, check out this article from Freelance Switch.