Fire Your Clients
By Gail Doby, ASID
CVO & Co-Founder, Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting & Design Success University
No one likes to lose business. Sometimes, though, the cost of doing business is too high to justify keeping on a difficult client. That includes the cost to your sanity and your health as well as to your bottom line. Many an experienced designer has learned the value of firing a troublesome client. You are the best judge of your own level of tolerance, but here are some rules of thumb for when and how to cut a client loose.
Even if you’ve been burned a few times and have a fairly rigorous process for screening prospects, you can wind up with a problem client. A glitch in the project or hitting some unknown hot button may cause the relationship to go sour. Once you detect there’s a problem, your first step should be to try to resolve it amicably by talking it through with the client. In most cases, the issue can be resolved and the project set back on course. If the problem persists and/or if the clients refuses to discuss it or seek a solution, that’s a signal it may be time to bail out before the project crashes.
Although I would prefer otherwise, I can work with a client who is mettlesome, indecisive or needy. In my book, a client’s business is not worth it if they are disrespectful, refuse to pay, do not return my calls, or have violated the terms of our agreement (such as doing their own shopping for items they’ve engaged me to research and purchase) and think nothing of it.
Assuming the client has signed a contract or letter of agreement, be sure you document the reasons for your discontinuing the relationship in as much detail as possible before notifying the client of your decision to terminate. Put everything in writing when giving notice and require proof that the client has received it. Every story has two sides, and the client could decide to sue you for breach of contract if you abruptly stop providing services. Be clear, specific and factual in your explanation, referring to particular terms in the contract. Avoid raising emotional or interpersonal grievances that may be subject to dispute.
Depending on the situation, you may want to call the client as well and explain your reasons. I recommend for your own safety and peace of mind that you do not confront the client in person. If the client threatens a lawsuit, refer them to your attorney.
Firing a client can be a difficult and emotional experience. In the long run, however, you and your business will be better off. Put your energies into serving the clients who appreciate what you have to offer, not into fighting battles with those who don’t.