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How to Fire a Bad Client (The Right Way)

Mar 20, 2023
  • 10 min read
  • Omid G

    Dealing with a bad client can feel like a nightmare. It takes a toll on your mental energy and can sometimes distract you from doing great work for clients that do appreciate your work.

    Trust me, I’ve been there — scope creep, delayed payments, micromanaging, messages saying “plz fix” at 3 in the morning. It’s not fun.

    So, in this article, we are going to go over how to fire a bad client gracefully. You want to stay as professional as possible and not burn any bridges in this process (even if you feel like it’s a bridge you want to burn).

    Chances are, you’re already fed up with a client and want to get rid of them. But before you jump right in, you want to make sure the timing is right.

    How To Know When It’s Time To Fire A bad client

    You don’t want to let go of a client at the first red flag you encounter. As a service-based business owner, you need to be on your A-game when it comes to communication. If you notice a client does something that you don’t feel good about, you need to bring it up with them in a professional and caring manner.

    Give your client the benefit of the doubt. When a problem does come up, make sure to give a solution. Don’t just blame your client for every issue. A working relationship is a two-way street. So if problems do arise, make sure to offer solutions in how the client relationship can be improved.

    But, if problems do persist after you’ve brought them up multiple times, it might be a good idea to conserve your energy and let the client go. Here are a few reasons why it might be a good idea to start preparing to fire a client:

    1. It’s Costing You Too Much Money or Time

    If a client is putting your entire business at risk, and making it difficult for you to deliver high-quality work to your other good clients, it might be time to cut ties. Many times, a toxic client might try to change the scope of work after a contract has been signed, is constantly late to meetings, or isn’t following up in a timely manner for any requests on your end.

    These constant switch-ups or communication issues can make it feel like this particular client is requiring more time and effort than they are paying for. If this is the case, firing a bad client can allow you to redirect your efforts toward more profitable and productive clients, benefiting both your bottom line and sanity.

    2. Your Peace Is Disrupted

    No amount of money or time is worth your peace of mind. If a problematic client is consistently rude or disrespectful towards you and your team, enables a toxic work environment, or makes you feel like you need to walk around eggshells with them, it might be worth letting them go.

    If the thought of dread enters your mind before you interact with them, whether in person or online, it’s time to get your peace back. No business relationship is worth sacrificing your mental and emotional being. By ending a relationship with a bad client, you create a more positive and productive work environment for yourself and your team — leading to increased motivation and higher-quality work.

    3. Your Client Lacks Boundaries

    This next reason depends on your own working style and personal values. For example, some business owners don’t mind receiving messages on the weekends, but some do. If a client constantly contacts you outside of normal business hours, makes unreasonable demands, or expects immediate responses from you, it can cause you to burn out. And even worse, it can disrupt your workflow with your other clients.

    This constant overstepping of boundaries can cause you to feel negative about your work and negatively impact your productivity and well-being. By firing a bad client that lacks boundaries, you take your control back and open yourself up to a healthier work-life balance.

    4. Your Client Micromanages or Is Pessimistic

    Another sign that it might be time to fire a difficult client is when they consistently micromanage your work or exhibit a pessimistic attitude towards your ideas and suggestions. Clients who micromanage can be frustrating and stifling — limiting your ability to exercise creativity and independent decision-making.

    On the same token, clients who are consistently pessimistic can be demotivating and drain your energy — making it difficult to produce high-quality work. While it is important to listen to feedback and address any concerns a client may have, it is also essential to work with clients who trust your expertise and value your input. By ending the relationship with a micromanaging or pessimistic client, you can focus your efforts on clients who appreciate your work and allow you to produce your best possible work.

    5. Your Client (Consistently) Doesn’t Pay on Time

    Last but not least, one of the clearest signs that it might be time to fire a bad client is when they consistently fail to pay you on time. Late payments can cause cash flow issues in your business and be incredibly frustrating to deal with.

    The occasional delay might be understandable, but a consistent failure to pay on time can mean you’re interacting with a problematic client that does not respect your time or resources. This is why it’s important to have clear payment terms and expectations outlined in your contract. If a client consistently misses a payment deadline without explanation, it may be time to terminate the relationship.

    4 Steps to follow when firing a client

    Firing a client is never an easy decision to make. If it’s your first time doing it, it can feel daunting and overwhelming. Confrontation can be scary. But, if you follow through gracefully, you’ll come out the other end feeling like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

    If you’ve determined that you’re ready to let a client go, here are five steps to follow to do it professionally and respectfully.

    1. Review Your Contract

    Before you jump in to send your client a message that you’re parting ways, make sure to review the termination clause of your contract. Sometimes you may need to give a notice in advance and follow up on any remaining tasks that were originally agreed upon. Other times, you may be able to end the contract right away. It all depends on what you and your client originally agreed upon in the contract. By reviewing your contract, you can ensure that you are acting in accordance with the terms of your agreement and avoid any potential legal or financial issues.

    Reviewing your contract can also help you prepare for the initial conversation with your client. If there are any specific clauses or terms that you need to reference in your explanation, it's essential to be familiar with them beforehand. This can help you answer any client questions and provide a clear and concise explanation for the termination.

    Once you’ve reviewed your contract, it’s time to put together a list of final deliverables and outstanding tasks so you can create a smooth departure.

    2. Create a Plan To Finish Your Last Project (Create Final Task List)

    Once you’ve reviewed your contract and are ready to end things with your client, put together a proposed plan for final project tasks to be done. As much as you may want to, it’s not a good idea to just drop everything you’re doing and call it quits (unless you and your client come to a mutual agreement).

    It’s important to keep your reputation as a trustworthy and honest service provider, so you want to complete any outstanding deliverables to the best of your abilities. This can include sending any final invoices or reports, providing access to any necessary files or resources, or completing any final revisions or edits.

    By creating a plan to finish your last project, you can ensure that you leave the relationship on a positive note and maintain your reputation as a reliable service provider. It can also help you avoid any potential legal or financial issues that may arise if you fail to complete the work.

    3. Put Together Your Message (Put the Blame on Yourself)

    When it comes to firing a bad client, it's important to have a clear and concise script in place to explain your reasoning. This will help you communicate your message effectively and position the whole situation in a light that you see best fit for your own reputation.

    The first thing you want to do is to figure out your “why” for ending the relationship. This could be due to a change in your business operations, personal circumstances, or a decision to change your services or pricing. Whatever the reason, it's important to be honest and transparent with the client about why you are terminating the relationship.

    However, it's crucial that you don't play the blame game and criticize your client in your script. Instead, put the blame on yourself and your business. For example, you could say that your business is moving in a different direction or that you are unable to provide the level of service that the client requires. By taking responsibility for the termination, you can avoid any potential conflicts or hurt feelings.

    When putting together your script, keep in mind that it should be concise and to the point. Avoid going into too much detail or getting into a debate with your client. Instead, focus on the key points and provide a clear explanation for the termination.

    It’s also important to be respectful and professional in your communication. Keep the tone personable and honest, and avoid any language or phrasing that could be perceived as confrontational, passive-aggressive, or negative.

    Here’s an example of a sample script you can send to a client:

    Hi [Client Name],
    I hope this email finds you well. I’m reaching out because there have been some changes in our business internally and we are [explain your own reasoning].
    Because of this, I believe it makes the most sense for us to wrap up [current project] and terminate (or pause) our contract. I want to assure you that this decision was not made lightly. I’ve really enjoyed working with you and hope you all the best.
    I understand that this news may come as a surprise, but I want to assure you that I am committed to completing any outstanding work to the best of my abilities. To that end, I have created a final task list and timeline to ensure that we complete the work within the agreed-upon timeframe.
    I want to thank you for the opportunity to work together and for your trust in my services. It has been a pleasure to serve you and your business, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
    If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. I am happy to discuss this further with you.
    [Your Name]

    Of course, you want to edit this script to the exact situation you are dealing with. But, putting together an honest script can help you communicate your message effectively and avoid any potential conflicts or misunderstandings. By taking responsibility for the termination and being respectful and professional in your communication, you can leave the relationship on a positive note.

    4. Follow Up

    Once you send your termination message to your client, it’s time to be patient and wait till the other party responds. However, if you know you’re dealing with a problem client, and who lacks clear communication skills, it’s a good idea to send a follow-up message after a couple of days of no response.

    It's important to follow up so you can make sure everything has been completed and that there are no outstanding issues. This can help you tie up any loose ends and make sure the termination process has been completed smoothly.

    Start by setting a follow-up date in your calendar to check in with the client. This could be a few days or a week after the initial email, depending on the scope of the work and the urgency of the situation. In your follow-up email or call, ask if there are any final tasks that need to be completed or any outstanding issues that need to be addressed.

    If there are any outstanding issues, work with the client to resolve them as quickly as possible. This could include providing additional information, making changes to a project, or answering any final questions.

    Once all of the work has been completed, make sure to send a final invoice and follow up to make sure everything has been paid in full. This can help you avoid any potential payment disputes down the line and ensure that you are paid for the work that you have completed.

    Overall, following up after termination can help you tie up any loose ends and ensure that the termination process has been completed smoothly. By staying in touch with the client and addressing any final issues, you can leave the relationship on a positive note and maintain a good reputation.

    Tips To Avoid Bad Clients

    The best way to fire a bad client is to avoid bad clients in general. Having to terminate a working relationship is never easy, and it can be a big toll on your mental health.

    Here are a few tips to avoid bad clients before you even sign a contract:

    • Be clear about your services from the start: Make sure you are clear about the scope of work and what services you offer. This will make sure you attract clients who are a good fit for your business.
    • Set clear expectations: Set expectations from the first interaction you have with a potential client. This can include deadlines, deliverables, communication styles, and payment terms.
    • Screen potential clients: Before you sign a new client, consider implementing a screening process to make sure there’s a good fit. This can include asking for references, meeting them face-to-face, talking to other team members, reviewing any work they’ve done with previous freelancers, firms, or agencies, or setting up a consultation call.
    • Trust your intuition: If you get a bad feeling about a potential client, it’s okay to say no. Chances are, your instincts are going to be true. So make hard decisions early on about who you want to work with. Great clients will make your working relationships feel natural and easy. If you approach your client acquisition strategy from a place of scarcity, you’ll end up signing clients that feel “easy” and it could potentially cause headaches down the line.

    In conclusion, firing a bad client can be a difficult but necessary decision for any business owner. By recognizing the signs of a challenging client and following a clear process for termination, you open space to signing your dream clients. And by setting clear expectations, screening potential clients, and trusting your instincts, you can make sure you’re building a business that thrives on positive relationships and successful projects.

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