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How to (Respectfully) Fire a Client in Seven Easy Steps

Jul 15, 2021
  • 6 min read
  • Yolande Yip

    Bad clients can lead to tough business decisions. No one wants to fire a client, and it really can be an emotional decision if it is someone you have worked with long term. Unfortunately, sometimes firing clients can be the right decision, especially if they have shown red flags or, even worse, committed a breach of contract. As much as it can be difficult, it is essential to be as understanding as possible, even in the face of challenging clients. By following some simple steps and showing kindness, you can gently let go of people who just aren't the right fit.

    Do You Really Need To Fire Them?

    As you start to examine the situation with a problem client, it is first necessary to ensure that there is no other recourse aside from letting them go. Sometimes issues genuinely aren't the client's fault, or they may be struggling with some transition period. Take a step back and remember that firing is a last resort. Look at precisely why you are terminating the relationship, and make sure that there aren't ways you can attempt to resolve these issues through communication and clarity first. It may be entirely true that your customer may not know they are doing something that is causing so many issues for you!

    Consistent scope creep

    When you talk to clients about a project, you need to set expectations. Part of nurturing a good relationship with a client is keeping clear project goals in mind, so they end up happy with the final product, and you can get everything done by the set end date. Unfortunately, not all clients respect this and will ask for revision after revision, eventually leading to scope creep as the project grows out of proportion to the initial expectations. While scope creep is a hassle, it sometimes can quickly be resolved through a gentle conversation with the client, reinforcing that what they are asking is beyond the original project scope. Clients that continue to be pushy with project goals and out-of-scope adds may not be a good fit.

    Poor communication

    The easiest way to create a bad client relationship is through poor communication. Good communication is a two-way street, so ensure this isn't something you can address through more clarity in your messages. Try recommending different messaging platforms like Slack or Teams if they seem less receptive to email communication.

    To facilitate communication issues and provide the best client experience, consider using client portal software, which can lend an air of professionalism that goes a long way toward soothing ruffled feathers.

    If none of these efforts work and there are still issues with the client's communication, they may not be a good client for you.

    Poor boundaries

    Genuine nightmare clients completely ignore your boundaries, disrespecting you, or making inappropriate or unreasonable demands. If the boundary-crossing is highly out of line and shows a complete lack of respect, it is not your burden to deal with the issue, and you should come up with an exit strategy immediately. Sometimes boundary-crossing looks like a client bothering you or your team members beyond your allotted business time or asking for proprietary resources. If this is the case, you can try approaching them about how you can assist them within your set boundaries. If your client continues to have needs outside of that set boundary, they may not be a great fit.

    Consistently late payments

    Small business owners and freelancers know that ideal clients will always pay their bills on time, but inevitably, you will run into a client that often will not do so. When you have a significant workload, the last thing you want to do is to chase demanding clients around, trying to get them to pay invoices.

    Approach customers who pay invoices consistently late upfront, and let them know your expectations and why they are essential. If they continue to pay late, it may not be worth your while to continue to accept projects from them.

    1. Schedule a Time to Meet or Video Chat

    Informing clients of their termination face-to-face is respectful and helps them know you aren't just dismissing them offhandedly. Schedule a video meeting with them on Zoom or another platform, or meet with them in person. Don't schedule the appointment far in advance. The last thing you or the client wants is for you to have a nervous customer wondering what the need for a video call at the end of the day is. Try to make it as casual and non-stressful as possible in the lead-up.

    2. Don't Make It Personal

    The best way to approach the situation is by being professional and not personal. Even though you may have a close relationship with those you have worked with, you don't want to make the situation more complicated than it already is. Don't play the blame game, don't talk about how hard the firing is for you, just clearly state that the relationship is ending and why in a calm and polite (but firm) manner. If there is a particular reason, please explain the situation briefly; otherwise, just move on.

    3. Finish Outstanding Projects First

    Rather than throwing out any half-completed projects, finish any outstanding projects for your client to tie up your end of the contract. Different types of work will be better suited for this type of wrap-up, so negotiate a proposal to tie things up with your customer if needed during your meeting. Ideally, you will finish any final items for that particular client, creating a better exit experience for them.

    4. Remain Calm and Respectful at All Times

    Even with a client who may not have shown much respect for you, it is always best practice to be the adult in the situation. Remain as calm and respectful as possible at all times, stepping away if necessary to keep composure and de-escalate the situation. Fighting with the client will undoubtedly burn any bridges you had with them and bite you in the future.

    5. Clearly Outline Next Steps

    Once you have informed the person that you will no longer continue working with them, outline the next steps. Clear next steps provide both you and the client with a clear idea of how you will close out any ongoing projects and help you keep track of what you need from them before you can close out any of their accounts. Planning these steps ahead of time creates a better experience for the exiting client and helps keep things from falling through the cracks during the process.

    6. Suggest a Replacement

    Your client may not have been prepared for your termination and may have vital projects that need to be completed. While it certainly isn't your job to ensure those items get done on a deadline anymore, it can be an incredibly kind gesture to provide a list of replacement recommendations. By providing them with a list of connections or acquaintances, you can potentially even help them find a working situation that is a better fit for their needs and working style.

    7. Create And Rehearse Scripts

    Firing someone is complex and can quickly become overwhelming and emotional. A great way to avoid an embarrassing situation is to create and rehearse scripts to be sure of what you want to say to the client. Having a friend or team member help you role-play the situation can help you feel much more prepared for the actual moment. The last thing you want is to have your exit meeting with the customer and end up bending to their requests or last asks because you feel unprepared or unsure of yourself.


    Firing a client can be challenging for a handful of reasons. Before you take the step to have that final conversation, ensure that there is no way you can work with the client to improve the situation. Sometimes, it just takes a little communication and expressing your pain points and needs to resolve an issue!

    Unfortunately, some customers are simply a bad fit. If that is the case, come up with a plan before meeting with them to make sure you know what steps you plan on taking. Creating a script and rehearsing it with a colleague or friend can help prepare you for the actual meeting. Once you have the discussion, stay professional, and above everything, remain kind and respectful, even if the person on the other end doesn't have the decency to do the same for you.

    After the conversation with the client:

    1. Finish any outstanding projects for them unless you have come up with an alternate close-out path.
    2. Make sure you have a clear way forward that is communicated to the customer.
    3. Before you say goodbye, give the client some suggestions on whom they can go to for work in the future to help them know where to start searching next.

    Keep Communication Open with Portal

    Portal is an all-in-one commerce solution that combines CRM, an asset library, file sharing, accounting tracking, client intake forms, eSignature collection, and client messaging into one custom-branded portal to provide your clients with a user-friendly streamlined experience that makes communicating more straightforward than ever before. Learn more about Portal here.

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