Firing clients isn’t easy for lots of reasons. You really like them, they have a great business, you need the money, you feel bad, etc. But everyone will have to do it at some point, and knowing how to fire a client can be so helpful when you find yourself in that position!
There are so many scenarios that come up when I think of why you might need to fire a client. And they run the gamut. Anything from not having enough time in your schedule to the fact that they’re a total nightmare to work with.
I’ve fired more than a few clients in my time and each one for a different reason. It was never easy (and I think if it IS easy, then you’re working with the wrong clients), but it has always been worth it in the end.
Why do you want to fire your client?
I know, I know. It feels almost like this would always be obvious. But sometimes it isn’t. Especially if you’re struggling with whether to do it or not. Getting really clear on this reason if you’re waffling can be the thing that pushes you over.
I had to fire a client I really liked. She was a great person, really great. But she was so all over the place that we just didn’t jive well when it came to getting shit done. When I tried to be more organized she said she felt she couldn’t be creative, and when I followed her go-with-the-flow lead I was always doing shit at the last minute, which stressed me out. No bueno.
In this case, it wasn’t that she was a nightmare client texting me at all hours of the day and night or giving me impossible deadlines. Our styles just didn’t mesh because she thrived in chaos and I like lots of structure.
Figuring out why I wanted to fire her (she caused me stress when she worked in the way that was most natural to her) made releasing her so much easier.
Be polite but honest about the breakup.
I have always preferred to do this process over email. Not only do I think better when I’m writing but I am able to keep a written record of everything I say so that no one can accuse me of something I didn’t do.
I keep these emails short and polite and try not to over-explain myself. I don’t want to explain so much that it feels like I’m bullshitting them, you know? This tactic is especially helpful if the client is a nightmare. You want to be honest (seriously, lying is a dick move) but “you were a total asshole!” isn’t the best way to end any professional relationship…however true.
I also try to soften the blow by providing them with references to other service pros so that I’m not leaving them totally high and dry. This is a good way to hopefully get a good review from the client one day plus send business to friends who might work better with the client.
Be clear about your next steps.
This is probably the most important one. Be really, really clear here about what terminating your relationship with this client means, and make sure you’re honoring your contract at the same time (you do have a contract, right?!).
If your contract says 14 days’ notice, don’t tell them on a Monday that you’ll be finished on Friday. Tell them exactly what you’re going to do in regards to any documents you might have possession of, passwords, how they can remove you from programs or email accounts.
And if you want to go the extra mile, you can type up a quick document (just a page or two, no need to write a manifesto) they can hand off to your replacement to give them a rundown of your duties and responsibilities, the client’s preferences, where everything is located, etc.
Obviously, you don’t have to be this nice. You can just politely say, ok, I’m out, I’ll be deleting all your documents and passwords within 48 hours, good luck. But I’ve gotten referrals even from clients I’ve fired, so going the extra mile will always be worth it to me in terms of keeping that relationship healthy in other ways.
Have you ever had to fire a client? What advice would you give to someone else who’s looking for some guidance on this process?