After months of planning, you survived Black Friday, Small Biz Saturday and Cyber Monday, and can now look forward to 2017 in relative confidence. But before doing so, I challenge you to do something that you’ve probably thought about, but lacked the confidence to follow through: firing your life-sucking clients.
The (unpleasant, bullying) customer is not king
I ran Ready Writer, my own content agency for three years. And while I can honestly say that for the most part, my clients were an absolute delight, there were a few that stood out, for all the wrong reasons:
- The one who declared that he had never seen such awful copy. This, despite the fact that he signed off the final version content himself (no matter that we only did two revisions as a matter of company policy. For him, we had six revisions and by the end of the project, everyone on my team blanched every time his company was mentioned), he took on average, two weeks to respond to emails, was really unpleasant to deal with, wouldn’t return our phone calls, and generally, made everyone’s life on the project team, hell.
- The one who chose someone with no web experience as his web project manager. Cue lots of conversations about the difference between writing for a web v print audience, user journeys, SEO, and UX, all of which fell on deaf ears – the web project manager knew everything because his ‘mate did this stuff and had told [him] all about it’.
I could go on, but I won’t. These clients cost my business time, money and mine/my team’s wellbeing. There was no other recourse but to literally fire them. Usually, in situations like this, I would keep the deposit, but the sheer hassle and havoc the inevitable wrangling would wreak on my wellbeing was simply not worth it. I made the call to the clients and followed up with an email: thanks, but no thanks.
How do you know when to fire a client?
For me, the decision was clear: in the examples mentioned above, neither the client nor my agency were deriving much value from each other, so I did something about it.
Since those incidents I’ve spoken to lots of business owners and they’ve shared their stories of firing clients. There were common themes: ignored emails, unreasonable demands that went far beyond the scope of the project, and more.
As service providers, we’re told that the customer is always right. Newsflash: they’re not.
No one can tell you when to fire a client, but from experience, you know. And if you’ve been putting it off all year, then, this is your time to finally do something about it, and start 2017 on a clean slate – with a client list chock-full of delightful customers.
And if you’re wondering how to fire your clients, my business toolkit has solution templates for this very situation.
Talking about clients… I once had a contact at my clients go solo. One day she called me.
‘I just want to tell you that I admired your team’s professionalism and can-do attitude when you were dealing with me at [company name redacted]. Now, I’m a service provider and the boot is firmly on the other foot. I now know what it must have been like to have someone like me as a client. I thought I had high standards. As a service provider, I now know that I was being rather difficult.’
I didn’t fire her ex-company as a client, because when she was there, although she was demanding, she was not impossible to deal with, and there’s a clear difference between the two. Ironically, her ex-company ended up being up one of my favourite clients.
Start 2017 with a clean client list
As we hurtle towards 2017, I would advise you to look through your client list. If the thought of dealing with certain clients in 2017 feels you with dread (you know the kind I’m talking about: sweaty palms, sleepness nights and the general feeling of, no client is worth this trauma), then I would encourage you to think about letting them go. Trust me, you’ll get other clients. And chances are, your client is probably thinking of terminating your working relationship anyway. Just saying…
Over to you: how has your business benefitted from firing a client?
Also published on Medium.