Firing Clients

…I feel a cliché coming… aaaand here it is: it’s time for some spring cleaning!

It hurts to “fire” paying clients, but sometimes it must be done, and I’m at that point. What kind of a client would I consider firing?

1. Clients who don’t pay enough and are not willing to accept a higher rate.
These are like an old item that you keep “just in case”. The thing is useless and has been useless for awhile, but you may need it some day in the future, or you just can’t bring yourself to throw it away because… well, SOME money is better than NO money, right?

2. Clients that pay well enough, but are emotionally and creatively exhausting.
These are a drain, because when I dread the project or working with a particular client, it sucks the energy out of me, inhibits all the creativity and free thought, and the project takes twice as long to complete. In the end, really, it’s a double-toll: less money per true hour spent on the project, and psychological damage.

Firing techniques

We’ve done it before, but in non-direct, and shall I say, cowardly ways. I would start responding to the offending client’s phone calls and emails with a delay (Ok, bad, I know – but to be fair I only did it with real jerks); raising rates; and stop showing any kind of initiative. Almost always these ‘techniques’ created ill will and led to a break-up.

While it’s never good to create ill will and be so unprofessional, I believe we didn’t lose much with most of the “fired” clients, because it’s unlikely anyone will come back after being rejected even if it’s done politely; or will ever recommend us to the others. I may be wrong on this, but it helps me feel better to think this way.

I still believe raising rates is a good way of weeding out the bloodsuckers. With this method, one has to decide what’s more important: more money or getting rid of the client.

· More money
Figure out how much more to charge. Caution: may lose the client in the process.

· Objective to get rid of the client completely?
It’s important to raise the rates enough so that they won’t stick around. Otherwise, you get a bit more money, but still suffer through every project. And then what do you do? You come back and have to dump them anyway by saying “I’m sorry, I thought more money would alleviate the sting of working with you, but I just hate you too much.” Who’s a jerk now?

Another, mature way of breaking up the relationship is of course to come out and talk about it directly with the client. And I’m thinking out loud here…:

· Change of direction
“It’s been a pleasure working with you for the past 5 years, but we’re changing our business focus and I don’t think we both [they and you] will benefit from continuing our relationship. [Can explain how the focus is changing, but if it sounds too lame, maybe just skip it.] I’d be happy to refer you to Blah Blah, they are capable of providing you with the services you’ve been getting from us.”

· It’s not working out
“I think our professional relationship is not going well. There is a lot of discontent on both sides. Having tried and failed to work through that, I think you will agree that it’s best for us to just discontinue working together.”

Referring to someone is optional, especially if you don’t know anyone you can recommend.

Why any work at all is worse than no work (applies to some cases – decide for yourself)

If you are in a position that you’re willing to work for peanuts, fine. But if your next meal doesn’t depend on these ‘peanuts’, marketing is always a better paying job. You invest your time in your business/yourself, and it has the potential to bring new bigger and better paying clients.

I’m not going to do hour-by-hour comparison of unbilled extra time spent on a dreaded project versus marketing. It really isn’t all about money: emotional rewards are more important. Especially when you are self-employed. Because otherwise, why else would you be doing this? If you enjoy being abused with little pay or bad attitude, you may as well go get a job.

Ok, I’ve convinced myself!