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How to Fire a Client (Without Making It a Big Deal)

There are 3 ways firing a client will impact your business. Are you prepared to handle them all?

Firing a client will be your reality. Good businesses have standards, and you’re bound to run into people who don’t meet them.

A client speaks horribly to one of your team members.

A client approaches an employee and attempts to hire them outside of your services for additional work.

A client ignores your emails or pings, doesn’t get back to you about the work, and then withholds payment when you “didn’t do anything we paid for!”

Accept that there will be crappy clients. It’s a reality of serving people. And eventually there will be a client that’s worth firing.

But firing a client often means sacrifice. Money is the obvious sacrifice, and can be a big one depending on the size of your client and the size of your business. But there are other ways firing a client will impact your business.

Firing a Client Impacts Your Business in 3 Ways

The reasons for firing a client are endless, and unique to your business. But the impact falls into three buckets:

Impact 1: Your Revenue

Obviously, one less person paying you money will impact your bottom line. If you’re in a good place financially, or if the client is not a particularly big account, you may not feel this impact very much. But if you’re just getting started or this client represents a disproportionate amount of revenue (something to avoid whenever possible for this very reason), the firing will hit different.

Before firing a client that will dramatically affect your financial health, take the time to really think it through. Are you firing based on a short-term emotion (e.g., the client’s been extra frustrating about little details recently), or a long-term issue that cannot be resolved with time or effort?

Bad clients can sink a business. But firing them too quickly may also sink the ship. Take the time you need to really think it through before you proceed.

Impact 2: Your Team

You might not even be the one at odds with your client. If you have a team, it’s likely they’re the ones dealing with client issues and voicing their concerns about particular clients.

As a business owner, the decision whether or not to fire the client ultimately rests on your shoulders. But this decision can have a dramatic impact on your team.

On the positive side, if a client’s been a problem and your team has been taking the brunt of it, firing them can increase morale. And as has been proven in many studies, we know, “positive feelings about the organization and management lead to higher productivity”.

It can be good for the team and for the business to fire a challenging client.

On the other hand, losing revenue can negatively impact the team. Maybe they don’t get that bonus they were promised. Maybe they have to do away with some operating expenses that made their job easier. And if the lost revenue is not made up in another way, it could even force you to lay off certain employees.

Impact 3: Your Reputation

Reputation is paramount in any industry. And if you let go of a problematic client, there’s always the chance they spread some unkind words about your business.

While you can’t control every narrative about your business, you can limit the potential for damage by navigating any firings with tact and professionalism.

How to Prevent Potential Client Issues Before They Start

The best way to limit the impact of firing a client is to avoid having to fire them in the first place. Here are some ways to mitigate common reasons for firing a client:

Get It In Writing

One of the first lines of defense when navigating challenges with your clients is their contract.

No matter how small the job, get it in writing.

This isn’t just for how your services work, but also for the expected work to be completed. When you go through the onboarding process for your client, you should know what you’ll deliver, how often, with how many revisions, and on what timeline. All of these details have to be agreed upon and signed.

This covers your business if a client tries to make claims that you agreed to do more for less money. Expectations that are clear can even save a client from needing to be fired.

But a word of caution: don’t bring up the contract as your first line of defense. Get an understanding of what’s happening and use the legal language as a last resort.

Address Concerns Early On

A lot of anxieties and squabbles can be crushed with a quick call. Real human voices discussing a problem are much easier to get a handle on than heated email exchanges.

You need to face any whiff of concern sooner rather than later. Don’t just see if it goes away on its own. It won’t. In fact, it’ll probably just get worse.

If a client is making some concerning comments right after starting work together, suggest a call to make sure you understand what’s happening. Really, this is part of good client communication in general.

Many people lack the emotional maturity (still!) to approach a problem in a clear way. Act with transparency. It’s best for everyone and actually comforting to most clients.

Clear The Air

Dealing with difficult clients can be as easy as asking questions and repeating back their answers. Sometimes this means a hard conversation about how your team isn’t delivering on a promise. It’s very possible that you’re at fault, but some small changes internally can make the issues go away.

Do your best to truly put yourself in your client’s shoes, listen to their concerns, and get clear on the problem.

Find a Middle Ground

What’s a solution that keeps both parties happy and working together? Does there need to be an adjustment to the contract? Do expectations just need to be reset?

A lot of us live in a black-or-white existence that doesn’t leave room for negotiation. You don’t have to be all-or-nothing with a client. Firing them isn’t always the only solution. Try to figure out if there is a way to meet their needs while maintaining your core values.

How to Fire a Client — With Minimal Damage and Ill Will

You can’t save every client, and when it’s time to let them go, it’s best to do so in a positive way.

Unless this client is a hard-pass and you want to get rid of them ASAP (team member harassment or something of the sort), try to complete the work they hired you for. You can part ways with people and still keep your word for what was agreed upon.

Once you’ve caught up on your promised work, it’s time for an honest, direct conversation. State why you believe the relationship is no longer working, and how you intend to offboard them so they have all the information and materials they need to find a new vendor.

Firing a client doesn’t have to be a big deal. Explain what’s happening, explain why it’s happening, and explain what comes next.

The sooner it’s over, the sooner you can get back to building your business.

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