Goodbye client

When and how to fire a client

When I first started working for myself, it never once occurred to me that I could or should fire a client. I’d worked as an employee for years and employees are the ones who get fired not the other way around – plus I was new at freelancing and thought it was important to take all the work I was offered. Rookie error…

It took having a nightmare client combined with a timely and eye-opening article on the types of clients you should dump for me to realise that, not only could I now call the shots about who I worked with, but that some clients could actually destroy my business.

Types of clients you should consider firing

Confidence knockers

This is the most important one in my opinion. The first client I fired used to both micro-manage me yet not give me enough information to do my job properly. I’d just started out, she was paying me a lot of money (and was never late in paying me) but I actively disliked going to her house to do the work and wasn’t enjoying my new life as a VA at all.

The article I read said that people who knock your confidence will destroy your business from within, that most people when they start out freelancing have some doubt in their abilities (I did at this point) and these clients only confirm your (unfounded yet natural) suspicions that you’re not good enough.

You are.

Get rid of the client instead or you’ll enter a spiral of doubt and your business will implode.

Rubbish or unsuitable work

When the tasks you’re being given are uninspiring and boring, don’t fit in with the rest of your work, aren’t reflecting the long-term vision you have of your working life, or aren’t using your skills to their best advantage then you should get rid of the client.

You’re always going to have some work you’re not that into of course but, if you’re constantly taking on work that you don’t enjoy, then it’s definitely time to review the situation. This scenario will inevitably crop up early on and I think it’s actually quite helpful as it’ll make you review your objectives and decide what type of tasks/clients you do want.

Having the work alone isn’t enough – you went freelance for a reason!

You don’t like them

If you don’t like your client or their business practices then you’re doing yourself a disservice. You could continue working with them and take their money, but I guarantee it’ll end in tears and you’ll end up disliking yourself more than you dislike them.

I once had a client who I could never please. They didn’t know what they really wanted from me so I could never fulfil the brief. They were also continually moaning to me about their life and I ended up feeling like their therapist. It felt like a massive weight had been lifted when I fired her!

They’re rude to you

A disrespectful client doesn’t care a fig about you and won’t think twice about doing you over one day. You’ll never be able to manage them and you’ll dread taking their calls. Again, I’m sure you didn’t go freelance to be bullied.

Late payers

There are ways to manage and mitigate late payers but, if you’ve applied these methods and the client still continuously fails to pay you on time, they’re a rude arsehole and you should consider getting rid of them.

Freelancers rely on a steady income and you should be able to focus on better things than whether some idiot is going to pay your invoice on time.

They’re a nightmare to work with

Depending on what kind of a VA you are and what services you offer, some clients will keep stretching the limits of the brief. They’ll continually ask for changes outside the agreed contract, you do what they ask but then they’ll move the goalposts, they’ll keep changing their mind, the budget is never right, they’ll call you at all hours, they don’t respect your time… basically they’re a pain in the arse.

You might like them, but if the way they work doesn’t fit in with the way you want to do things, dump them.

They’re just not right

Sometimes you get a client who you can’t communicate with well. For some reason you continually misunderstand each other and you just have a gut feeling about them. You’re not sure why but you just don’t gel properly and you don’t really like working for them.

This has happened to me before and we just decided that we weren’t a ‘good fit’ so parted ways. The world didn’t end and everything was fine – so don’t worry about walking away even if you’re not too sure why.

Not all business relationships work.

How to fire a client

Be polite and put it in writing – be professional even if they’ve been rude to you. You could call them but in my contract I state that either party has to give 48 hours written notice when terminating our agreement. Depending on your reason, here are some really good example scripts of what to write when officially terminating a working relationship.

Tell them you’re ‘not a good fit’ – rather than saying “you’re a complete dick and I can’t stand you”, you could just say that you don’t think you’re the right person to help them meet their goals – everyone saves face this way.

Don’t bitch about them – it’s not professional to slag your clients off online or in the local business community. You may want to warn other VAs if they’re a bad payer or abusive, but otherwise just let it go.

Recommend someone else – depending on why you’ve decided to fire them, another VA could be more suited to the tasks they need doing, their personality and temperament or the way they work. Call the other VA to check if they mind being a referral first though!

Learn, assess and move on – if you keep having communication problems with clients then it’s your fault. Look at your contract and T&Cs and check that it’s perfectly clear how you work. Sometimes problems arise because of you and not them, so assess your methods and documents to see if the problem is with you then fix it and try to make sure you don’t hire that type of client again!

I know if might seem mad to fire a client but (unfortunately) I promise you will understand this article at some point! Remember that you’re looking at the long-term health of your business and, if you get a sinking feeling every time you see an email from a client, then you should consider getting rid of them.

You definitely get good at spotting clients you don’t want to work with, but it’s natural to make some mistakes with clients at the beginning.

Over to you – have you ever had to fire a client and what happened?

4 Comments

Ashley Price

We had a client that didn’t want to go even though he had stated how unhappy he had been with the service.

When I had the call answering service one client hadn’t been happy (I agreed with some of his comments, but most of them I didn’t). So, after much wrangling we got rid of them (or so I thought) and told him not to pay the invoice, we’d just write it off, happy to be free of the client. The client agreed and we left it at that.

Just two hours later, we got an email from said client… wanting to continue with the service. After discussion with the telephonists who had to handle his calls (some of which had been very stressful), and how he had been so negative about it two hours before, it was decided we wouldn’t take the client back on. When we told the client this he went ballistic! He told us he couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t take him on, he had been a “great client”, he paid us a lot of money (had he forgotten we cancelled his invoice?), etc., etc.

Over the next few days I started to notice negative reviews being put up on Google, FreeIndex, etc., from this client rubbishing the service. (Fortunately, I was able to ask our other clients to put more realistic reviews up, which buried his on page 6 or 7).

It was our assumption, that he was hoping to continue with the call answering, but then at the end of the month complain about the service etc., and try and get out of paying again.

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Joanne Munro

What a nightmare! It’s inevitable you’re going to get bad clients at some point, but it’s the way you handle it that’s important. It sounds like you handled it very well but I pity the next company who gets him as a client!

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Helen

I’m FINALLY in a position to fire my first client! He’s someone I said yes to in a weak moment when I no clients and was feeling a bit crap, and I’ve regretted it ever since (low pay and work I don’t enjoy). As much as I’m not looking forward to doing it, I’m looking forward to having the three hours a week back to concentrate on my lovely clients!

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Joanne Munro

That’s great news! It’s great you’re thinking and acting as a business owner in control of their time and energy. Sometimes clients just have to go!

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