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 mistake…
It took having a nightmare client combined with a timely and eye-opening article on the types of clients you should ditch for me to realise that, not only could I now call the shots about who I worked with, but that a bad client could actually destroy my business.
Because of that experience, I wanted to tell you about the types of clients you should consider letting go of before they wreck your confidence and, ultimately, your business.
You may think you should take on every piece of work that comes your way and do whatever your clients ask you to, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
That is an employee mindset – and you are no longer an employee.
Bad clients will knock your confidence, make you doubt yourself and your abilities and lead to you hating what you do.
Also, the time you spend working with crappy clients is time you could be either working with great ones or looking for better ones.
These are the types of clients you should consider firing
This is the most important one in my opinion. The first client I fired used to micro-manage me and yet also didn’t give me enough information to do my job properly.
I’d just started out as a VA. The client was paying me a lot of money (and was never late in paying) but I actively disliked her and wasn’t enjoying my new freelance career at all.
Then I came across an article on a freelancer website. It said that clients who knock your confidence will destroy your business from within.
It also said that most people when they start out freelancing have some (unfounded yet natural) doubt in their abilities and these clients will only confirm your suspicions that you’re an impostor and not good enough.
So get rid of a confidence-knocker client or you could enter a spiral of doubt until your business implodes.
Rubbish or unsuitable work
You didn’t leave a boring and tedious job only to take on boring and tedious tasks as a freelancer. So when the tasks you’re being given:
- Are uninspiring and boring
- Don’t fit in with the rest of your client work
- Aren’t reflecting the long-term vision you have of your working life
- Don’t match your business model
- Aren’t using your skills to their best advantage
Then you should consider ditching the client.
Obviously, there will always be some work you’re not that into but if you’re constantly taking on work you don’t enjoy, it’s time to review the situation.
This scenario will inevitably crop up early on in your freelance career and I think it’s actually quite a useful experience because it will make you review your business model and decide what type of tasks/clients you do actually want.
Just having work isn’t enough… you left your job to go freelance for a reason!
You don’t like them
If you don’t like your client or their business practices then you should consider letting them go.
You could continue to work with them and take their money, but in my experience, you’ll end up hating yourself because you feel you’ve compromised your integrity.
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.
I used to feel sick when I saw her name come up on my phone and it felt like a massive weight had been lifted when I fired her.
They’re rude to you
Rude clients won’t think twice about taking advantage of you and will drop you without a moment’s thought. Again, you’ll start to hate what you do and may even consider jacking it all in.
A good client respects your time and boundaries, values your contribution and sees you as an integral part of their business.
You didn’t leave your job to be bullied by a client.
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, then you should consider getting rid of them.
Freelancers rely on a steady income and you need to focus on more important things than whether a client will pay your invoice on time.
They’re generally just a nightmare to work with
Depending on the kinds of services you offer, some clients just don’t fit in with the way you want to work. This can take a variety of different forms:
- They keep moving the goalposts of a task or project
- They keep changing their mind
- They don’t turn up for calls they’ve arranged
- They question your prices or invoice
- They micromanage you
- They don’t give you enough information to complete the task
- They call you at all hours and don’t respect your time
- They expect free (usually needless) catch-up calls
Basically, they’re a total pain in the backside.
As a professional business owner, if the way a client operates doesn’t fit in with your business model or oversteps your boundaries, you should consider ditching them.
They’re just not right
Sometimes you get a client you just can’t communicate with. For some reason, you continually misunderstand each other and you’re not sure why, but you just don’t gel and you don’t really enjoy working with them.
This has happened to me before and we just decided that we weren’t a ‘good fit’ and 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
Before you decide to part ways with a client, see if there’s anything you can do first. It’s your job to manage your clients and there are actually quite a few things you can do to whip them into shape.
From micromanagers and stressers, to late payers and (gasp) friends, here’s my post on how to manage difficult clients. I outline the main types of crappy clients and provide a mix n match list of ways to deal with them.
Tel them you’re “not a good fit”
Instead of saying “I can’t stand you and if I never see your face again it will be too soon”. Simply 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. Even if your client has acted badly, you should maintain a quiet dignity and keep your integrity.
You may want to warn other local VAs you know if they’re a bad payer or abusive but otherwise, I recommend just letting them go and moving on.
Be polite and put it in writing
Be professional even if they’ve been rude to you. You could phone them to terminate the relationship, but most contracts state that either party has to give written notice when terminating the agreement.
Also, this way you have a paper trail.
Check your notice period
It’s important that your contract states your notice period however, I’ve noticed that most VAs often only think about this notice period in terms of their client deciding to end the relationship.
But if you have a nightmare client you’ll want to rid of them pronto!
Many Virtual Assistants have a notice period of 30 days whereas mine is 48 hours. The last thing I want is to be stuck with a bad client for another month.
Recommend another Virtual Assistant
Depending on why you’ve decided to fire them, another VA could be a better match for them. For example, you may have clients who:
- Give you work you don’t enjoy or that doesn’t match your skillset
- Want you to be available at times that don’t work with your other commitments
- Are really disorganised
- Don’t give you enough (or too much) work
- Something else that isn’t a good fit for your business model or goals
Make sure you call the other VA to ask if they mind being referred first though!
Assess what happened
Sometimes client relationships can sour because you weren’t clear about what your boundaries were or the client may have overstepped them because they had no idea what they were.
Also, you may have continuously allowed your client to act in a way that wasn’t acceptable to you but you shied away from telling them you weren’t happy.
Clients aren’t mindreaders.
So if a client relationship goes turtle up, consider whether you could have acted differently.
Did you communicate regularly? Did the client know what your boundaries were and what they would be charged for? Could there have been honest misunderstandings? Did you pick up the phone and talk to your client instead of secretly feeling annoyed or affronted?
Look at your contract and T&Cs and check that it’s perfectly clear what is expected from each party.
Don’t feel guilty
Once you’ve decided to stop working with a client there is no need to send a long apologetic email outlining filled with excuses or 1000 “sorry’s”.
You are no longer an employee, you are a professional business owner and you decide who you work with.
So don’t agonise over it and don’t feel so (irrationally and people-pleasingly) bad that you give them refunds or offer to go round and clean their toilet.
This VA agrees:
“I so agree about letting go of clients that are not great for us. It feels hard to do early on when you’re just starting out. I have owned a property cleaning/maintenance and management business for 27 years. I started out by cleaning apartments for students in our college town. It was AWFUL. I learned that first year that I would never do that again and only took on clients who value their homes and the person who manages it for them from that point on. This mindset has allowed me to be selective and have a clientele that has stayed on for 10-15 years now and doesn’t flinch when I raise rates. I have also taken that approach with my VA biz because we are all worth more than settling for people who treat us like we don’t matter.” Beth McGee
How to replace a client
Depending on why you have decided to let them go, you can simply replace your outgoing client with another one exactly the same… but without the crappy bits.
So if you ditched a rude client, a cheapskate, a micromanager or a late payer, for example, you can just replicate them.
This way, you get to keep all the stuff you like without the bad behaviour.
Now you know who you’re looking for, you can use the method in my guide on how to get new clients to find, qualify and contact people you’d like to work with.
I explain all of this in great detail in the guide but in a (very small simple) nutshell, you find people just like the outgoing client (based on tasks, industry or job title), research them, connect with them and then contact them directly explaining how and why you can help them.
Obviously, there is more to it than that and you should produce supporting evidence in the form of testimonials or case studies, but the “replication method” is something I use with my trainees all the time.
Just because you fired your client (or plan to) you can still use the experience to secure a better one.
Oh, and this method will obviously also work if you just want more clients!
I know it might seem reckless and counterintuitive to fire a client – especially when you’re first starting out – but I promise that you and your business will benefit from doing so.
Over time, you’ll get better at spotting the types of people you don’t want to work with but it’s normal to make bad judgement calls at the beginning of your freelance career.
You WILL end up having clients that are not a good fit for you – and that’s ok.
Annoyingly, having bad clients is kinda the only way you get to find out what your version of a bad client looks like so you can avoid them in future.
The great thing though is that you can simply use the replication method to replace your bad client with a far better one!
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