One of the most difficult aspects of working for yourself is when you accidentally start working with a difficult client. You didn’t mean to do it, and you might even wish you could take it back- but unfortunately, this isn’t always easy to do.
The difficulty arises, though, when we find we can’t help them, when they get our last nerve, and when we find they would rather argue, complain, act out, or do anything except what we are suggesting.
This is even worse if you came to your business through one of the helping professions- I’m certain that my training as a psychologist hampered me when it was time to get rid of a difficult client.
So there are some cases where they need to fire the client is incredibly clear. How can you know if your working relationship has reached this point?
1) You feel anxious, tired, or stressed each time you think about this client.
Do you find yourself worrying about this client? Do you feel anxious or stressed when you get an email or phone message from them? If so, these are body signs that you might need to let them go. Even if you don’t put much stock in intuition or “vibes”- you will often get physical signs or symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore.
2) The client is not profitable.
The reason you’re in business aside from that feelgood stuff about helping others is ultimately to make money. If you are working for a client who refuses to pay you more, or who is constantly nit-picking at everything and you’ve allowed scope creep to happen, it’s time to let them go.
3) The client is high maintenance.
You know what I mean by this. They require ridiculous amounts of phone time or email time that they don’t want to pay for. They never get you the information you need in a timely manner to complete the work you do for them, yet they expect you to never miss a deadline. If your client thinks that you should be waiting by your phone, or email, or chat box and ready and willing and able to jump 24/7, then this is not the client for you.
4) The client pays late or misses payments altogether.
Yes, of course, cash flow emergencies sometimes happen and you want to be flexible where you can be. However, clients who are late payers on a consistent basis are a serious problem for your business in terms of cash flow. If you don’t have regular cash flow that you can count on from your clients, it can be very difficult to do your job and live your life. Not only does having to remind clients to pay you cause stress, it also takes up time. And whether we like it or not, time is money.
5) You’re not sure you are (or can) help them.
This isn’t usually the client’s fault, it’s yours. For whatever reason, you thought you could help them and realize you can’t. In this case, you don’t want to “fire” the client as much as you want to have a discussion about this issue. You can apologize, and help them find other resources. In most cases, clients appreciate it when you treat them honestly and ethically, even if they don’t always like the message you’re sharing.
Pre-screening your clients in advance is good practice. Disqualify clients who make you feel tired, stressed, or anxious, or who have a history of being high maintenance or not paying their bills. Have a good understanding within yourself of the kinds of work you like to do, the kinds of work you are good at, and what are results you can reasonably and reliably create for your clients or help them achieve.
It’s almost always better to let a ‘bad fit’ client go than it is to allow the relationship to continue.