Say Adios to Crappy Clients

Say Adios to Crappy ClientsYour phone rings. You check the caller ID and cringe. Oh, no…not THAT client again! Things will only get worse if you let it go to voicemail, so you pick up on the 4th ring.

“Hello?” you ask tentatively. On the other end of the line, your impossible-to-please client starts laying into you about the crisis of the moment. Here we go again.

Crappy clients…everyone’s got one, right?

What we should do with crappy clients is tell them to put a cork in it and wave buh-bye. What we actually do? Now that’s another story.

I’m certainly no stranger to crappy client syndrome. I had a client about a year ago, let’s call her Susan. She was my biggest client at the time and she was very visible in an industry that I was working hard to break into.

The consulting that I was contracted to do for her was exciting and her company was making a big difference in the lives of people who really needed it. It seemed like a pretty great gig at first – and in many ways it was.

It didn’t take long, however, for Susan to start running me ragged. She alternated between calling me at 11:30 at night and 4:30 in the morning. She demanded instant results, but rarely provided resources for the project at the same speed or with the same intensity.

So, one Sunday evening after having spent all weekend putting out fires for Susan, I decided to make a little pro/con list to see if it was really worth it to hang on to her as a client. Here’s what I discovered:


Pros:

  • She paid well. Gotta love that, right?
  • Being able to say I worked with Susan would potentially help me get in front of other clients.
  • The work was exciting and professionally challenging.
  • The project made difference in the lives of other people.

Cons:

  • Payments never arrived on time. I had to spend time and energy tracking her down every single month.
  • She agreed to write a recommendation for my work, but kept putting it off, saying that she didn’t want to lose me to a competitor. This made it difficult to show other potential clients that I was working with her on this high profile project.
  • I couldn’t really take on any new clients even if I wanted to because my days (and nights…and weekends) were filled with Susan!

Does any of this sound familiar? If you’ve got a crappy client like Susan, ask yourself this question – if money didn’t matter, would you continue to work with this person?

As small business owners, the tough part for us is that money does matter. It matters a lot actually. So if you’ve got crappy clients and you want to say goodbye to them without going bankrupt, you’ve got to ease into it.

You don’t have to 86 all of your bad clients all at once. Create a pro/con list on each of your clients and then choose just one of them to remove from your roster.


The clients that make your life hell are rarely the kind that take you to the next level. In fact, they may hold you back so you don’t leave them when you figure out that there are so many other better opportunities and people out there or they may hesitate to refer you to others because they don’t want you to get snatched away.

Your top clients are easy to work with, you are able to provide them with tremendous value, and you get top dollar for your efforts. They refer you to others and make your life pleasant.

When it comes to firing your first client, start with the biggest offender — the most severe drain on your time and energy. It might just feel so good that you want to repeat it with a few others.

Eventually, I worked up the nerve to fire Susan. When I finally made the move it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My only regret is that I didn’t make the decision sooner.

Have you ever fired a client? If so, how did you do it? If you haven’t fired a client yet but know you need to, what’s holding you back? Share your experience in the comments!

Jules Taggart, founder of amp&pivot, shows entrepreneurs how to say goodbye to boring branding and tell a more meaningful story. Connect on Twitter: @ampandpivot

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10 Comments

  1. I agree completely, Jules. I have only done it once so far, but it’s such a liberating experience. I had a client who was overbearing, over-demanding, and quite frankly not worth my time and energy. And just like you, spending so much time working with him was preventing me from acquiring new clients. One day I sat down with him and said I wanted to discuss our relationship and the expectations that each of us had. After a civil conversation, it became apparent that the two of us had different visions of how this relationship was going to work out, and thus had completely different expectations. We agreed that, since our visions were not in alignment, that we should go our separate ways. That weight was lifted immediately and it’s one of the best things I’ve done in business so far.

    • Good point, Jenn. Whether we’re talking clients, employees, or reality show participants on The Apprentice, everyone dreads hearing the words “you’re fired”. This is reason numero uno to fire a client using old school methods if it’s possible. Meeting in person is best, then phone, then (cringe….) email. But getting fired by email is like hearing “we should see other people” via text, right? Tech-y breakups suck…and they’re usually followed by raging, histerical Yelp reviews. If you put as much energy and care into the breakup as you do in securing a client in the first place, then that’s all you can do. Be as genuine and transparent as you can be, but sometimes crappy clients have to go — Yelp or no Yelp.
      Jules Taggart recently posted..The Currency of Personal Success: What’s in your bank?My Profile

  2. oh man! Susan sounds like a real nightmare :(. Thankfully (knock on wood!) I havent had a terrible client yet but I did take a business course that talked about consumer psychology/behavior. i think clients can get out of hand when they arent properly educated up front on what the parameters are, what’s expected, how things will run, and what hours/ways you are available to them. i think if that’s taken care of up front and even in the contract it’ll be easier to work together or part ways if either party doesnt go by “the code” set.

  3. Wow. Great post…and one I can certainly relate to. I have never had a client that tough but a few have come close. There is one I currently have that must think I am her only client. She is pretty demanding that I finish things for her right away. We had a little “talk” and agreed that she would pay me a generous monthly retainer and now we are both happy because I don’t have to record my time for her anymore and she understands that I can’t finish everything she asks within 24 hours. I like the pros/cons list – that works for so many areas in ones life.

  4. Hey Jules! This post is so timely for me. I actually have a client right now who’s just sort of belligerent. She sends emails making demands in fragmented sentences with no punctuation and no context whatever. The project changes in scope all of the time and then she wonders why nothing is done after I do days of research for her.
    For me, the problem is less about the money and more about the negative feedback. She doesn’t do constructive criticism and I have her as a client on Elance. Bad feedback on Elance could be detrimental to my reputation.
    I’d be really interested in what you think I should do in this case.

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