“Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” – Neil Sedaka
As small business owners that provide services, it’s safe to say that clients are critical to our livelihood. We invest money in marketing, assess pricing to incorporate overhead, contingencies, labour, professional services, and taxes, and join networking groups to meet possible clients.
It’s always exciting to start a relationship with a new client. Relationships, like everything else in life, have expectations. No matter how clearly defined the policies, procedures, and contracts may be, those of us who provide services to others are frequently met with unrealistic expectations, demands, a lack of boundaries from clients who expect service 24/7, and an attitude that because they are paying for a service, they should be “the boss” of the business relationship.
As business service providers, we strive for collaborative relationships in which we partner with our clients and their team members to ensure that we are all heading in the same direction. Of course, we want each of our clients to be successful! But because we are all human, there are instances when a relationship fails to succeed in the way we had hoped for, and a breakup is unavoidable. But breaking up is hard to do, Mr. Sedaka. We agree.
It’s inevitable – as a business owner – for you to encounter clients who are more trouble than they are worth.
We all have had experience with a difficult client or two. They are the ones who constantly question the work you perform for them, instigate conflicts with you or your team, put pressure on you to complete unrealistic tasks, and refuse or forget to give you the information you require. When the relationship becomes tumultuous, they may discredit your work, blame you, and even refuse to pay in some situations.
When a customer becomes more of a headache than a financial benefit, it’s time to make the difficult decision to end the business relationship. The following are five indicators that it might be time to fire a client. If you notice three of them, it’s time to take Ray Charles’ advice to “Hit the Road Jack” to heart.
#1. The client’s behaviour is unprofessional.
Actions such as using foul language, spreading rumours or gossip about colleagues (yours or theirs), sharing private and confidential emails, and disregarding your boundaries (which may lead to an insulting invasion of your personal time!) is a huge red flag. Perhaps they routinely reach out to you through your personal social media profiles with inappropriate messages. This could lead to additional stress that seeps into family relationships or negatively influences people within your circle. In this situation, there is reason to be concerned about slander and defamation of character; however, lean in to your own reputation that you have already built with integrity and put an end to unacceptable conditions.
#2. When a client’s poor behaviour and unreasonable demands divert your attention away from your company’s goals and timetable, you may find yourself neglecting your good clients and staff.
The difficult client who constantly contacts you about their newest drama or overreacts to trivial concerns can easily steal too much of your time. This is especially true when they anticipate a quick response or your opinion, thus dragging you into their chaos. Remember that your company will be more successful in the long run if you nurture your relationships with your fantastic clientele and show thanks to your excellent staff and team members more frequently.
#3. Money, money, money.
When a client refuses to pay an invoice for work completed and time spent, or when they decide to use it as a tool or form of leverage against something that has already occurred, it’s probably time to consider terminating them. You may choose to work harder to win their favour, beg them for payment, or suspend your services before taking the last resort of a collection agency. Neither action ensures that you will get paid, though. In the meantime, your cash flow is affected and trust within your business relationship has been broken. Perhaps the client consistently requires multiple reminders before they pay. This is also a time-wasting activity that contributes to the same negative results.
#4. The blame is getting out of control.
It is time to move on when the blame is always pointed at the service provider, and the client refuses to accept responsibility for misunderstandings, mishaps, or dropped balls within their team.
You may worry about the impending reality of lost revenue. It can be scary to say goodbye and part ways since there is a financial impact and the other person might turn hostile and spout vitriol in retaliation. A character assassination effort might be made. If you think about it, though, what is the actual price? Your tension, effort, and attention may be more expensive than you realize. When the time comes, sending a well-written letter or email of termination is the best way to go about it.
#5. Simply put, you catch yourself complaining about the client.
When is the right time?
- When you feel unhappy.
- When you don’t want to talk to them.
- When you procrastinate doing their work because you don’t want to spark interaction.
- When you see their email come into your inbox and you don’t want to read it.
When you reach this stage, it’s time to let them go.
Release the albatross! Think about the time you’ll get back and have available for clients who will interact professionally with you and value and respect your work.
Over to you
When you fire a problematic client, you have done the right thing for yourself and your business… no regrets! After the dust has settled, it’s a good idea to reflect on what went wrong while you were working with this client and consider what you can change to prevent it from happening again.
Written by: Jennifer Hanford, MYOB Blogger