Client relationships are tricky, especially when you’re an entrepreneur. There’s no one set of strategies that will help you get along with every client you have, and because each client translates to more revenue for your business, it’s tempting and natural to want to do everything you can to preserve those relationships indefinitely.
Unfortunately, however, not all client relationships are positive, and there are cases where it’s better to fire a client than allow the relationship to continue. Obviously, every client relationship is going to have its ups and downs, and you shouldn’t fire a client just because you’re experiencing some temporary difficulties. So at what point does it become advantageous, or even necessary to follow through in firing a client?
These are six signs to let you know it’s time:
1. They’re taking more time than they’re worth. As much as I’d like to say we’re all in this purely for the good of helping one another, at the end of the day, you’re running a business. For that business to be successful, you need to earn more money than you spend. If you end up spending more money or time (as an equivalent of money) on a client than they’re directly paying you in compensation, it makes sense to end the relationship from a logical perspective, as they’re literally costing you money. The only exceptions are if this is truly a temporary expense, or if that client has strong potential to become much more lucrative in the future.
2. They dominate your work and/or override your recommendations. You’re the expert. Your client may know their brand better than you do, but when it comes down to the actual work involved, you know the strategies and best practices necessary to do a good job. If they end up micromanaging your work, or if they consistently reject your recommendations, it may not be worth pursuing the relationship further. It’s a sign of disrespect, or at least poor understanding, and if you continue working in an inefficient or inappropriate way, it could eventually reflect poorly on your brand and reputation — especially when you get blamed for their poor results, even when they failed to implement your recommendations.
3. There’s a lack of respect. Like any other personal relationship, a good client relationship is built on mutual respect — and it has to work both ways. If your client doesn’t respect you as a business or as a person, they may undermine or constantly question your work. They may even treat you and your account managers as subordinates; don’t put up with this. There’s no amount of money that makes a toxic relationship worth continued effort. Similarly, if you don’t respect your client — if they have loose ethics, or if they treat their employees and customers poorly, for example — don’t feel obligated to continue the relationship further.
4. There’s a lack of communication. For a client relationship to be successful, you need to have mutually established lines of communication. You’ll need to reach out regularly with news, updates, and questions, and they’ll need to respond with agreements, suggestions, or other forms of guidance. If your client isn’t willing to put forth the effort to support this ongoing level of communication, eventually the relationship is going to suffer. You won’t be able to do a good job for them, and it could cause even bigger problems later on. Work to address these problems before outright firing a client.
5. The relationship isn’t improving. Any one of the above signs can manifest itself in varying degrees. For example, a client might show mild signs of disrespect, or might be occasionally unreachable for long periods of time. If they aren’t directly and seriously affecting your relationship, they don’t warrant fully firing the client, but instead warrant a conversation and a mutual effort to improve. If, however, you’ve had those conversations and the relationship isn’t improving, you need to move on.
6. You can’t stand working with them. This is the most basic sign on this list, but it’s an important one. Strangely enough, it’s the one that people seem to neglect the most because they de-prioritize their own personal experiences in favor of making money. You’re in charge here, so if you hate working with a given client, don’t continue putting yourself through that torture. At some point, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making if you’re miserable, and if your account managers are the ones dealing with it, it may be worth preserving your relationship with them over the relationship with the client if things are truly that bad.
Any one of these signs is potential grounds for firing a client, depending on the exact nature of the circumstances. If you notice more than one of these signs happening simultaneously, that should be a strong cue to remove yourself from the relationship. When you do so, do so respectfully and (hopefully) within the confines of your contractual agreement. The last thing you want to do is burn a bridge or compromise your integrity or reputation.