When to know it’s time to fire your bad client and how to do it

Christian Fregnan angry woman
Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

A potential client got referred to you, and now they’re interested in working together. You’re so excited, but something feels off. They’re sending out way too many ‘urgent’ emails before the contract is even signed. They try to change the budget. You haven’t started on their project, and you’re already super stressed. 

Will working with this client have any benefit? Or is it going to be a horrible soul-sucking experience? Here are some tips to figuring out if it’s time to say goodbye to your bad client.

Is this client going to be impossible to work with or just challenging?

There’s a tremendous difference between working with a challenging person and an impossible one. A challenging person pushes you to innovate to solve problems. You can come out with a rewarding experience, even if it was also exhausting.

Working with a Bad Client will never be rewarding. Even when she releases you from her talons, you won’t feel proud of your work; you’ll be grateful you finally don’t have to talk to her again. 

A Bad Client is someone who:

Doesn’t see the value of you or your work

She’ll keep asking you to reduce your rates. She’ll want to increase the scope of the project without paying you more. She’ll promise to get you “exposure” instead of paying you

There’s a difference between someone like this and someone who respects you but genuinely doesn’t have money. You need to be confident enough in your self and in your work to know the difference. It’s ok to opt for a lower rate if you believe in someone’s cause. It’s not ok to undervalue yourself.

Someone can also not value your work because she thinks it’s easy. It should only take you 5 minutes. It’s just a logo design. 

She’s hiring you because to do something because you are an expert in that thing and she can’t do it herself. Don’t let her tell you that your work doesn’t matter.

Can’t communicate

She can’t (or won’t) clearly describe what she wants or what’s bothering her. She expects you to be able to read her mind. She doesn’t reply to your messages but overloads you with messages that need an immediate response.  

Watch out. You’re going to be blamed for everything when the project fails, even though she failed at talking and listening. 

Doesn’t value your time

Related to our last two points, someone who doesn’t value your time will spam you with messages and think that you’re taking way too long to finisht he job. She loves to micromanage you and will constantly second-guess your judgement. She doesn’t respect your boundaries. She doesn’t understand that answering her question takes time and effort. 

You’re not an A&E doctor here. You’re building a website (or whatever it is your doing). It’s ok not to reply to your client at 3 am. 

Did you already try everything you could to salvage the relationship?

Firing a bad client is a big step. You’re saying goodbye to money and potential contacts, which is a huge deal when you work for yourself. It’s a good idea to try everything you can to save things so that you don’t completely waste your time and effort. 

Do you need to bring someone else in to help with communication? Should you and your client put together a more detailed project brief so that you both have more clarity? Is your ego getting in the way because they didn’t like your ideas?

A face to face meeting in person (or virtually) goes a long way to reigning in a bad client. If nothing else, you’ll be able to end things civilly, not passive-aggressively.

Will continuing to work with this client go against your core values?

We spoke about the importance of aligning your goals with your core values before. It’s important to remember that if you’re doing something that goes against your values, you’re going to feel unhappy and dissatisfied. Do you value feeling like your making a difference but this project is making you jaded? Do you value respect but feel like your client is treating you like her possession?

Is this client making you lose money? If she’s demanding so much of your time that you can’t work on anything else, it’s clear you need to part ways.

So you decided that you can’t go on working with this client anymore. How do you end things professionally without devolving into an emotional mess?

  • Be honest about what wasn’t working. You don’t need to be blunt, but be clear on why you’re doing this.
  • Tell them in person or over the phone. It will help to make sure you strike the right tone and that they don’t misunderstand anything.
  • Make the transition easy for them by making their files ready to hand over and recommending someone else who would be a better fit. 
  • If this was an extreme situation and your client was abusive or broke your contract, don’t worry about being polite. Call your lawyer and see what your options are there. 

Bad clients are rare. Most people realise that they’re investing in you to improve their business and aren’t actively trying to destroy their investment. But every so often someone truly “special” comes into your life. If you let them run all over you, they can seriously affect your confidence in yourself and your ability to do good work. 

Have you ever had to fire a client? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.