Here are my top five reasons to fire a client:
- The “Why Are You So Expensive?” client: It’s perfectly reasonable for a client to ask how you came to an hourly fee or project rate. However, repeated questions are signs of red flags. Repeated requests to reduce your rate, work on spec (no way, no day), or promises of business referrals (if you do great work, you should be comfortable asking for references without having to work for less) for a reduced rate should be regarded with suspicion. There have been times when I’ve lowered my fee for a dream or cause client, but I do not compete on price. It’s a losing proposition. Someone will always underbid me and I have enough experience and confidence to know that my work is not a race to the bottom. Be wary of someone who nickel and dimes you every step of the way.
- The “This Can Be Done in 5 Minutes” client: Remember when I mentioned respect a paragraph or so ago? The client who believes that everything is so easy, or is baffled as to why something would take longer than ten minutes is a prospect that should send you running for the exits. A good client hires an expert who fills gaps in their business. They should trust that you know how long a task should take and that you would give honest implications of schedule changes and unreasonable timelines. If they don’t, they lack basic respect for what you do, and they will gaslight you every step of the way. I live by the Triple Constraint Concept in project management. You want something fast + high quality: it’ll cost you. You want something quick + cheap: it’ll be low quality. You want high quality + low cost: it’ll take time.
- The “I Flunked Communication 101” client: This is probably one of the most important aspects of a client-partner relationship. A lack of established lines of communication could put a project in jeopardy, and communication extremes are just as precarious. If you’re dealing with a ghosting client (do you really like sending 500 “just checking in” emails to then hear from a client that they need X deliverable by tomorrow, 2pm EST or ELSE) or an overly needy client (see #5) — both will get you no satisfaction, as the song goes. I had a client who could never properly articulate what they wanted, even when they were presented with examples, questioned, and coached. Hours and dollars were wasted even when they liked the finished product. Why? They were never quite satisfied with it. Their constant nitpicking on the small stuff took time away from the things that mattered. They didn’t understand that done is often better than perfect, which leads me to their micromanager…
- The “Don’t Mind Me Stalking and Screaming Over Your Shoulder” client: Who feels empowered when they’re micromanaged? While your client may know their brand and business inside out, they hired you as an expert to help them with an aspect of their business. When they get too involved in the strategies and tactics for which they hired you, or if they consistently second-guess or question your judgment, fire them. Micromanaging represents a lack of respect, and it also demonstrates an unhealthy level of control. Micromanagers never grow into leaders because they don’t know how to trust and let go. As a result, your work will be inefficient, and you’ll probably be blamed for every misstep and failure — even though the client did the equivalent of wearing earmuffs while you offered your expertise and recommendations.
- The “Why Haven’t You Responded to my 35 Emails in 10 Minutes” client: Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. I used to tell my staff that they should take their work seriously but we’re not curing cancer. Not even close to it. While it’s important to be responsive to your client, you don’t need to be on a gurney answering emails. Set communication expectations from the onset. Now, I even bake into my contracts and remind them of my onboarding email series. I note the hours of my availability in time zone, when they should expect to hear from me, and communication protocol for emergencies. And by emergency, I don’t mean, that pixel is off-center. You had better be on a gurney. You don’t have to act like a first-responder when it comes to emails to be an effective consultant. Sometimes a response requires time and thought, and it doesn’t always pay to be instantly available and immediately reactive. If a client fails to understand that and has a rage blackout that I’m not holding my phone at 3 am, we have to part ways.
The last thing you want to do is cut the cord on a relationship, especially when your livelihood depends on it. In five years, I’ve only let three clients go and trust me; It took a lot before I decided I couldn’t take anymore. However, I’m now attuned to the warning signs in the proposal phase — how a client communicates, what kinds of questions they ask, etc. — so I can avoid the painful process of saying, it’s not me, it’s you.