Ways To Tell When It's Time To Fire a Client

Take Action When a Client Relationship Goes Bad

Sponsored by What's this?
&
A man talks to a women at a reception desk while the woman next to her talks on the phone..
Photo:

FG Trade / Getty Images

In a competitive business environment, it is more important than ever to nurture client relationships. Unfortunately, some clients are not worth nurturing, and life is too short to invest your energy in maintaining a client relationship with someone who is bad for your bottom line and/or your mental health. If any of the situations in this article apply, it's time to fire a client.

Key Takeaways

  • Some clients' behavior justifies ending the relationship. You are under no obligation to continue working with a client that is bad for your bottom line of mental health.
  • Obviously "firable" client behavior includes mental or physical abuse, dishonesty and unreasonable demands.
  • More questionable behavior includes consistent issues with payments, playing you against the competition, and engaging in outside legal activity.

Let's take the most obvious cases first.

You Know It's Time To Fire a Client When:

The client is physically or mentally abusive.

Such abuse might consist of :

  • Threats
  • Sexual harassment
  • Continually belittling you or making disparaging remarks about your gender, race, or appearance – even if the comments were reportedly made to someone else.

Note

  • If "She did a great job for a (fill in insult here)" isn't acceptable to your face, it’s not acceptable behind your back either.
  • Being excessively rude or demanding to you or your employees

The client is dishonest.

Having a client relationship implies a certain level of trust between the parties, and you just can't trust a dishonest client. Occasional misunderstandings are common with clients, but when clearly articulated written or verbal understandings are constantly "misinterpreted" by clients, it is time to cut them loose.

The client makes unreasonable demands.

Every business person sets their own personal bar for what's unreasonable and what's not, and expectations of such should be made clear to clients. It may be reasonable for a criminal lawyer to be called or texted at 3:00 a.m. by a client who has been booked in the local jail, but if your client is continually phoning, texting, or emailing you outside of the agreed-upon hours then it may be time to part ways.

Note

If you have employees, make sure they are also empowered to resist unreasonable demands.

The same goes for clients who cannot make timely decisions and then expect work to be completed on time or ahead of schedule. For example, if you are a builder and the homeowner cannot decide on the carpet colors until the day before the supposed move-in date it is not reasonable to expect the job to be completed as originally scheduled.

Those are huge red flags that cue you instantly (or should) that you're not going to be able to have, let alone maintain, a good client relationship with this person. But there are less obvious situations that call for action too.

You Should Also Fire a Client When:

The client is consistently slow to pay.

Clients that don't pay on time are more than just annoying; they interfere with your business's cash flow. You simply can't afford them.

The client constantly nitpicks at or disputes your invoices.

The client who is agreeable up front and then tries to "cheap out" and cut down the cost of the project is particularly aggravating. One such experience with such an individual is enough. Stay stern, go after them for the money, and then cut them loose.

Note

Oftentimes, the first sign that there could be a dispute is late payment, so keep an eye on those invoices.

The client keeps changing his mind.

If you're charging by the hour, of course, you might not mind this - if you can handle the frustration of having to redo things time after time and you have a clear understanding with the client that the constant changes are adding to the bill. Otherwise, this is another case where you need to decide where your personal cut-off is.

The client doesn't follow your advice – and then expects you to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.

This is the classic "so-what-did-you-hire-me-for?" hair-tearing client experience.

Note

The professional way to handle it is to help solve the client's predicament, if possible.

Once the most recent problem is solved, be smart enough not to repeat the experience by moving on.

The client plays you off against the competition.

People getting quotes for work they want to be done is an excellent practice. But trying to use competitors' prices or timelines to renege on work that's already been agreed on or is in progress is not.

A continued relationship with a client could embroil you in legal difficulties.

For instance, suppose you're a cement contractor supplying cement to a construction firm that you learn is performing shoddy work. The possibility of legal liability makes terminating this kind of client relationship a no-brainer.

Don't Wait To Fire a Client

If you're suffering through a bad client relationship, give your head a shake and dislodge that old adage, "one in the hand is worth two in the bush." For all you know, the "two in the bush" could both become your clients and be a whole lot less trouble and more lucrative than the pain-in-the-pants you're dealing with now.

Review your troublesome client's history and decide if what you have to go through to maintain a client relationship with them is worth it. And if the answer is "no," fire them. You will be glad you did.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I fire a client?

Experts say the best way to fire a client is politely and firmly. You can tell them you think their needs would be better suited by another firm or that they may be able to receive the kind of help they need elsewhere. Be clear with them about how any loose ends will be resolved.

Was this page helpful?
Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of South Florida. "A Game-Changing Tip for Dealing with Difficult Customers."

  2. MSCCM Commercial Credit Management. "When Your Client Disputes Your Invoice."

  3. University of Illinois Tax School. "Practice Management: Thinning the Ranks."

Related Articles