How to Fire a Client – And How to Prevent the Need to Fire Them
Once upon a time, I put up with a bunch of … stuff from our clients. I let them interrupt my family events, interfere with my workflow and, frankly, give me headaches. When my business partner and I started working on our processes, I took some time to evaluate what I call my work/life integration. I realized that no amount of money is worth a client that makes you dread dealing with them.
Before I share my technique for firing a client, I want to recommend that you choose carefully who you work with so that you don’t ever have to fire them! That means having a very clear definition of your ideal client, their industry and the type of services you provide for them, all while listening to your intuition during the sales process. If you get an inkling of a doubt during the sales cycle (maybe, they’re non-responsive, they keep changing scope, they require many repetitive calls and/or emails, or they’re just not very nice), do not take them on for any amount of money!
Next, I highly recommend you develop an onboarding process that trains new clients to your processes. Just like kids and dogs (at least that’s what I’ve heard – I’m a cat person myself), you must set boundaries that teach your clients how to work with you. We explicitly tell our clients that our process is in place so that they can decide if Kildal Services is a good fit for them, and so we can decided they’re a good fit for us.
Knowing When to Fire a Client
The first step in firing a client is knowing you need to fire them. For example, we had a client a few years ago that was a pain for us to deal with. While she was a lovely person, she caused us a lot of problems:
- She helped too much. You know what I mean. She was constantly in the books, creating errors that required correction and rework on my part.
- She sent her statements late, so we couldn’t get the work done in time.
- She called often, without setting an agenda or appointment.
When we started noticing the pattern to her behavior – scratch that – when my stomach started doing that twisty, flip flop if I saw her name on my phone or email, I realized we had to do something.
Before I go any further, I want to say I truly value, and enjoy working with, our clients. That’s why I always give clients the chance to rectify the situation. After all, maybe we didn’t train them well enough. So, we put them on “probation” before just firing them. Here’s how that works:
- Information gathering. I gather documentation of the problem by saving emails as PDFs, and recording the data and time of calls.
- Communication. Next, I send an email, explaining that we have a problem. I share the documentation and outline a plan for correction. Important: I also include notification of intention to terminate, if we cannot solve the problem within two months.
Once I’m sure the client has gotten the message, we proceed with the work. During this time, we carefully track whether the client is following the plan for correction. If we have to correct something they’ve done, we use Camtasia to record both the amount of time it took us to fix their errors and what we did. If they continue not to provide documentation in a timely manner, I explain that the client is hindering our ability to do the work she is paying me for –and introducing more opportunities for mistakes.
Unfortunately, the two-month “probation” period came to an end, with no change in behavior from the client. I sent an email similar to the following, and included the original “probation” notification. (Note: We don’t call it probation when communicating with the client.)
Thank you for placing your trust in our bookkeeping skills; we appreciate the opportunity of working with you. Unfortunately, we are unable to resolve the issues outline in our email below. Per the terms of that email dated xx/xx/xxxx, we will be terminating our engagement, effective xx/xx/xxxx. We’re very disappointed that this relationship did not work out, but would be more than happy to recommend some ProAdvisors® in your area that might be able to service you in the manner you require. Good luck!
The email also detailed the work we would complete between the time the termination notice was sent and the end of the engagement.
People frequently ask me, “Aren’t you afraid of losing the revenue when you fire a client?” My answer: At first, HECK YEAH. What I found was, after letting go of a client that sucked a lot of our time and energy, we always end up with one to two clients that we adore. Firing the difficult client just freed up energy to put towards something positive, and made room in my practice for a better fit.
Hopefully, you won’t need to fire too many clients after busy season this year! Good luck.