Much of what I discuss with my peers and mentees involves the process of getting leads and closing deals with clients. But what about the times when you have to fire a client?
I’ve only had to do this a handful of times in my career and it’s always an awkward experience, but ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you and your team — even if that toxic client is bringing in revenue for you. Letting go of a client can be especially hard if you’re a startup and are still trying to build a solid client base — the idea of purposefully turning down money seems insane. But many times, the time and energy you spend with a toxic client is actually preventing you from servicing your other clients or acquiring new clients.
John White, the CMO of Social Media Solutions explained it in perfectly in an interview with Forbes:
“Toxic business relationships can suck the life out of your company and prevent growth. Once the relationship breaches certain boundaries that each company sets for acceptable behavior from its clients, it often makes sense to cut your losses and move on.”
I had a client years ago that comprised a huge part of my monthly revenue. They were an extremely difficult client to please — nothing ever seemed to be good enough for them, no matter how hard we tried. We went above and beyond to try to accommodate them (we even worked on the weekends) because they were our highest-paying client, but working with them caused me to feel so much anxiety.
We generated hundreds of leads for them every month, which was better than any other client we had at the time, but they still weren’t satisfied. It was all due to their mentality — nothing was ever good enough for them, which made it really difficult for my team to stay positive. We were getting amazing results, yet we got reprimanded on every call with this client. I started to notice the team was getting a bad attitude toward the client and even watched conflict arise amongst ourselves as we dealt with the client. The bottom line was the bad energy was sucking the life out of my team and even though they were our highest-paying client, it wasn’t worth the stress they caused the team, which was a disservice to our other clients.
What do you do if you find yourself in this situation?
Just like any relationship, if you have a problem, try talking to your client first. Have an honest conversation with them and explain that their negativity is damaging to your team. Additionally, don’t forget to look inward and ask yourself if you could’ve communicated better or stated your expectations more clearly upfront.
I tried having productive conversations with the difficult client I had several times. We would have a good talk about what needed to change, things would be better for a week or so, and then they would regress back to their old ways. Finally, I realized they weren’t worth the effort and were extremely toxic for me and my team, and I sent them a professional email saying we would no longer be working with them.
It’s also important to set boundaries with your clients. I used to answer texts all hours of the day and night if my clients needed to reach me. I would also meet them at night or on the weekends if that was the only time they could meet. Doing these things led to burnout really quickly, so I had to create some boundaries and only answer my clients during working hours (and only after-hours if it was truly an emergency). My life got so much calmer and I was much more attentive to the client’s needs during working hours because I wasn’t as distracted by things in my personal life outside of work.
Here are six ways to fire a client with professionalism and integrity:
1: Never blame or offend the client. Even if they may be at fault, putting the blame on them won’t do you any good. The best thing you can do is move on with integrity. It sounds crazy, but I’ve even had clients that I fired refer me to someone else, so don’t burn any bridges during the firing process and stay polite and professional.
2: Don’t fire them without ending their project first. I always finish what we were working on for them. I never leave a client without their project completed unless that’s what they choose to do. This way, you leave them in a good place to find someone else.
3: Don’t invite any discussions about your decision to fire them, because there’s really no need to explain why. They weren’t a good fit, and if you keep talking about it it could turn into an argument, which is not necessary. The bottom line is that it wasn’t productive for your or your team to work with them, so it’s best to part ways.
4: Don’t fire them over email. Nothing is worse than letting someone know via email that you will no longer be working with them. It may be uncomfortable, but firing a client over the phone or during an in-personal meeting ends the relationship in a respectful way.
5: Create a final task list for your and the client. Make a final list of what your team will be doing and what you expect from the client and put it in an email after the meeting. Put dates and deadlines on the tasks so they’re aware of when things will be transitioned from your company to whoever they work with next.
6: If you can, recommend someone else who may help them. You don’t have to do this, but I will often mention someone else who might be a better fit to help them. I wasn’t everyone to succeed in marketing, and if there’s a better fit out there, then I want them to try it!
Obviously, firing toxic clients is not a fun part of working in the marketing industry, but if you have a client that’s negatively affecting you and your team, it’s probably time to cut ties — you’ll be glad you did!