Not every client is your ideal client. In fact, some clients are downright toxic. They sap your energy, undermine your brand, waste your time, keep you too busy to take on better clients, send your staff running for the hills and send you running for the Valium. In spite of the revenue toxic clients may bring in, I can think of at least nine reasons to fire them.
- The client acts unethically, or demands unethical behavior on your part. All we have, in the end, is our reputation - with others and with ourselves. When we act out of alignment with our values and ethics, or support those who do so, we are out of integrity. When we are out of integrity, we are less effective and more stressed.
- You don't like the client. This one doesn't show up on most lists like this, but it's crucial to me. One of the advantages of owning my own business is that I can choose with whom I will do business. I don't have to work with a jerk if I don't want to. Why give up that hard-won freedom? Why spend time with a client I don't like?
- Other people tell you the client - or prospective client - is a jerk. Many of us, me included, are convinced that we know better than the rest of the world. That's what gives us the confidence to get up in the morning and go at it one more time. But when several of your trusted friends and colleagues are telling you that your client is a jerk, listen. They are probably right. Unless you thrive on serving jerks, run for the hills.
- Your client expects miracles. Sometimes clients have unrealistic expectations of us and of what we can deliver. Sometimes, we are complicit in that, afraid to let the client see we are anything less than perfect at what we do. We bear the responsibility for clarifying what we can do. However, when we have been very clear about that and the client still expects us to perform miracles, it's better to bow out gracefully. The alternative is to attempt a miracle, fail, disappoint the client, and create a negative reference.
- The client abuses you or your staff. No fee, no matter how big, justifies an abusive client. If your client yells at you, lies to you, makes unreasonable demands on your time and talent, then fire that client. If your client treats your staff this way, fire the client.
- The client undermines you. Professional services engagements (coaching, consulting, legal services, accounting, financial planning, real estate sales, and so on) are partnerships between the provider (you) and the client. A mutually supportive and collaborative relationship builds far more value than one that is all one-way. And if the client is actively undermining you, it's even worse.
- The client constantly tries to get you to lower your price. This is a hard one for many consultants, especially those who are still building their practice. The temptation is to give in, just to get the business. But be careful. Yes, it's hard to know exactly what to charge professional services clients. And sometimes we'll get it wrong and ask for too much. But once you have found the fee level that works for you and for most clients, hold firm. Avoid the client who wants the same service you give to others, and wants it for much less money. Let them walk, and find more of those high paying clients.
- The client doesn't pay on time, or doesn't pay until after several reminders from you. For me, this one goes back to reason #1. It's simply unethical to delay payment for your services. On top of that, it's a form of abuse (#5) and undermines your ability to do a great job (#6). Don't waste time with late-paying clients. Have a clear late policy in your agreements, and follow the policy to the letter. Don't provide more services to a late-paying client, in the hope that will encourage payment. It won't. Instead, it rewards bad behavior and encourages more late payment. Stop serving the client and demand payment. Send the client to collection if you need to.
- The client fails to keep commitments, including appointments scheduled with you. In a collaborative, professional services relationship, you don't do all the work. The client has work to do, too. When the client fails to keep commitments, it makes more work for you. When the client cancels appointments at the last minute, you lose the opportunity to use that hour for another client. Don't let clients abuse you in this way. When a client continually misses commitments, it's time to walk.