Every small business has them: The problem child. The screamer. Mr. or Ms. Picky. The scope-creep king. The late payer.
Maybe your client never returns your calls, or, on the flip side, needs to instant-message you at all hours. Their flaws may differ, but the bottom line is the same: They're your worst client.
This client is way more work to deal with than the rest of your client list, pays way less or way slower, or all of the above. Perhaps the best thing you can do is get rid of them.
Why would you do such a thing -- especially in this awful economic climate? Difficult clients can sap your energy. It's exhausting and possibly even annoying to deal with them. Your workplace becomes less desirable, too -- making it harder to keep good employees on the payroll. Then, you may simply lose the drive to find new business as you run around trying to meet your hell-client's impossible demands.
You may think you need the business, but the reality is as soon as you give a nightmare client the heave-ho, you'll probably find twice as much work elsewhere. The negativity a bad client puts into your life tends to keep you from finding quality clients.
There's a right way and a wrong way to get rid of bum clients, though. Here are five tips that I've tactfully used to show downer clients the door.
- Contain the damage. While you're out finding new clients to replace Ms. Annoying, limit the time you have to spend with the offending client. When clients hire you for one thing but they keep demanding more and more, it's time to set some boundaries. Remind them of the terms of your relationship, and let them know you'll be charging more if additional work is required. Or, let them know you aren't able to go beyond your original contract, as you're too busy. Cutting them off may ease them out the door on their own.
- Give lots of notice. If this client relies on you for regular work, tell them near the end of one project cycle, so they have time to find a new vendor. Or give 30 days' notice. Whatever works within the context of your relationship.
- Refer them. If this client annoys you, but you think a fellow entrepreneur might better suited -- or at least, more willing -- to deal with Mr. Picky's issues than you, refer the client. Just be sure to properly warn the other business owner about your experience.
- Keep it professional. Dysfunctional people usually aren't going to change. There's no need to go into a litany of their annoying habits. I usually say something along the lines of, "I'm sorry to say I won't be able be able to work on your account anymore, as I'm fully booked."
- Announce a massive price hike. Calmly let the problem client know your rates have doubled, and they'll usually head for the exits on their own. Be sure to name a rate at which you might be willing to keep this client on, as there's always the possibility they'll agree. It's amazing how a lot more money might change your attitude about whether this client is really such a terrible problem.
Fired a nightmare client lately? Leave a comment and tell us how you handled it.