It’s true. Every once in a while you may come across a client that just isn’t right for your business. Sometimes it is a matter of miscommunication. But, other times it has to do with the personality and behavior of the customer themselves – at which point you must ask yourself: “Is this even worth it?”
Below is a break up letter I wrote to a client from a previous relationship. It was emotionally draining because the client put me in a whirlwind of confusion and anxiety over several months. I finally reached a moment in which I decided the relationship was irreparable. So, I wrote a letter. I never sent it. Napoleon Hill recommends that if a person, business or professional, is causing you grief and a confrontation would only lead to more damage, jot down everything you want to tell the person and bury it in the sand. And so, the following will serve as a proverbial message in a bottle that will be cast into the digital sea.
I’m not sure how to say this. All I can say is that I’m really disappointed. I trusted in you. I trusted in us and I was excited for all the great things that we were going to create with each other. I gave you all my time and effort. I went above and beyond to show you that I was worth every penny. You could imagine my disappointment to realize that you never noticed. Did you even care? We toiled for hours coming up with your strategic plan. We brought you results. You never did acknowledge any of that. The only time I heard from you was when you wanted something. A new ad placement. A promotional campaign. Whatever you asked I gave it you.
There just was no communication. Every email and phone call went unanswered. I was so patient with you. You never paid. Six months and counting and you never paid. You never made an attempt to reach out and explain what was going on. I would just get a message out of the blue from you…another request…another ask. And I fell for it every. Single. Time.
What am I supposed to do? After I sent you a final invoice letting you know I would be terminating service for lack of communication and payment, you still didn’t respond. I heard from others that you were sorry and were intending to pay for the services already rendered. But, there was Nothing.
At this point I am justified in feeling disrespected, taken advantage of, and took for granted. Since you refuse to be communicative I can’t even recoup the start up expenses that I spent to to get you started. I guess that contract you signed meant nothing? I guess you don’t take your business, your reputation, or me seriously.
Thankfully, I’ve moved on.
Though, there is one positive I can take from this experience. You helped me realize how important it is to vet prospective clients and customers. Many put their focus on the ‘business’ aspect of a ‘business relationship’; but the operative word is the latter. Successful relationships of any kind require the cooperation of another. If one or both are not communicating or cooperating, the relationship is destined for failure. You’ve showed me that I should demand a certain quality of relationship and accept nothing less. And for that, I am thankful and appreciative.
Starting a business comes with few constants and a handful of the unexpected. To keep our minds as healthy and efficient as possible, we should look to lend more attention to things we can control. One of these is whom we choose to work with. Despite popular belief, you have power as a entrepreneur. If a customer is causing more harm than good, it might be time to terminate services. Always exercise tact and professionalism. And favor honesty, even if the little George Costanza on your shoulder tempts you with the “It’s not you, it’s me” routine.
“You’re fired”, said the business.
Firing a client does not mean you dislike the person. It could be as simple as your expectations from the client are not being met. Or, perhaps you feel under current circumstances you cannot deliver to your standards. Often, there is a way to salvage the relationship. Suggest working again in the future or scaling back the service that you provide to them. In other words, make sure you exhaust all opportunities to keep the paying customer before you throw in the towel. But if you can’t make it work, save yourself the stress and let them go. And don’t feel bad about it; this has been done before.
Restaurants and other direct-to-consumer based businesses often explicitly display their right to refuse service to any customer that violates their terms. As a business owner you can enforce your own by establishing your ideal customer or client type.
To start, simply make a list of things that you want from your ideal customer or client. For example: I want a client that trusts my judgement, I want a customer that can afford to buy my products, I want a client that is easy-going and fun to work with. Once you’ve exhausted your list compare what you have to your customer profile, i.e., the demographic attributions that you established through market research. This could include income level, location, occupation, and interests. Finding harmony between the two is the key to avoiding bad breakups. The final step is then creating a statement that describes your complete ideal client – taking into account your wants and needs from both profiles. You now have a guideline that tells you, in your own words, what requirements need to be satisfied before doing business. Let this document be your mantra and perhaps you will avoid the heartache of enduring a sour client relationship.
In sum, the best way to fire a bad client is to set up a vetting process that prevents the relationship from happening; either through triggers that you have set up or through a vetting process that allows the person to opt themselves out, so you don’t have to. But, undoubtedly, one will slip through the cracks.