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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: Freedom2016 on May 29, 2014, 08:36:27 PM

Title: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Freedom2016 on May 29, 2014, 08:36:27 PM
I'm venting more than anything else, but also wondering if I'm not alone in this.

I am on the verge of firing my (biggest) client. They hired me on the understanding that I would do A, B, C, and D (they WANTED me to do these things) but through a complicated series of command-and-control-style decisions, internal politics, and other leadership deficits they have undermined parts A, C, and arguably D making it impossible for us to deliver the ultimate impact they (say they) want.

A new development happened this afternoon making everything worse, so I'm pretty angry right now. When I regain some perspective I'll figure out the 'professional' next step here (assuming 'chewing them out' not being one of my options), but for right now some part of me would feel some relief in pulling a Donald Trump "You're fired!" move. "Help me help you" has never felt so relevant - they're getting in their own way of improving the terrible situation for which they hired me to help.

I don't yet have FU level money, though we would survive without this client. But this isn't even about the economics of terminating a client; there is professional pride, reputation, and a genuine desire to help them that are more in play for me. I'm just wondering if any other freelancers / business owners have gone through something like this? Looking for some commiseration, I guess.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Khao on May 29, 2014, 08:52:37 PM
I fired so many clients that I don't have any client left! I'm not even joking. I was working four days a week and I wanted to do some freelance on the side to make more cash and I did three projects over the course of a year and a half. All three of those I was supposed to keep working with the client for the long term and work on other projects but I simply couldn't work for them, I was miserable because they wanted me to do stupid shit after I had explained to them why it was stupid (software development, yay!) I'm not sure if I'm just not meant for freelancing or if I simply was very unlucky with the projects I ended up working on, but two of the projects I delivered and told the client I wouldn't be available for more work (politely, of course) and the third one I barely made it into the project and told him I was done working for someone so incredibly stupid as him.

My well being and my sanity are worth waaaaaaay more than any amount of cash I could have gotten from those clients.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Cheddar Stacker on May 29, 2014, 08:55:24 PM
I audit small businesses. I MUST rely on the integrity of management or I can't trust anything they tell me and I can never get comfortable. I had a business owner lie repeatedly to me while covering up a tax evasion fraud scheme. Told the hgiher ups I would never work on that client again. They hired an attorney and fired him the next day.

It felt good. Your integrity/licnese/reputation are not worth the $ your worst clients provide. If you can make peace with that the decision will be obvious.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: pka222 on May 29, 2014, 09:14:39 PM
I ran a landscaping business in college and had a great time of it. mowing lawns in the sun, making good money, not going into debt.  One client wanted things at her house done "differently". Now I had 30 Clients who all got more or less the same service, I would do extras like help with the trash, move heavy things for the old folks, even carry in groceries for the oldies -ie I liked my clients and liked helping them out- but this client had gall to yell at me- twice. Once I chalked it up to a bad day on her part, the second time I packed up and didn't come back. No sweat off my back. Its awesome to be able to pick and chose who you take money from.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Khao on May 29, 2014, 09:29:06 PM
Its awesome to be able to pick and chose who you take money from.

Money is only one part of the equation. It's a relationship, not that much different than a coworker for example. Being able to weed out the toxic clients is a blessing.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: lizfish on May 30, 2014, 12:57:06 AM
I have fired 2 clients, and plan to fire another. The 2nd one represented over half my monthly income. I admit that two things make this easier. A) we don't need my income to eat B) new clients tend to find me. If you are not happy working with this client, and it's not a question of money, then fire them. I've spent too much time and worry trying to 'save' clients. Too many sleepless nights, too much anger. Sometimes the person to help them is not you, sometimes it just can't be done.

I recommend the latest freakonomics podcast "the upside of quitting" We are told that success depends on never giving up. That's BS.

Good luck.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: tmac on May 30, 2014, 05:51:04 AM
Several. The first time was for making unethical demands. The most recent was because they were a PITA and didn't pay on time.

1) For PITAs, raise the hourly rate to a level they will decline. Or if they accept it, it's high enough to make it worth it.

2) "We've grown too quickly and our service is slipping. I've had to make some hard decisions, including letting some clients go." Learned it from an Alan Alda movie where he had to disentangle from the Mafia. Maybe Betsy's Wedding. "With respect, I can't make you happy in this."
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Rural on May 30, 2014, 06:54:50 AM
I recently told my only remaining freelance client that I could no longer work on their incredibly short timeframes (due only to disorganization on their part) and that I'd stay with them for thirty days to let them have the time to find a replacement. Suddenly the level of organization skyrocketed and I had several months' worth of work lined up at once. I'll stick with them if they can keep it up. So far, so good, but it's only been a couple of months.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: forestbound on May 30, 2014, 08:54:06 AM
I have complete sympathy for you course11!

In 5 years, when I reach a level of FI that makes me comfortable, one of my clients will be kicked to the curb. It's a mom and pop company, and "pop" is a misogynistic jerk, who habitually brow beats his wife in front of me. FYI, I am a woman. I keep them on for three reasons:
1) They pay on time, and I don't have to deal with him except in meetings,
2) They listen to all my advice and I like their product and have been able to grow their business substantially. I'll admit it, its gratifying to my ego that the client that listens to me reaps rewards!
3) I really like the wife and feel so badly for her.

I may need to raise my rates though if they want more "meetings". I always come away drained and worried about the Mrs. Misogynist.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: rmendpara on May 30, 2014, 09:30:47 AM
Depends on what exactly type of services you provide, but "firing" the client may preserve your reputation.

Would providing a sub-par product or not delivering hurt your reputation... and ultimately hurt your ability to generate more business?

I would make your concerns known, and make them decide: either let you do your job, or part ways.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: jeastith on May 30, 2014, 09:36:17 AM
YES.  Haven't regretted it once.  I am a freelance voice over artist, and 98% of my clients have been excellent to work with!  However, my main problem with the occasional deadbeat clients is getting paid. 

I "fired" one client after I did a number of commercial spots for him, and 6 months later, after many friendly reminders and emails, I still hadn't gotten paid.  He owed me $6000.00.  I had a friend who is a lawyer send him a pretty threatening letter, and I had a check the following week.  He called me for a job, and I turned him down.  Told him I was too busy and unless he could pay double my rate at the time of the session (before I read the spots), I wouldn't be able to do it. 
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Freedom2016 on May 30, 2014, 11:31:18 AM
Thanks very much for the stories and experiences. We will be having a "come to Jesus" conversation next week (not that I called it that on the meeting invitation...) :) where we revisit their goals, discuss our (lack of) progress toward those goals, and brainstorm a few different paths forward. I will mention the option of ending the work altogether, along with a few other ideas.

I suppose the silver lining on this one is that they do pay their bills on time. If I wasn't getting paid this would be a totally different conversation!
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Freedom2016 on June 05, 2014, 05:32:22 PM
We had the "come to Jesus" conversation today and although I'm still processing how it went, the upshot is that we will continue but modify the work we're currently doing with them, and conversation is on the table about whether they will want to continue into 2015 given that they will not have met their goals by the end of this year.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Cheddar Stacker on June 05, 2014, 10:36:16 PM
Good job standing up for yourself. Whether they stay or go should be irrelevant. Either way is a win for you.
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: MgoSam on June 06, 2014, 12:40:25 PM
I've told a customer of mine to jump in a lake (politely). That same guy called two of my customers that have sold to him to complain about me, and both of them called me to say that they said, "If Sam told you to jump in a lake then you should." I'm guessing that they still sold to the guy, we had nothing but problems with him. To date I have never done this, but the guy called to complain about my receptionist in an extremely sexist manner and the kicker is, she wasn't working the day he claimed to have talked to her. Being a good manager, I made sure that she knew I stood up for her :-).
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: Kepler on June 07, 2014, 12:22:21 AM
When I worked as a consultant, I made a regular and satisfying practice of referring difficult clients to deserving competitors...
Title: Re: Have you ever fired a client?
Post by: tganewbie on June 07, 2014, 09:44:18 PM

I have fired quite a number of clients for a variety of reasons and with a variety of methods. For perspective I am a web developer.

- A client web design firm who resold a CMS I did programming on did not listen to my advice, instead they just acted as an email forwarding gateway between me and the client (there was another reseller in between). I nearly doubled my rate and they fired me.

- A video production agency resold my skills to an advertising agency and created 70 emails per day. I ended up charging them 15 minutes per email and they left after 1 month.

- I gave two clients fixed price proposals and they ended up using 1400 (800+600) hours of employee and me for free. First one I "finished" the project in full knowledge they were not able or willing to test it fully. After 14 days I pointed out that they had accepted delivery as no further bugs were found. They have since been through many "too expensive/ need to fix this cycles" and asked me at various times to reduce charges. I told them I've already given them 800 free hours every time. They still disrupted constructive work too many times and beginning of this year I terminated my services with 2 month notice. They asked me to keep servicing them when I can as they are moving to a different system. I since only fix their things 1-2 times a week and it works.
The second client I had to sit down and tell that all future hours are fully billable. They are a non-profit in the family space and accepted. I have them a lower hourly rate to fix unknown bugs in the agreed fixed price system and they have luckily died out.

The experience of sticking it out with these clients told me that you have to confront these issues much much earlier. One advisor told me that "there is always more money". It is hard to measure how much opportunity you loose with difficult clients, especially in the "mind space" category. They put you back so much. This is also the reason why I never wanted one client to have more than 40% of my income - shit happens, people may die and you need to be able to say good bye to them.

I used my experience with another client afterwards who tried to rein in the total cost of a project by instituting a cap on the cost while not limiting any future change requests. Of course I couldn't promise him that. He repeated the questions until I walked out. After some threatening and lawyer advice I got my balance paid and he went somewhere else.

An interesting consultant consultant - Alan Weiss recommends to fire 15% of your worst clients every year, so you have head space for 15% better clients.

Hope this helps.