Y U No Tell me: It is OK to fire a client

This is the sixth post in a series called Y U No Tell me; Lessons learned from building a WordPress development business. For a list of all posts in the series, please start here.

Here's a news flash for you, not every project you take on is going to go smoothly. Sometimes you'll be to blame. Sometimes things will go wrong and nobody's specifically at fault. When something does go wrong, no matter who's fault, it is always nice to be working with a client who is reasonable.

When I say reasonable, that doesn't mean I don't expect them to be upset if something goes wrong. We're all human and getting upset is something we all do. Especially when something goes wrong related to something we've spent a bunch of money on. I fully expect that a client may get upset from time to time. But being upset and being unreasonable are two totally different things.

At 9seeds, firing a client isn't something we take lightly. In the 5 years we've been in business, we've done it twice. And I hated doing it both times. Largely because I hate confrontation. Since I will go so far out of my way to avoid confrontation, I have been known to let clients get away with things I shouldn't normally put up with.

Each client comes with their own unique personality. Not every personality is going to be something you can get along with. Hopefully you can figure that out during the calls that take places before you sign contracts. Although, there have been times when we've dealt with clients who started out fine and ended up being downright unpleasant to work with. In those situations, we typically do what we can to complete the project as quickly as possible and move on. If the client asks us to perform more work after we've completed the current project, we'll politely decline. No harm, no foul.

The nuclear option

Let me be perfectly clear, firing a client isn't your little escape valve to be used because you under-bid a project and the client is trying to hold you to your original quote. No, that's on you. Remember, that contract you signed with the SOW? It's there to protect the client, too.

There will come a time on a project when you've gone above and beyond for the client and you've come to the conclusion that there will be no pleasing them. Calls start to escalate to raised voices. The whole relationship has reached a gained a layer of tension that goes beyond the normal pressures of delivering for even a difficult client. It's at this point when we consider parting ways.

There is, however, a shortcut that a client can take to have us consider firing them much quicker. That is when a client is rude or disrespectful to the people I work with. This is something you can see happen in all sorts of businesses. A client is talking to the owner/manager and is sweet as can be. But then, when talking to a staff member, they're insufferable. That is something I am way less likely to put up with.

Here's a little gauge you can use, if you are at your desk and not currently busy and your phone rings. If you check the caller-id and see it's a client and your first thought is to send them to voicemail, you may want to reevaluate the relationship.

How about you? Have you ever had to fire a client?

Did you know you can get these posts sent to you by email? Just sign up using the form over there on the right. In tomorrow's post I'll tell you why Long-term clients are awesome!

2 Comments

  1. Phil Simon on October 20, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Nice post, John. I’m with you on the unpleasantness of it all, but sometimes it’s necessary. I make some similar points here: http://www.philsimon.com/blog/management-blog/fire-your-clients.

    • John on October 20, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Yeah, I’m definitely not a fan of it. I don’t know anybody that is. But, if you don’t have it in your back pocket as an option, bigger issues are likely on the horizon.

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