Early on in my digital law firm, I would say yes to any potential client. You want to trademark your nude landscaping firm? Sure. You want to hire me for one hour? Sure. Most people who have started a business from scratch go through a phase like this. I call it the “I’ll do anything for anyone for any amount of money” phase, and let me tell you, it sucks.
I remember one client who hired me to do some “quick” contract edits. How much was she paying me? $250. Yep, two hundred and fifty dollars. Most of my clients were paying me upwards of $1000 at that point, but I thought, “what the hell, an extra $250 sounds good.” I figured I would take an hour or two, bust the contract edits out and be done. Easy peasy. Right?
First red flag was when she didn’t pay the invoice upfront. Then she emailed letting me know she’d needed the contract completed by the next day, something she’d failed to mention beforehand. Next, she decided to run the work by her friend who was “working on becoming a lawyer” and decided that I’d done it wrong. Now we’re on a conference call so I can explain to her random friend HOW THE LAW WORKS. And finally, when I send the invoice with the extra hours, she gets upset and says I’m cheating her.
It was like a soap opera! I spent hours stressing about this client. At my desk. Lying in bed. In the shower. Not to mention the time I spent talking to my husband about it and calling my friends to get their advice. The time I spent writing and re-writing emails to her defending myself and explaining why she needed to pay the full amount.
For a full two weeks, it consumed my life.
And you know what wasn’t consuming my life? The five other clients who were AWESOME, paying me my full retainer price, and treating me with respect. Nope. For those two weeks, my dream clients got put on the back burner while my nightmare client got all my time and attention.
This is the problem with bad clients. They might be giving you 5% of your total income, but they’re consuming 95% of your time and energy. Which means the clients that are giving you 95% of your income are left with 5% of your time and energy. Saying yes to bad clients or dragging your feet on firing them is the fastest and most effective to lose the business of clients you actually want.
“But isn’t there a way to turn bad clients into good clients?”
I know I’m going to get a bunch of emails and comments asking this question so I’m going to just answer it here.
No. Nope. Absolutely not. Bad clients are bad clients and have always been bad clients and will always be bad clients. Fire them the second you’re done reading this email.
EXCEPT…Occasionally a good client will seem like a bad client which means they can, with the right coaching and boundaries, leave the dark side and embrace the light.
So how can you tell when a client cannot be redeemed and needs to be fired?
- They don't take responsibility for their part of the bargain. Every successful project (whether it’s web design or career coaching or a haircut) requires both people to participate. Whether it’s being honest about expectations or honoring scheduled calls or taking the time to give feedback or do their homework, a good client is willing to do their part and takes accountability when they drop the ball.
- They underpay you or undervalue the work you do. When somebody perceives that a service or product isn’t worth what they’re paying, there is no happy ending except to cut ties. If a client is questioning your price or commenting on how much you charge, walk away. Perceived value is vital, on both ends. You need to value the client and feel like you’re being paid well for the service and they need to value your work and feel like they’re getting value for the money. When either side of that equation is missing, the relationship is doomed.
- There is a lack of trust. This is always a frustrating situation because sometimes the lack of trust is just an issue of miscommunication but once trust is gone, it’s very very very difficult to get back and so it’s often easier just to part ways. Remember, being skeptical isn’t the same as losing trust. It’s perfectly normal for a client to question your advice or work (and if you’re a coach, it’s to be expected) but it’s a whole other thing when the client does not trust your ability to deliver what they’ve hired you for.
Alright, now it’s your turn. Go to your inbox. Think of that client (you know, the one that is driving you insane and making you lose sleep). Don’t overthink it and don’t make excuses or make it complicated. Just write them an email and fire them.
Your good clients will thank you for it.