How can I fire my client?

“Your fired!” How many times have we imagined saying that to our nightmare client? We’re not the only ones thinking about this worst-case scenario. A quick search on the internet reveals it is a common issue. I found numerous blogs and at least 23 reasons to fire your client. Here are some of the main ones.

Reasons to fire your client

1.      Financial concerns

·         Late or inconsistent payments that affect your cashflow and interrupt the smooth operation of your business;

·         Being locked into an out-of-date fee structure;

·         Playing you off against the competition;

·         Continuing an underperforming project compared to current more lucrative ones;

·         A legacy project that don’t fit your current interest areas.

2.      .Contract completion concerns

·         Scope creep, unreasonable demands, and constant changes to the agreed upon work;

·         Inability to make decisions so work stalls;

·         Indifferent or disappearing client, impossible to maintain regular contacts or updates, lack of response to your requests for access or information, no collaboration, lack of support for project completion;

·         A micromanager client who knows better than you, revises your work beyond recognition.

3.      Relationship concerns

·           Lack of civility, rudeness, toxic relationships;

·           Lack of respect for you, your staff, and your work;

·           Morale and confidence crusher;

·           Dishonest, threatening, or abusive behavior;

·           Blames you for their poor results.

Strategies to extricate yourself

1.      Try to resolve the issue

Colleen Manning[1] recently suggested a great resource from the Harvard Negotiation Project, a book entitled, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most[2]. By shifting to a learning stance and getting away from laying blame, by identifying the facts, and by dealing with emotions and identity issues on both sides of the table, you may be able to resolve your differences. The book provides a template for structuring a learning conversation.

2.      Leave gracefully

Read your contract carefully. The last thing you want is to end up in court. You need to review any termination clauses; they may not be in your favor. Determine the best course of action. It may be to bite your tongue, finish any outstanding work to the extent possible, and then refuse any additional work.

Nicholas Reese explains how to leave gracefully.

·         Politely explain the situation;

·         Focus on their interests;

·         Be professional, you never know when your paths might cross in the future;

·         Set expectations for next steps.

He also provides three scripts for what to say when firing a client[3].

3.      Prepare for next time

·         Retain two to three months of contingency funding to support potential contract gaps;

·         Negotiate good contracts with fair clauses for scope change and termination;

·         Keep a paper trail of all email correspondence;

·         Take notes of all telephone conversations;

·         Get the bulk of your payments prior to the end of the contract;

·         Create a red flag list of problematic client characteristics and avoid them;

·         Be selective in the work you accept.

Life is too short to be miserable. Find and keep the work that is satisfying to you, get rid of the rest, and you and your business will bloom.

Gail Vallance Barrington

Originally published in the Independent Consulting TIG Newsletter. January 2019.

[1] Manning, C. (2018)The Learning Conversation Approach to Difficult Client Debriefs. Paper presented at Evaluation 2018, American Evaluation Association. Cleveland, OH.

[2] Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. New York, N.Y.: Viking.


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