How to Fire a Terrible Client

We have all - unfortunately - been there. You have a client who is overly demanding, who is REALLY unpleasant to work with, or who may even be disrespectful to you or your staff. You may have even ignored those red flags, because they are ALWAYS there! But now, for your own sanity, you have got to get rid of that client. But how do we step out of those relationships gracefully?? It isn't always easy, but you can do it successfully. Here's how to recognize when it's time and how to fire that terrible client!

1. When Enough Is Enough

It may be something that built up over time, or a single instance that snapped your thread, but you usually do know when it's time. Often it's just fear holding you back. The red flags should always be when they start expecting expansions of the project scope; when they argue with you over every detail; when they don't pay on time; when they are overly demanding; or when they are rude and demeaning. Some of us have more tolerance for bad behavior than others, but any of those red flags could be a reason to step back. Hopefully you see them early in the project, but if not, there's still time to get out. 

2. Create a Plan

Get your ducks in order before you approach the client. Double check your contract with your lawyer so you know exactly what you may have to do. Jot down some bullet points that you want to be sure you cover. Those can include next steps, what you're going to do to wrap things up, and what the timeline will be. And prepare your staff for any action items they may need to take on before the separation is official. Most importantly, though, you need to tell your employees that you will now be the SINGLE contact for that client. You don't want any muddy water or miscommunication to threaten your plan, so be sure your employees know they are not allowed to talk to that client anymore.

3. Take the Professional Route

When it's time, you need to call an in-person meeting with your client. This is NOT something you should do through an email or a text. At the very least, you should have a phone call with them. You want to be very professional and lay out why you want to stop working with them, what the next steps will be, and that you wish them the best. You could also offer them a referral (if they aren't absolutely the worst) to another designer. But be clear that YOU will not be working with them on the project going forward. This conversation needs to be as calm and unemotional as it can be. Even if they escalate, you should stay in control. Go over any retainers that you're returning or money they owe you to date. And then follow up that in-person conversation with an email, so everything is very clear and buttoned up. Don't let any conversations drag on. This should be upfront and done quickly.

4. Spread the Word

Be sure to let the contractor, subs, workrooms, architect and other project members know that your team is no longer part of the project. Do not under any circumstances talk about the client and why you don't want to work with them. That can lead to issues down the road. Just let everyone know that they need to get in touch with the client for further instructions. And remember to once again remind employees that they should not answer any phone calls, texts, or emails from your client. They should forward all of that to you.

Is this easy? No. Do you still feel sick to your stomach? Yes. But, to try an avoid this in the future, realize that most of the red flags that let us know that a client may not be a great fit come up in the very first meetings that we have with them. So deep breath and to head off some of those issues. download my FREE Guide to Setting Client Expectations!



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