Skip to content

July 1, 2009


Time to Fire Your Clients?

by Anthony Verre

How do you Know When it’s Time to Fire Your Clients?

When do you fire your clients?

On occasion, everyone deals with a difficult client. They might be very sensitive to keyword choices and hyper-sensitive to optimized content and internal anchor links. It’s understandable. Because, hey, it’s your brand and it has to be represented a certain way.  As a search marketer, as someone concerned about their own brand and image, I get that.

And, yes, “difficult” can cost you profits if handled incorrectly, be a total time-sink, and in some cases, ruin your day. Yet, how you perform with difficult clients, in the worst of times, will only make you that much better with everyone else. It’s the easy, amicable clients that get you into trouble. After all, you can’t hit homerun everytime out, and the struggle is where joy arrives.

At what point does difficult turn to “fire-able”? That’s the question.  And, everyone has a different answer.  Every person has a varying tolerance level. Some could/can tolerate it forever because the client is the “Golden Goose”. Others, based on past experiences, have a extremely low threshold, won’t put up with the slightest rumblings, and pull the trigger. It all falls along the bell curve and standard deviations.

There’s Only So Much Shit You Can Eat.

Be honest, there’s only so much shit you can eat. Even the most easy-going, lax, and tolerant person has a limit.  So I asked the question:

When is it time to fire your client?

Clients do need to understand that this is the last resort. I don’t think anyone EVER wants to fire someone. You always think it’ll be better the next time around. Maybe just a phone call to explain my point-of-view on the situation and how it affects our partnership. But I’m learning: once an asswipe, always an asswipe. Clients don’t change. I think Ian Lurie put it best:


The McDonalds-ization of Client Service

“The client is ALWAYS right.”

Unfortunately, that is not the case. There is an overwhelming pressure to kowtow to the client’s wishes, one that has infiltrated businesses across the globe. And, with a global depression/recession in full-swing, the client knows they have an advantage. They’ll press you. They’ll barter, bargain, and attempt to de-value your services because there’s a global crunch and they think they can. They ignore you to avoid having to approve work they were so desperate to get.

The fact of the matter is, it’s NOT ok.  The client is not right. They want filet mignon at chesseburger prices. If your search marketer is worth their salt, they completely understand you’re marketing budget got tighter. That every dollar needs to be accounted for, stretched, and maximized. But, that does not mean that I have to grossly de-value and debase myself and my services to fit your budget.

Time to Fire Your Client…

Fire clients when they cost you more than they pay you


It’s time to fire your client when the relationship is completely lopsided and no mutual balance can be found. Or as Alysson Fergison put it:

[when the] need to understand that their decisions impact other people’s lives

Then it’s time to fire your client.

  1. Jul 1 2009

    Firing clients is one of the most challenging aspects of running a small business. From recognizing the warning signs, to holding faith that it’s an acceptable business practice or that there will be other, better, more well aligned clients to follow, to addressing the sense of guilt or shame…

    Yet there is clearly a time when some client relationships need to end. Holding onto client relationships that are patently codependent seriously harms a business and adds intense stress.

  2. Jul 2 2009

    Often clients want you to ‘tell them how to do it’ for free. Anytime I’m asked “exactly what will you do?”, I charge them for consulting time. Very seldom have I not heard back. If I don’t hear back, I think they got the message loud and clear!

    Also, some clients think that multiple emails asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ aren’t time-consuming. To combat this, I tell them that I have time on my calendear next week and recommend that we meet for a consult so I can answer their multiple emails in person. Here again — either they ‘get it’ and pay, or I don’t hear back from them again. And that’s okay! It’s taken me 13 years, but I finally have a grip on how to handle time moochers. I shouldn’t have to tell people that I charge for my time, but I’ve found that sometimes they just need a little reminder.

  3. Jul 6 2009

    I like your questions as it is obviously a timely one.

    I think their are three principles to begin with.

    1- when they don’t pay their bills
    2- when they ask you to do something illegal
    2- when they are abusive in their treatment of your employees (not a pain in the ass “abusive”)

    Other than that I think it is a matter of making certain that the strategies your company employs ensures that a customer can’t take advantage of the company. Making sure you get sign off. Making sure everyone is clear about the rules of the game prior to beginning the game. Setting firm guidelines that let the client know what they will and will not be charged for.

    I would prefer to do business with a handshake but that too often leaves things open for misinterpretation.

    What really sucks is when you have a client that you bend over backwards for to make them happy. When you screw up a bit so you end up eating 10 times that to make it up to them but they show no appreciation. Hey it just ain’t fair but that’s life.

    You made the decision to go up and above the call of duty because it is the kind of company and person you wanted to be. It is unfortunate when the person you did it for didn’t appreciate it but you have to realize you did it not for the person as an altruistic endeavor but as a business decision. That is the kind of company and person you want to be known as.

    You also have to consider that in many cases there is a contract in place and both sides have an obligation to live up to it. Even if you want to fire the client if you they signed an agreement for a period of time unless they have violated it I don’t think you can fire them. However, at the end of the contract it makes perfect sense to do an analysis to determine if you want to continue providing the service.

    When all is said in done let’s face it we are in business to make a profit so that is what you need to look at. Are you loosing money on the client?

    Not for what you decided to do in order to go above and beyond the call of duty because you feel you didn’t meet your standard but for the long term. Track your time against what it cost you to service them. Figure there is some variance factor built in and if they fall below the threshold it is time to tell them they have to go because you can’t afford to do business with them anymore.

    One other item that you could take into account is the mental toll it takes on your team. Is this client making it unbearable for everyone or are they just a basic pain in the ass that a company needs to learn to deal with.

    In the end very few are going to hit the threshold of a client needing to be fired but they are out there. If you work for a company and you feel a client should be fired take your business case to the owner. If you have it documented properly from a business point of view you won’t come off as a self indulgent whiner and in fact may be demonstrating the kind of leadership qualities they are looking for.

    A great question!

    P.S. The other question about how much should we tell the client what we are doing is another very interesting one.

  4. Jul 14 2009

    Great article. All service providers need to stick to their guns so clients never expect work for less than value. Unfortunately there will always be service providers willing to undercut and screw the whole system.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: