Aside from finding new clients and grow your business, there’s another thing freelancers have to consider: firing toxic or bad clients. We would all love a world where 100% of our clients are just amazing, but this is simply utopic. In fact, every freelancer at least once in their career (but I’d say way more than once), come across clients that are a hassle: they question what you do, think they always know more than you know, undermine your work, never accept to be contradicted, and the list could go on and on.
If a client is impossible to manage, it’s time to fire them, and as much scary as this step can look, it’s a well-needed action to make sure you don’t lose your mind and don’t waste time on something that doesn’t make you grow.
Getting rid of a toxic client is not easy, especially if you’re new to the business: you feel guilty, fear not to find other clients, and overall you start questioning yourself instead of blaming them and the imposter syndrome could really kick in. The truth is that it becomes easy when you start realizing that a bad client costs you more money than what they bring and take your time away from stuff you should really be concentrated on.
Firing a bad client is not easy, but it’s necessary at a certain point in your career.
If you’re looking for advice on how to get rid of a toxic client in 2021, I want to give you a few insights. I’ve learned how to end a working relationship when I see it’s not worth it, and this has bought me more freedom to really address my business in the right way. You don’t need to be rude when you tell a client you don’t work with them anymore; you have to be consistent and firm.
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The Differences Between a Toxic and a Challenging Client
Frustration and pressure can bring huge problems, the first being unable to recognize when a client is bad or challenging properly. Breathe because the difference between a toxic and challenging client is easy to spot.
A toxic client turns the project and the people involved in the chaos. They can badly affect the working relation, infringe on your ability to service other clients, and eat away your profit margin.
A challenging client inspires, gives new ideas, challenges your ideas and your theories but, at the end of the day, always reward you for what you’ve done, and not just economically.
How to Identify a Toxic Client
Identifying a bad client is not that hard. It may be hard to notice the signs of bad behaviors, especially at the beginning of a working relation, when both parties are still in the loving phase. As soon as the initial phase is off, understanding the client’s true nature, you’re dealing with becomes easy, and so it is identifying a bad client.
There are several different types of nightmare clients. The following are the most annoying.
1. The Client That Doesn’t Respect the Scope of the Project
Freelancers work by assessing the scope of the project they’re involved with. This means you should always have a contract that specifically defines what you do, what’s your goal, what’s your competencies, aside from the salary.
If a client keeps asking for things that are not in the contract even after addressing this problem, it’s time to fire them.
2. The Client That Doesn’t Respect Your Time
Very often, freelancers are seen as people that are always available and can be called at any time, regardless of where they are and what they’re doing.
If your client doesn’t understand that you have other clients and things to do and keeps asking to do stuff in an unrealistically short time-frame and to drop everything else, well, it’s time to let them go.
3. The Client That Always Wear Down Your Morale
Certain clients think they know more than the consultants they bring on board. They always have a saying in what you recommend to them; they want things you cannot give to them, they undermine you and your skills, refuse to listen, and so on.
This results in lowering your morale, and the next step is for you to start hating doing work for them.
4. The Client That Takes Decision Without Consulting You
Although you’re an external consultant, you should always feel appreciated and, most of all, trusted. A client that decides without consulting you on the matter you’re an expert about, the one that changes direction without letting you know even if it affects your work, the one that always wants to have the final say without knowing it’s someone you want to leave as soon as you can.
5. The Client That Believes There’s Always a Better Way
Some clients will never be happy, no matter what you do. They start questioning what you’re doing for them, sending you articles to show you how others are doing what they’ve asked you to do, they start putting you in a corner because they don’t understand what you’re doing. Well, at first, just remember to take track of what you’ve done and are doing, possibly with results, and if the situation doesn’t change, leave them aside and move forward.
6. The Client That Cannot Help But Micromanaging You
Micromanagement is one of the worst things ever for business: it shows a lack of trust, and it puts people under so much pressure that they end up not caring about what they do but only about what they can show they’re doing to avoid being called out.
If a client is obsessed about controlling you, what you do, how you do, it’s time to fly away.
7. The Client That Simply Doesn’t Fit With your Personality
Sometimes people don’t click, nor personally, not professionally. Differences in personality, approaches, and way of conducting a business relationship can lead to discomfort. There’s not much to do in those cases: you need to let your client go, or they will let you go sooner or later.
8. The Client That Wants to Use You Short Term
Sometimes companies play dirty: they hire a consultant promising to establish a solid and long-term relationship, to end up using them for a concise amount of time, and only to steal strategies and inputs that they will then adopt (very rarely with success) themselves so not to pay an extra resource.
It may be hard to spot those types of clients, but as soon as you realize this is the situation where you’re at, fire them: no need to waste precious time on someone that won’t avail of your skills!
9. The Client That Doesn’t Know What They Want
The indecisive client is the most common species out there: they have a goal in their mind, but as soon as they see something happening, they change their mind. They’re vulnerable to trends, less to data, and they pretend that their team, including freelancers, are always on board with their changes.
I honestly think this is an interesting category to work with, up to a certain point. If you end up spending way too much time because they’ve constantly changed their approach, it’s worth reconsidering your working relationship to avoid losing money and also losing your mind.
When to Fire a Bad Client?
You may have realized that your client is not the type you want to be around anymore, but when’s the right time to let them go?
Before you let them someone go, make sure you ask yourself the following questions:
1. Have I tried everything to make this situation better?
Put an effort in trying to save the marriage, be upfront, offer solutions. If things don’t change, then it’s time to move.
It usually takes a few months for me before firing a client: if I still have problems after 9-12 months, I don’t even try anymore. It goes without saying that if problems are unsolvable after a few weeks or months, I let the client go and take time to find a better one!
2. Am I economically satisfied?
Money can be a big factor when it comes to letting a client go. If your efforts are not worth the money you get from a client and a project, let them go and focus on something that brings you more money and, overall, more satisfaction.
3. Am I being unreasonable?
It’s not always the client’s fault. Sometimes it is also us. We may not be compatible on a personal level, which impacts the working relationship. We freelancers may disagree with the direction the business wants to go and, overall, get frustrated. We may not be easy to deal with, and that’s part of human nature as well.
4. Is it the right time for me to let them go?
Evaluate whether firing a client will put your income at risk. Make sure you take into consideration the time you’re spending on this client. How unsatisfied you are: the more free time you have, the more you will focus on clients that are really good and can make you grow professionally and personally.
How to Politely Fire a Client
If you have concluded that ending a relation is needed, you also need to think of how to fire a client nicely, trying not to burn any bridges.
Overall, your goal is to show your reasons or simply just use an excuse to avoid getting into details useless to both parties. Before firing your client, always remember to
- Check your contract and make sure you’re doing it adhering to what’s included in it;
- Stay calm and be polite. Try not to name and shame but if this happens because it has to happen, make sure you’ve reasons and examples;
- Do not argue, not even if your client starts attacking you personally;
- Finish the project and give them a reasonable deadline for leaving, unless the situation is totally out of control.
Once you’ve decided to move forward with this plan, schedule a call and choose one of these three approaches:
1. Focus on you and your career move
Instead of focusing on what they’ve done to make you come to this conclusion, shift the focus to your needs and suggest that you’re moving in a different direction and their business is not part of the plan anymore.
2. Raise your rates
One of the easiest ways to fire a client is by simply raising your rates at a point that they no longer want to afford nor work with you. No argument, no confrontation.
3. The Best One: The straight talk
I personally always prefer the straight talk that doesn’t mean you need to start arguing or complaining, but simply that you state specifically what’s gone wrong and why you’ve decided to leave. Emphasizing that you both aren’t a good fit for each other is part of this approach, showing honesty.
Regardless of the approach you choose, you should state the hard end date and the expectations with the associated timing for completion.
Ensure that you’ll outline your discussion in a follow-up email, including details tied up to your contracts, such as payment and obligations.
How to Avoid Toxic Clients?
Toxic clients are not 100% avoidable, and so are toxic freelancers. You can adopt a few tricks to vet your clients and try only to attract the best.
1. Check Your Prices
If your services are quite cheap compared to other freelancers in the industry, you may end up with nasty clients. In my experience, higher prices attract higher-quality clients, as long as they’re justified by expertise and experience.
2. Trust Your Gut
Trusting your instinct is key when it comes to starting working with a client. Every time I’ve trusted my instinct, I was right, and I strongly believe that we know ourselves more than anyone else, and this is a great advantage when choosing what type of client we want to work with.
3. Become a better freelancer
The more expert you become, the better your clients will potentially be. Most of all, the more expert you will become, the easier it will become for you to spot a bad client and let them go or, if you’re really really go, not even start a working relationship.
Read Also: The Best Business Books for Freelancers
Firing a Client: Bottom Line
Firing a client isn’t easy, and it can create a lot of doubts in your mind. You may start thinking it’s you, and the emotional weight of such a business decision can really be hard to process. But at the same time, a toxic client could affect your growth, your mind, and your certainties. That’s why, sometimes, you have to make the tough call.
Try to solve the situation the better you can, but if you’ve reached your limits, it’s time to let your client go. Do it nicely, and do it, decisively and your career will benefit from your choices.
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