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Fire Your Clients

The client-vendor relationship should be mutual.
Aug | 1 | 2011

Aug | 1 | 2011

I’ve had conversations with two people lately that make me want to write this post. (Call them Jack and Jill here but these are not their real names).

These two people provide outstanding service, something I know from personal experience because I have used them. Think that I’m easy on people I hire to do something for me? Think again. I can admittedly be a little tough on my own vendors. I only want to work with the best folks and I’ll never hire someone at a rock-bottom rate because I firmly believe that you get what you pay for.

Setting the Bar High

Are people cray cray for turning down work in a downward economy? No.

I set the bar high and Jack and Jill have each cleared it by a mile. In turn, I have recommended them to a decent number of people. This begs the question: What’s in it for me? A juicy referral fee? Not really. You see, because many service providers have disappointed me in my life, I like to spread the word of those who go above and beyond expectations. It just seems like the right thing to do and I have a pretty big mouth.

I become my vendors’ biggest advocates–the same way that I want my clients to go to bat for me, even though I might not be an organization’s preferred vendor list. I might be tough with my vendors but I like to think that I’m fair. Call it the golden rule. My vendors like me because I send business their way and, at my core, I’m a good guy. Whatever foibles I have, my vendors know that whatever I do comes from a good place.

Now, I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal here. (OK, maybe a little.) But it sickens me to hear that Jack and Jill have each recently encountered difficult, bipolar, demanding, indecisive clients (not me, I assure you). Each has confided in me that these clients are far more trouble than they are worth. They are thinking of firing their clients after their current engagements end.

Practicing What I Preach

Easy for me to say, right? Wrong. I actually walk the talk. A few years ago, I did some consulting for a woman who just plain drove me crazy. She was very unclear with me, expected me to drop whatever I was doing whenever she had fifteen minutes, questioned my billable hours, and became upset when I couldn’t read her mind. Oh, and then she conveniently forgot to pay me for six weeks. I kept up a professional veneer, vowing to myself that this would be the last time that I worked with her. When she came calling again a few months later, I passed.

Simon Says: Sometimes it makes sense to fire your clients.

Are people cray cray for turning down work in a downward economy? No. They’re completely right. Jack and Jill run their own outfits. They are small business owners who call the shots. No “senior partner” or VP of Division XYZ tells Jack and Jill what to do. They are intelligent and mature enough to make their own decisions.

But even big companies ought to fire their clients more often. (They usually are not, but that’s a topic for The New Small.) The definition of bad business is not confined to mom-and-pop stores. We’ve all seen big companies indulge high-maintenance clients to everyone’s detriment. In any economy, some clients are far more trouble than they’re worth.


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  1. Jill Wanless

    I’m with you Phil! I’ve even gone so far as to advise the consultants about all the risks they should identify and negotiate when hiring the organization I work for (the clients). And I’ll argue that it’s in the best interest of both parties. The old managing expectations….

  2. Bill Kerschbaum

    Phil, I completely agree. Difficult clients can make a project take much longer than it should have, which reduces your profit and keeps you unavailable for other clients. They can also kill the joy in your work, which is bad enough in itself but also means you won’t be giving the client your best work.
    That said, boy it sure is tough to fire a client!

  3. Kristen Eckstein

    I agree with Bill – it’s so difficult sometimes, but when the troublesome clients start making your dream business turn into a soul-sucking-day-job, it’s time to question if the money you’re getting from them is really worth it.
    Seems like “client bullies” are becoming more prevalent, which is sad for those businesses who go above and beyond for every client, only to get abused by some.

  4. philsimon

    Great comments, all. Yes, clients can be intolerable but we have the choice as small businesses to only work with the good ones–especially next time!



  1. When a Client Isn't Worth Keeping - […] All too often, I hear about how these amazing business owners encounter bipolar, demanding, indecisive, difficult clients (not me, I assure…

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