When a Client Isn’t Worth Keeping

Sometimes it's best to just let go.

Smart small businesses know the meaning of an extremely important concept: bad business. In this post, I want to remind you that you shouldn’t take all comers. Nor should you treat all of your current customers equally.

As a small business owner, I realize that I can’t do everything myself. I have no Superman Complex. So in order to be successful, I need to find people who routinely provide outstanding service. When in the market for a new vendor, I often think about the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Because I’ll pay for quality, I set the bar high for my vendors. I’m fortunate enough to have some great people working with me. (My primary web guy, Todd Hamilton, is one of the people on whom I primarily rely.) In turn, I routinely recommend them to others. I become my vendors’ biggest advocate—the same way that I want my clients to go to bat for me. It would be very hard for me to work with people who consistently missed their deadlines and/or exceeded their initial budgets by ghastly sums.

My vendors like working for me because I do the following:

  • Pay them on time
  • Send business their way
  • Clearly state what I need and by when
  • Don’t make them hit moving targets
  • Respond quickly when the need my input

All too often, I hear about how these amazing business owners encounter bipolar, demanding, indecisive, difficult clients (not me, I assure you). They have picked up the phone to vent to me. Essentially, they wish they could fire their clients.

And they can. It’s not that hard.

A Little Yarn

Some clients are far more trouble then they’re worth.

A few years ago, I did some consulting for a guy who drove me nuts. (Call him Stu here.) Stu was a real peach. He was unclear about the specific things he wanted from me. He expected me to drop whatever I was doing whenever he had fifteen minutes to spare. He questioned my billable hours. Stu became upset when I couldn’t read his mind. To boot, he conveniently forgot to pay me for six weeks past my invoice’s terms.

Throughout the entire project, I did my best to keep up a professional face. And, needless to say, when Stu came calling again a few months later, I politely declined.

Problem solved.

Simon Says: There is such a thing as bad business.

I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal here. But the lesson here is to recognize that some clients are far more trouble than they are worth. If it’s too late to cut them off, think about firing them after your current engagements end.

Some people will call you crazy for turning down work in a downward economy. Pay them no heed. If you have the ability to call your own shots, you should use it. In any economy, some clients are far more trouble than they’re worth.

Do yourself a favor: get rid of them.

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1 Comment

  1. Brian Rosenberg

    A customer once told me “we don’t pay consultants to tell us what to do”, which was quite contrary to my understanding of the purpose of our business relationship. If a customer is really interested in having you rubber stamp their positions without any critical analysis and is not willing to listen to contrary opinions, that is not a customer worth having.

    Another example of a bad business relationship is when a customer accepts recommendations but never acts upon them – perhaps because of an inability to champion the change within the organization or simply non-action. If this is happening on a regular basis, it is just a matter of time before the relationship will fail and it is best to address it proactively

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