Firing a client = crazy talk?
Making the decision to let a client go is one of the toughest decisions you’ll make as a designer. Not only do you run the risk of burning bridges and upsetting people, but you also lose any future income you might have received from the client’s projects. It’s for these reasons that you should be extremely careful when cutting a client loose. It should be a well-thought-out decision based on logical reasoning and not heat-of-the-moment passion. You should have a good reason for firing your client and should politely explain these reasons to them upon termination. Lastly, you should be willing to negotiate with your client so that you all end on good terms. Remember, nothing is worse for you or your design company than bad word-of-mouth marketing.
When is it okay to fire a client?
Sometimes, no matter how much you fight it. No matter how much you try to work it out or find a more positive solution, you simply have to inform your design client that you can no longer continue working with them. Below, you will find a few scenarios that, in my opinion, justify a high level of consideration, on your part, of firing your client.
WHEN A CLIENT NEVER RETURNS YOUR CALLS
When you first meet with and establish a contract with your design client, you should make sure you define your means of communication. It is not uncommon in a design contract for you to include a clause that encourages frequent and meaningful communication. The contract my business uses, for example, contains an area where the client can provide their email address and telephone number. This same section outlines regulations about how often the client and designer should communicate, what the preferred means of communication is, and what the consequences are for lack of communication by either party.
If your client has been avoiding your calls or emails for months (notice I did not say days here) perhaps it’s time to consider cutting them loose. Kindly explain to them that when they are able to find more time to communicate with you and work with you to get the job done, you will be happy to work out a new agreement with them.
WHEN A CLIENT NEVER PAYS THEIR BILLS
While you may love to design simply for the sake of design, you are most likely in business to make a profit. Whether you are a design firm making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, or a part-time freelancing design student, if you aren’t making enough money to support your business, it won’t last long. When a client stops paying you for the work you are completing, it’s time to seriously consider letting them go.
Some clients try to get around paying by claiming that they will pay you when the get the money, when the task is fully completed, after the next revision, etc. Be sure to set up a clear contract that explains how payments will work, how often they should occur, and consequences of not paying. This will help your client stay on track. In the event, however, that they simply won’t pay you for the work you are doing, you may need to cut them loose.
WHEN A CLIENT MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO ACCOMPLISH OTHER NECESSARY TASKS
It’s likely you do more than just design. If you freelance, you most likely have to spend time with your finances, finding new clients, marketing material, and more. Designers who work at an agency have to take time out for company meetings, coworker problems/delays, and other work-related tasks. If you have a client who is making it extremely difficult for you to accomplish necessary tasks such as billing, marketing, or taking a lunch break, you may want to consider cutting them loose.
You have to weigh your options. Could the time you spend catering to this client’s every whim be better used in marketing your company, finding new clients, filing some paperwork, or even just staying sane? If so, perhaps it’s time to fire them.
WHEN A CLIENT WANTS TO BE TREATED LIKE THE ONLY CLIENT YOU HAVE
Similar to the point made above, it’s important that your clients understand your design business does not revolve around them. Kindly try to explain to them that you have other clients who also have deadlines. Be sure to plan wisely, establish milestones, and stay on task so none of your clients feel neglected. But if there is one particular client who just can’t seem to share you with all the rest, it might be time to drop them.
WHEN A CLIENT IS A LOW-PAYING TIME-SUCKER
If your design business is anything like mine, you have some clients that pay you what you believe you are worth, or more. You also have some clients who, whether they are a not-for-profit, a friend or family member, or a really old client who has grandfathered pricing, pay less for the services you provide.
If a client who pays less is taking time away from clients who pay more, you need to reconsider your relationship with them. This may not be a reason to cut them loose, but you probably want to renegotiate your terms of service and make sure you get paid what you are worth. If they continue to take up a lot of your time and refuse to pay you what you are worth, maybe it’s time to say goodbye.
WHEN A CLIENT IS DOWNRIGHT RUDE OR DISRESPECTFUL
This one, to me, is a given. I like to think that I am a fairly easy-going, easy-to-work-with kind of person. I’m never intentionally rude or disrespectful, and I expect the same from my clients. If a client ever attacks me personally, makes profane phone calls, or sends rude and attacking emails, I usually terminate the relationship pretty quickly.
A word of warning: Don’t confuse constructive criticism with rudeness. Just because a client doesn’t love your work or wants to make a few changes, doesn’t mean he is being rude. But when it turns into personal attacks or angry phone calls, it may be time to let them go their way.
What do you think? Share with us.
Have you ever fired a client? What merits firing a client in your opinion? Add to the discussion and let us know what you think.