Warning Signs It’s Time to Part Ways with a Client

When you were a fledgling business, you took whatever clients were willing to hire you. But now that you’re busier and more successful, you can afford to be a little more choosy — so that may mean it’s time to let go of some of your most difficult clients.

How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye? Here are a few red flags.

They’re your lowest-paying client by a long shot. When you started out, you were willing to work your way up from a low wage — but now that you’ve built up your skills, experience, and client base, you’ve been able to command higher rates for newer clients. This long-term client, however, has refused to budge. Don’t stick with them out of a sense of loyalty or nostalgia: They’re holding you back, and if they won’t recognize your value, it’s time to cut ties.

They don’t respect your time. Even if you’re a business owner, you should be entitled to weekends and evenings free from work, just like any employee. However, some clients expect you to work at their beck and call 24 hours a day. Zia Holte, owner of Sunshine Virtual Assistance, once had a client who “would call at midnight, 3am, on Sundays… no limits.” After realizing that the client was making her life hell, “I jumped ship,” says Holte. “It was hard, but I am happier all around for it.”

They refuse to follow your standard protocol. As a business owner, you’ve come up with a set of policies that you enforce in order to keep your company running smoothly. However, some clients insist on doing things on their terms. If they refuse to sign your contract and come back with their own 50-page form of legalese, you could be in trouble. Likewise with the work process itself: “We require that the client give us the material they have prepared up front, so that we can study it and develop a visual look for the site based on their material,” says Nathan Corbier, owner of the web development agency Ground Zero Group Corporation. “I recently had a client refuse to give us content, and request a design that was ‘airy and organic,’ without further direction or information.” Because the client refused to follow the company’s policies, he showed the client the door.

They don’t pay on time — or at all. It sounds basic, but don’t commit to taking on a second job for a client before they’ve paid you for the first one. Karen Kalantzis, owner of IT consulting company Corporate Network Services, has dropped several clients over billing issues: “They either stopped paying us or paid us too slowly after repeated collections calls,” she says.

They’re just plain mean. Sometimes, it’s worth putting up with a bit of rudeness for the sake of making a living. But if a client is treating you as a punching bag, it’s time to take a stand. Felecia Hatcher, owner of Feverish Ice Cream, recently refused to renew a contract with a client after dealing with frequent abusive behavior. “As much as we could have used the business we didn’t want the aggravation and continued poor treatment.”

Ready to cut ties with your client? Check out our tips for how to break the news gently.

About Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is a principal at the content marketing agency Eucalypt Media. She's written about business, marketing, and entrepreneurship for publications including BNET, TheAtlantic.com, Inc.com, and owns and operates the positive news site Gimundo. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynhawkins.
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