There's a classic customer service adage: “the customer is always right.” While there maybe cases where this is true, it categorically should NOT be the motto of any self-employed business! Trying to please every customer when you're running your own business is guaranteed to make you miserable. (And you didn't go into business for yourself in order to be miserable, now did you?!) So let’s unpack this:
Reasons to Fire a Client
Since you’re in business by yourself, you don’t really need to think of a firing policy up front. More likely than not, you’ll know when things aren’t working out with a client. You might not immediately ascribe it to the client’s fault. You’re more likely to notice that you’re experiencing a lot of stress around a certain client, or that you dread having to communicate with a certain client. These are all tell-tale signs that a client is not a good fit for you.
I recommend firing any client who takes up a disproportionately large amount of your attention or effort that you're not happy about. If you're going the extra mile, but it's thrilling you on the inside, that's not really fire-worthy. It's when you're going the extra mile _every_time_ and you're cranky about it. That's no good! If it’s ever crossed your mind to fire them, then you probably should.
If it's at all ambiguous, then try improving and clarifying your boundaries. If the client violates the clearly stated boundaries, that's a good indicator they're not a quality client and it’s time to let them go.
But I’m Loosing Business!!!
Self-employed business owners are often worried what firing a client will do for their bottom line. If you find yourself in full-worry mode, here’s what you need to ask yourself:
- Is this person’s business vital to your income?
- Will you never find a client as awesome as this ever again?
You probably answered “no” to at least one of the above questions because the reality is that there are a lot more potential clients out there for you than you need and your income can comes from a myriad of sources. Most self-employed businesses that provide a service on an hourly basis need one or two dozen clients to be "full." That means, of the 300 million people in the US, you only need a mere dozen or two as clients. That means if you fire this client, you will likely find a new one. If this client is currently a huge part of your income, you can find another client(s) who will replace them. This client is replaceable.
Taking the leap to fire a client boils down to a fundamental belief: do you believe in abundance or in scarcity. If you believe in abundance then you know another (better?!) client will come along once you free up the space in your roster of clients. (In fact you *have* to clear the space before a better client can come into your business.) If you believe in scarcity then you’re only ever going to stress out about how you’re going to find someone to plug into the space created by the fired client. Of course that is scary! Scarcity makes everything scary, but if you can find your sense of abundance, it all becomes a lot easier!
More importantly, of your dozen or so clients, do you want each and everyone of them to make you feel excited to start work each day? Or do you want a business full of clients who make you hate life? (You picked the former, not the latter, right?)
Clients that aren't a good fit take up a lot of time and energy, and that time and energy could be used on building your business, spending time outside of work, or showering love on the clients who make your heart sing. Bad clients literally rob you and your business of energy. As a self-employed business owner, time and energy are your most limited resources. You cannot afford to keep clients who over-burden these resources. So, rather than worrying if firing that client will kill your business, worry if KEEPING that client will kill your business!
The Nit and Gritty of How to Fire a Client
Assuming I’ve persuaded you that it really is worth while to fire that client, how do you actually go about that? I have two key recommendations: polite but direct. Don’t bother sugar coating, or trying to explain, just rip the band aid off and cut ties cleanly without any flourish. Here’s how I’d go about it:
TADA! That’s it. Short. Sweet. No room for them to bargain their way back, and minimal room for them to take offense. And if they do take offense, then great. You didn't want them as a client anyway! (Feel free to cut and paste my work, btw.)
Firing Clients is Vital
One of the perks of being self-employed is autonomy. And that autonomy is profound. It turns out, when you’re self-employed YOU have the power. YOU get choice. So use that choice!! Flatter your clients by letting them know that they are someone you WANT to work with! That's how you get a positive feedback loop of awesome. You'll be more happy, your clients will be more happy and you'll have a thriving business!