When Should You Fire a Client?

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Ask any creative agency, business or freelancer about firing a client and they’ll tell you you’re crazy for asking—and that they’ve all had to do it at some point. Short-term gigs or long-term arrangements with a diverse group of clients are important for any business to stay afloat. However, difficult or quarrelsome clients can sometimes cause more harm than good to your business—and your team.

It should be a win-win relationship, right? Your client gets a project completed on time and you get paid. Unfortunately, it’s not always so straightforward and toxic clients can hold you back.

Here are some situations in which it might be a good idea to separate from your client:

1) The bad-for-business client
You know the type: They’re consistently late with payments because their own clients haven’t paid them, or because the invoice got lost, or because the check is always “in the mail.” This is a business and you have bills to pay. Clients who can’t meet the basic expectations of doing business may not be the type of clients you want associated with your business.

Also in this category are clients who may have bad business dealings. What’s their reputation amongst their customer base? Are there any questionable business activities they’re involved in? Are there any indications that their business model doesn’t appear to support long-term stability? If there is potential for your client’s business activities to put your reputation at risk with other clients or in your industry, it might make sense to fire the client.

2) The difficult client
Every client has certain quirks that take getting used to, but when the quirks become mini-battles, you may have cause for concern. An example is if a client writes rude emails or has an abusive phone demeanor. Since your team’s sanity and morale are key to getting things done, rude behavior from a client can negatively affect your team spirit—and your bottom line.

Another example is the client who is always behind schedule. He or she will be unavailable during important checkpoints and will take forever with approvals. But no matter their schedule, the client will still expect you to whip up new revisions despite late materials or approvals.

And if a client constantly questions your work or seems distrusting, a long-term relationship may not be ideal.

3) The way-too-demanding client
Each of your clients probably has unique and specific needs. But when you start receiving demands that don’t align with the original scope of work or have to deal with incessant revisions and changes, it’s a bad sign.

The same goes if the client calls you in the middle of the night or over the weekend. If you’ve established specific guidelines for communication and the client ignores it, they’re clearly not respecting your time.

When it comes to building a list of clients or simply maintaining business, remember to trust your instincts. If a client appears shady or you get the sense that something is not right, don’t hesitate to keep a close eye on the relationship—and move away from it if necessary.