16 tips for firing a client without wrecking your reputation

May 04, 2021

How to fire a client politely and respectfully

If you’re not new to the business world, you probably already know how to attract more clients. However, eventually, you’ll have to learn how to fire clients as well. And because firing a client is just as unpleasant as divorce, you ought to be careful.

If you’re the charming, funny boss who’s always friendly with clients and co-workers, or even if you’re the strictly professional but fair type, you’ll hate firing clients. These breakups usually come with a lot of drama. When not approached rightly, they might hurt your reputation and start rumors that you have a toxic company culture, or you’re a bad leader. And no entrepreneur wants that.

Worry not, because there’s a solution for everything. You can fire a client and keep your reputation pristine. 

Jump directly to:

 1. Find the appropriate time

 2. Review your contract

 3. Be expensive

 4. Put your best foot forward

 5. Give them time to make arrangements

 6. Be legally covered

 7. Treat the process as you are leaving a job

 8. Give another chance

   9. Shift the responsibility

 10. Wait until the contract expires

 11. Discuss it in person

 12. Extend your gratitude

 13. Be respectful

 14. Be careful afterward

 15. Explain it if it’s a win-win situation

 16. Be direct but professional

16 tips for firing a client drama-free

To make sure you get the best advice on how to fire a client, we turned to entrepreneurs who had experience in the breakup department. Here are their stories from which you can draw conclusions and pick the best approach next time you’re dealing with firing a client.

Find the appropriate time

My best tip about firing a bad client is to find the appropriate time. It’s all about the timing. Make an appointment with the client on a day when you are not overburdened with other responsibilities. The conversation should be intense but not tense, professional but not aggressive. Inform the client that you’d like to talk about the status of your project. Bring the contract, as well as any other documents you’ve collected (emails, receipts, and such). 

Tanner Arnold, President, and CEO of Revelation Machinery

Review your contract

My top tip before firing a bad client is to go through your contract before making a decision. Protect your own interests before approaching the client by reviewing any written contract terms or agreements. This is to ensure that your client doesn’t attempt to take advantage of you by claiming you left in breach of contract. 

Similarly, be certain that you won’t be in violation of the contract if you don’t deliver what you promised. Your working relationship may often be so bad that you have no choice but to bite the bullet and terminate your deal, accepting any penalties that might be imposed. It’s up to you to make the call, but it’s always a good idea to know what you’re giving up before firing a client.

Jake Smith, Managing Director at Absolute Reg 

Be Expensive

Triple your regular hourly or project rate, and give your client a quote that he would almost certainly consider outrageous. By going way out of his price range, he would probably pass and your partnership will be ended. This strategy may have unanticipated advantages. Some people choose the more costly alternative because they believe it reflects the better quality. And if a bad client reports to someone else about your prices, he can inadvertently give you referrals. Price is a measure of perceived worth, and “expensive” is a great way to place yourself.

Mike Dragan, COO at Streams Live 

Put your best foot forward

So I’ve had to trim some clients because of change requests in the past and expectations that weren’t aligned. Here’s my advice.

There are many different reasons for firing a client, but it’s never good to end with animosity. Whatever the difference, put your best foot forward, provide any work you did and information that might help them to succeed in the future. Do your best to have a phone call and let them know you are going in a different direction.

George Kocher, CEO at Brand North 

Provide them with time to make arrangements

A gentle strategy that has worked for us is to explain that our company must react to recent changes that have made it impossible for us to service them at the level that we expect of ourselves, and therefore, we must part ways as a result. We will generally provide them with some time to make other arrangements.

This is useful in situations where you’re finding the client is commanding more time and attention from staff than their contract is worth, and has allowed us to avoid confrontation and long-term bad will.

Jay York, CEO and Founder of Grove Brands 

Be legally covered

Firing a client should be approached in much the same way as you would fire an employee, which is to say, with special attention to any specific contractual requirements. The process should be formalized in writing and, if possible, gone over by your company’s lawyer or legal team to ensure that you are legally covered. You can’t always fire a client simply because you don’t like them or they rub you the wrong way, as there can be legal repercussions.

Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer at Resume 

Treat the process as you are leaving a job

The best way to fire clients is to treat the process as you would treat leaving a job. You want to give the person plenty of notice, finish any open work orders and meet any contractual obligations, make sure you don’t start any new projects for them and, to be extra diplomatic, provide them with suggestions for other services and providers they might use in your stead. This way you preserve your reputation, know you did the right thing, and you get rid of a client that wasn’t right for you.

Markus Albert, Managing Director at Eat First 

Give another chance

I’ve found that if you can hang in there a bit longer and give them some tough love, that relationship can turn around – sometimes even for the better. A lot of people don’t work out because we let them off the hook too easily or make excuses for them. It does no one any good to just cut them loose without getting to the root of the problem.

The first thing you should ask yourself is whether there’s any chance of salvaging the relationship. If your client just wants to nitpick about tiny details or has started taking your work for granted, it might be time to bring things to an end.

Abby Ha, Head of Marketing and Business Development at WellPCB 

Shift the responsibility

Declare that a new personal circumstance can exclude you from offering the customer your undivided attention. You choose, out of concern for their company, to recommend someone else to take over. Clients, in the majority of situations, are very understanding of this. They go on but maintain an optimistic, strong attitude toward you.

Never accuse or insult the customer. And if it’s their fault, attempt to shift the responsibility elsewhere. Do not let them go before their project is completed. Or, at the very least, without specifying the measures necessary to transfer it to whoever would be dealing for the customer next.

Olivia Tan, Co-Founder at CocoFax 

Wait until the contract expires

It’s always a good idea to exhaust all of your options to try to save the partnership if at all possible—this is particularly true in the early stages of a relationship. If you’ve tried and failed once, it’s probably time to move on. Wait until the contract is due to expire. 

Waiting until the contract expires before dismissing a customer will help prevent awkward conversations and have a way out for the company. You have the option of not renewing their deal. The disadvantage is that you will also have to work for the difficult customer until the contract expires.

Alan Harder, Mortgage Broker at Alan Harder 

Discuss it in person or over the phone

Here’s how I handle firing bad clients in a nice way.
• Check your contract and take a look at the terms of your agreement.
• Discuss it in person or over the phone, but never via email or text message.
• Do not blame the client (although it’s their fault).
• Maintain your professional tone.
• Be firm about your decision. Do not be swayed.
• Recommend them to another company.

Ryan Smith, Owner of Ant and Garden Organic Pest Control

Extend your gratitude for their efforts

In my experience, firing bad clients starts with firmly deciding if they are inconvenient for the business or evenly challenging. After coming up with a decision, I look for the perfect timing. Scheduling a face-to-face meeting is what I prioritize. First, I want to extend my gratitude for their efforts and then discuss why I think it will not work out any further. I make sure that the reasons are purely from the business aspect, never involving personal lives.

Using words politely is what matters most too. The calmness and composure affect the delivery of terrible news to the client. You do not want to step on the wrong foot. Take it slowly until the clients themselves realize you are ending the partnership with them. The whole idea is all about reaching out, pointing out mistakes/issues, resolving and settling through parting ways.

Isabella Zhou, Marketing Lead at Trustana 

Be respectful

I believe firing a client should be a last resort. However, in the past few years, I have fired quite a few clients, and the most common reason amongst them was their attitude. They were dominating, rude, didn’t pay on time, and never cooperated. It affected my employees, their work, and the atmosphere at work was always strained and tense. 

When I fired my clients, I made sure to keep my cool. I was straightforward, candid, but respectful. I expressed why they weren’t a good fit for our team and tried to let them go on a positive note. Of course, this wasn’t always the outcome, but maintaining professionalism comes with the job.

Riya Jain, Founder of Namo Padmavati 

Be careful afterward

I once told a client that I had to reduce my hours due to childcare issues (which was partially true anyway, but they were also an awful client to work with), and that therefore I wouldn’t be able to work with them any longer. They were understanding and didn’t fight it or see it as a problem.

The only thing I’ll say: just be very careful that they don’t find out later on that you’re looking for work, especially in the short-term – otherwise the lie will be revealed and it could reflect poorly on you.

 Steve Morgan, Freelance SEO Consultant at Morgan Online Marketing

Explain it if it’s a win-win situation

When it comes to firing a client, it’s never exactly easy. However, if it is done in a professional, empathetic manner, then you should be able to part ways without any bad feelings or hostility.

In this type of situation, I’ve found it best to point out the ways in which my company and the client are not a good fit. If it’s presented in a way where you point out specific examples, and show how there wasn’t a positive outcome, it can help your client understand that they may need to work with a different type or style of a company. So that, in the end, you’re actually doing them a favor!

 Josh Stomel, Founder of Turbo Finance 

Be direct but professional

While most of our clients have been amazing, we have encountered situations where a client just did not meet our professional standards. In the rare case when a client is consistently missing important deadlines or disrespectful to other users, firing them is vital.

I recommend being direct but professional. For example, you can say: “Our team has decided that your company is not the right fit for us at the moment.” Be sure to outline the details of the termination, wrapping up any loose ends for projects. You do not need to go into details of why you are firing them. Keep it brief, direct, and professional. It’s not personal, it’s business.

Eropa Stein, Founder and CEO of Hyre 

Conclusion

Most of the time there are ways to build and maintain a strong client relationship, so make sure that you gave your client a chance to perform better, and that your conflict is not a result of a misunderstanding. If none of that is the issue then it’s probably time to break up the relationship.

Firing a client is unpleasant but it is possible to end on good terms and remove any hard feelings between. Often times it can be the best decision for both of you, especially when more bad than good comes out of your partnership.

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