Top 10 Ways to Fire the Client From Hell

Updated: June 17, 2009

Clients are the lifeblood of any business. Without them, your venture simply doesn't exist. On the other hand, some clients are so bad that your business, not to mention your personal sanity, is better off without them. So what do you do when you have a client that pushes you to the brink? You fire them! Here's how to give 10 of the worst offenders the pink slip without burning bridges.


1. The bargain shopper: As a general rule, the client who pays the least will expect the most. The words "I need this done cheap" should strike fear in your heart, not because of profit margins, but because this client will nickel-and-dime you within an inch of your life for extra work, support and other nuisances that were not in the original scope.

How to get out: This one's simple: Raise your rates, if only for this particular client. The bargain shopper will move on to the next firm that offers a better price, as he's concerned only with the bottom line, not the value of your work.

2. The client who can't make deadlines: This client wants you to set his project at top priority because he's on a tight schedule and needs to get something produced right away. You agree, assuming that you'll have all of the information you need to get it done quickly. Unfortunately, your client drops off the face of the earth, ignoring your requests for approvals and other correspondence until your previously agreed upon due date comes around. At this point, you're both blaming each other as the reason that the project's not done, and it's not pretty.

How to get out: Before this client makes you miss the deadlines of customers who can keep up with you, let him know that no, you can't deliver on your deadlines when he misses his. Push back his deadline and stick to it. Instead of setting a concrete date, make it contingent upon receipt of information, such as a certain number days from the signed approval date. Don't accept any future work from this client, as his habits are not likely to change. Instead, tell him that you're experiencing a high volume of work and offer to refer him to another firm.

3. The client with a not-so-small project: You get a call out of the blue from a new customer who wants you to complete a small, simple project. He thinks it should be easy and uncomplicated, so he's only willing to pay a small fee. You agree that this is fair, until you realize the client is going to make this small project a major pain with endless changes and additions that were not a part of the original budget.

How to get out: If you agreed to do a certain amount work for a particular price, deliver it and do a good job. But if this client pushes boundaries, clearly inform them that extra work will cost extra money. If they refuse to respect your rules, invoice them for any unpaid work and stop the project in its tracks. Give them what you've produced up to the point when you severed ties, but only if they've paid for it.

4. The one who's never satisfied: Even if you come in under budget and overdeliver, this client just isn't happy with your work. He may have something in his mind that he just can't communicate to you, and when you don't deliver this idea that lives in his head, he's disappointed.

How to get out: Ask the client to clearly describe or sketch out what he's looking for, or even send you an example. He may want a product that looks like his friend's, but he's afraid to say so. If you're already done with the project and you've done a great job, don't sweat it. Make it clear to the client, citing any agreements that you've made, that you conformed to the scope of the project and delivered exactly what he asked for. You don't want to have him bad-mouth you or stiff you on an invoice, so consider offering to do additional work on this project if he can be more clear with his desires. If he hires you for more projects after this one, you may want to tell him that your business has gone in a different direction.

5. The client who wants you to be something you're not: Some clients have a clear idea in their heads of what they'd like to see from your work. Often, this is good news, but if their specifics don't line up with the way you like to operate, you may end up butting heads.

How to get out: To reason with this client, you can explain why you prefer to do things the way you do. After all, you're the expert. If he simply doesn't understand or refuses to accept your methods, it's time to cut ties. Explain to him the problems that his requests create for you and let him down easy. If you can, refer him to a colleague or competitor that you know can deliver what he wants. A referral is key, because you don't want him to be unsatisfied and claim that you can't do your job.

6. The one who expects you to deliver more for the same price:
This client just doesn't understand the concept of an estimate. You've laid out what is to be done and agreed to a fair price, but at every step of the way, this client has "just one more little thing" to add that may seem like nothing to him but in reality takes a lot more time and effort than you originally agreed to.

How to get out: When faced with a client who nickel-and-dimes you with extra work, there's only one way to fight back: Nickel-and-dime him with invoices. Of course, let him know it's coming before you do it. Tell him that your two-hour support call today was free, but any ongoing extraneous work will be billed at your standard hourly rate. If he tries to send work to you in the future, tell him you're too busy and refer him to a competitor that you feel like torturing.

7. The know-it-all: The know-it-all thinks he understands how to do your job because last weekend, his cousin showed him the basics of the computer program you use. Of course, he doesn't realize that he needs your expert skills to use this tool to do the things he really wants to do. He'll tell you exactly what to do and how to do it, turning you into a production house instead of letting you do what you do best.

How to get out: First of all, do your best to remove any references to your name or company on work you've done for this client. Why? Because he'll probably try to tinker around on his own and completely mess up your work in the process. Then, stop the project, get caught up on invoices and give him whatever you've done so far. He'll probably hand it off to his cousin to see if he can finish it.

8. The next-100-days client:
This client doesn't pay until he's good and ready, or worse yet, until he's been paid by his client. For anyone running a business, this is just not acceptable. You have bills to pay, too!

How to get out: If it's worth your trouble, send this client to collections for any unpaid debts. That should send a pretty strong message. In any event, refuse to take on more projects until you're caught up. Either set up a strict payment schedule in the future or inform this client that you've moved in a different direction.

9. The one who wants your home phone number: If your client calls you after hours or on weekends to relay ideas or just check in with you, you have a problem on your hands. This client does not respect boundaries and is likely to expect round-the-clock service, no matter how frivolous the request.

How to get out: Unless it's a true emergency, don't field calls from this client when you're not available. If for some reason you end up in a conversation with him outside of your normal working hours, stop him firmly but politely before he can even start. Offer to pick up the call again on the next business day, then do it. This client really just wants to know that you're there for him, so be there, but do it on your terms. If he continues to push his way into your personal time, let him know that you're raising your rates, astronomically of course, to make up for the high cost of maintaining your relationship. The cost to continue working with you will prove to be too high, and he'll bother someone else. Or, you'll make loads of money.

10. The one with 100 lawyers: This client is always threatening to sue you for some reason or another. That time you made a typo, even though it was directly copied from the material he gave you? He's going to sue you for that. You were two days late on your deadline because he dragged his feet getting you what you needed? He wants you to discount your invoice by 50 percent, or he'll get a lawyer involved.

How to get out: This abusive client is bad news and a major pain. You don't want to actually go to court with him, because even if you win, it looks bad to other clients who may find out, and he'll definitely bad-mouth you to everyone he knows, win or lose. He's almost certainly all talk, but it's irresponsible to test him to find out if he can back it up. As much as it may drive you crazy to give in to his threats, do what he wants, within good reason of course, then slowly back away. Given that he's argumentative, it's probably not a good idea to let him know exactly why you're breaking it off, so just tell him that you're moving your operations to Yemen.

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