How to Get Rid of Bad Clients

How to Get Rid of Bad Clients


With 2012 winding down, now’s the time to give your company’s health (and your sanity) a boost by cutting the duds from your client list.

“When you work for yourself, there’s a natural tendency to try to be all things to all people, which often turns out to be counterproductive,” says Stephen Denny, author of Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry. “You have to be willing to know who you are, who you’re not and whether a client’s needs – and values – align with yours.”

Deciding whether to fire a client and lose business or keep a client and lose your sanity can be nerve-wracking (and I know this firsthand). But, really, where’s the tough decision there?

We’ve all done it: chosen revenue over peace of mind. Never really works out that well, does it? When a client’s needs and values don’t align with yours, it’s time to cut them loose, reclaim your sanity and focus on building a base of people you love doing business with.

There’s an added upside: Great clients rarely refer you to bad clients. By firing the bad ones, you’re actually building up a smart network for future referrals. So, how can you tell if a client is truly zapping your sanity or if it’s just a temporary condition?

If you’re complaining to your friends over after-work drinks, stop long enough to consider the cause. “Is it about the client who stresses you out when you simply see their name in your e-mail inbox?” asks Jason Womack, author of Your Best Just Got Better. “Your work is to curate your network – that’s where your next opportunity will grow from.”

He’s spot on. The folks who probably need to go are the ones you dread seeing pop up in your inbox. When you identify the people who never send thanks, good news or new business your way, it’s time to fire them from your client list. Your inbox should be a delivery mechanism for awesome.

“The key to business success is organizational health. In turn, organisational health depends on values consistency,” says Jim Franklin, CEO of Colorado-based SendGrid. “First, you need to identify your values. We call them the four H’s: honest, humble, hungry and happy. We hire and fire employees, select vendors, customers and shareholders based on this values system.”

The overall health of your business, whether you’re a company of one or 1 000, is what matters most. You can’t take care of your audience when your company is a wreck because you let some bad eggs through the front door.

Categorising somebody as a bad client is “really about self-respect and professionalism: what you’re willing to put up with and still be able to stand tall,” says Merredith Branscombe, founder of Denver-based Leap! Public Relations. When your organisation’s ability to stand tall is compromised by any one person or entity, you have to cut that client loose. You can’t be a values-based company if you let your values get shelved.

So, get ready to thin your company’s herd – and not just as a one-time New Year’s gift to yourself. We’d all do better if we stayed on the lookout for the warning signs of bad business relationships. Because some people suck – but it doesn’t mean they have to suck the life out of your company.

Erika Napoletano
While Forbes encourages folks to think of Erika as “a redheaded, tattooed Tina Fey with a special weakness for four letter words,” it’s not all funny business. Erika is also an award-winning, twice-published author, including The Power of Unpopular (Wiley 2012), a current columnist for American Express OPEN Forum and former columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine, an acclaimed speaker from TEDxBoulder 2012, and speaks at events all over the world on the inherent power of truth in business… or as she refers to it, the power of unpopularity.
  • Firing a client is empowering. It reminds you (and the client) that you have value. And it doesn’t have to be acrimonious; you can recommend an alternative supplier, who might be a better match, leaving you with your integrity intact and the client with continuity of supply. And if it is an unreasonable client, they might reconsider their expectations and be a better client to their new supplier.

    Handle the situation delicately and you should be remembered for your professionalism. But hang on to a bad client too long, and your service levels will decline, and you may be remembered for that instead.