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Top 10 Ways To Fire The Client From Hell with Isabelle Mercier

by | In the Magazine, Isabelle Mercier

How to tactfully rid your business of penny-pinching, unreliable and abusive clients:

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! That’s right, you fire them! I have fired a few clients in my career and although it’s not fun or easy to do, it’s necessary.

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 she’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 have his project as your 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 and goes. At this point, you’re both blaming each other for the project’s delay, and it’s not pretty.

How to get out: Establish the fact that you are not able to meet deadlines unless your client is able to meet theirs. Instead of setting a concrete date, make it contingent upon receipt of information, such as a certain number of 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. She thinks it should be easy and uncomplicated, so she’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 of 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 where 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 over deliver, 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 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 stuck 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. Consider offering to do additional work on this project if he can provide more clarity on his desires. If he would like to hire you again in the future, 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 preferred process doesn’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 she simply doesn’t understand or refuses to accept your methods, it’s time to cut ties.  Delicately explain the problems that her requests create for you and let her down easy. If you can, refer the client to a colleague or competitor that you know can deliver what she wants. A referral is key because you don’t want her 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 requests your services again down the line, 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 she understands how to do your job because last weekend her cousin showed her the basics of the computer program you use. Of course, she doesn’t realize that she needs your expert skills to use this tool in order to effectively produce her project. She’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 she’ll probably try to tinker around on her own and completely alter your work in the process. At this point, it’s best to stop the project, get caught up on outstanding invoices and give her whatever you’ve completed so far. She’ll probably hand it off to her 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 they’re caught up. If you continue to work with this client, set up a strict payment plan that includes charging interest on overdue invoices. If the client cannot abide by the new plan, he will likely move on to another company. Good riddance!

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 her outside of your normal working hours, stop her firmly but politely, before she 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 her, so be there, but do it on your terms. If she continues to push her way into your personal time, let her 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 she’ll bother someone else. Alternatively, 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, the outside perception is never good, 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, for 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.

At the end of the day, you decide who you work with, and the terms under which you are willing to work.

It’s important to provide clear proposals, work back schedules and clarify expectations up front… however, we all know this isn’t always enough. You are never stuck, and if there is no light at the end of your “project tunnel”, it’s probably time to cut the client loose. You’ll breathe in relief when it’s over.

 About Isabelle Mercier Turcotte

Isabelle Mercier Turcotte is a brand strategist, best-selling author, TEDx Speaker and business performance catalyst at LeapZone Strategies with the sole purpose to empower change and growth. "Momentum Generator" is her middle name and she has a relentless passion for helping entrepreneurs and small business owners raise the bar to create outstanding brand experiences through business strategies, performance coaching, and brand alignment.

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