- Hasta La Vista, Client!
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July 8, 2024

Let's get right to the point, some of your clients suck. There, I said it. And guess what? Showing them the door might be the best thing you ever do for your business. Crazy, right?

You can often spot these problem children before they even become clients. Watch out for red flags during your initial interactions. Are they already haggling over your rates before you've even discussed the scope? Do they expect you to drop everything for an "emergency" meeting about a project you haven't even agreed to yet? Are they dismissive of your expertise or constantly comparing you to others? If you're nodding your head, run. Run fast and run far. It's much easier to dodge a bullet than to pry it out later. 

But here's a story about prying the bullet out.

Back when I owned my interactive agency, Imulus. We had this client - let's call them "Acme Good", it worked for the Roadrunner, so it will work fine for this story. They wanted the holy trinity of client demands; great work, dirt cheap, and lightning fast. Oh, and they wanted it all with a cherry on top.

This client was like a needy toddler with an MBA. They'd call at all hours, nitpick every pixel, and then have the audacity to complain about the bill. I felt like my team was drawing straws to see who'd have to deal with them each day. I swear I could hear my employees updating their resumes every time they called.

We've all heard that tired old line, "the customer is always right." Well, whoever came up with that clearly never had to deal with a client who thinks paying on time is optional or that your staff are their personal punching bags. You know the type I'm talking about. The penny-pinchers who try to haggle every invoice like they're at a flea market. The chronically late payers who act surprised when you ask for your money. Oh, and let's not forget the charmers who treat your team like dirt. If you're wincing right now, congratulations - you've got yourself a problem client.

Now, I can hear you saying, "But they pay us... eventually. Isn't that better than nothing?" Short answer; HELL NO. Long answer; these nightmare clients are costing you more than you think. They're time vampires, sucking away hours you could spend on clients who appreciate you. They're turning your star employees into job-hunting experts. And let's not even get into the potential PR disaster when they start badmouthing you to anyone who'll listen.

So, what happens when you finally grow a spine and kick these troublemakers to the curb? Magic, that's what. When we finally parted ways with "Acme Goods," it was like a dark cloud lifted from Imulus. Suddenly, my team wasn't stressing their way through meetings. Our best clients got the attention they deserved. We even remembered why we started this business in the first place. The relief was palpable - you could practically hear the collective sigh of relief echoing through our office.

But how do you drop these dead weights without turning into the villain in their story? Be direct, but don't be a jerk. Tell them straight up that you're not a good fit anymore. If you're feeling generous, point them towards someone else who might tolerate their nonsense. Give them a heads up, help with the transition if you can, and for the love of all that's holy, document everything. The last thing you need is a he-said-she-said situation with someone who thinks paying you is optional.

Yes, there are risks. Your revenue might take a hit at first. Some people might clutch their pearls at your audacity. There might even be legal headaches if you're not careful. But if you play your cards right, the long-term payoff will make it all worthwhile. All clients are not created equal. Some of them are the business equivalent of rocket fuel, others are more like anchors. By ditching the deadweight, you're freeing yourself up to soar. Sometimes, moving forward means leaving the baggage behind.

Take a good, hard look at your client list. Any names make you want to reach for the antacids? It might be time for some awkward conversations. Trust me, future you will be raising a glass in your honor. I know I did when we finally bid adieu to "Acme Goods." My only regret? Not doing it sooner.

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.