How to Fire an Abusive Client

Mar 11, 2012   //   by John Tabita   //   Business, Sales  //  4 Comments

Fire a client

Let’s face it—some people are just bullies. Maybe it’s because none of the other kids on the playground were big enough to stand up to them. Or perhaps their mom and dad took Dr. Spock’s permissive parenting advice to heart. Some people never really grow up. Instead, they learn just enough manners to get by in life … until they can’t get what they want, and resort to grade-school style bullying.

It’s easier to be choosy once you have an established clientèle. But when you’re new and desperate for business, the temptation to take on any client with a pulse is difficult to resist. Once you find yourself in an abusive client relationship, however, you have but one option:fire the client.

Don’t confuse an overly-demanding client with an abusive one. Learning to love that demanding client is the best thing you can do for yourself, because he will inspire you (albeit unwillingly) to do your best. But an abusive client is one who, at his very core, is intent on taking advantage of you. It’s the client who requests a proposal, then uses it as leverage to pressure your competitor into lowering his price. What’s more, he’ll insist that your competitor “borrow” some of the ideas in your proposal.

That’s abuse. If an existing client treats you in such a manner, fire the client immediately.

Four Ways to Fire a Client

There are many reasons why you might fire a client. For example, it’s a common practice in the consultative service industry to rid yourself of the lower 15 percent of your client base in order to pursue a more high-end clientèle. In that case, common courtesy dictates that you refer these clients to another provider. But you owe no such courtesy to the abusive one. (Unless, of course, you have a particular competitor you especially dislike. In that case, refer away!)

Firing clients is never easy, even abusive ones. Like any dysfunctional relationship, attempting to show the abuser the error of his ways is fruitless. They’ll merely continue blaming you. Here are four painless ways to end that painful client relationship:

Be Confrontational

If your client has crossed the line, confront him on his behavior and let him know you will not be doing business with him any longer. Stick to the facts, not the emotions. For example, “You used another company’s bid in an attempt to pressure me into lowering my price. That’s not how I do business, so I will no longer be able to provide my services to you.”

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”

If you’ve been putting up with years of mistreatment and have simply had enough, don’t attempt to rehash the past. Instead, tell the client that, due to changes in your business, you’re no longer able to be his service provider.

Be Passive-Aggressive

Dissuade your soon-to-be former client by simply becoming “too busy.” Tell him your schedule is too full to allow you to get to him before the summer of 2016. Keep putting him off until he eventually gives up and goes elsewhere.

Overcharge
Raise your rates. I mean really raise your rates. Like, quadruple your rates. Make sure the price you quote him is so exorbitantly high that he thinks you’ve lost your mind and goes somewhere else entirely—hopefully, to a competitor you dislike.

Did I miss anything? If so, post a comment below.

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John Tabita

Marketing Evangelist and Blogger at SitePoint.com. Digital Strategy Director at HainesLocalSearch.com. Passionate about helping people and businesses reach their fullest potential and become wildly successful.

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4 Comments

  • Good points. If you have the wisdom and self-esteem to recognise an abusive client from a good client who is a bit demanding, then good for you.

    But I feel the last two options are very unethical. What goes around comes around. I’d stick with “honesty is the best policy” combined with a dose of good manners and tact instead.

    • Those last two were actually more of my feeble attempt at some “tongue-in-cheek” humor. 😉

      I agree that being up-front and honest is best. I’d only resort to the last two when the client is so over-the-top abusive that a face-to-face confrontation would only make things worse, like when you feel that the client could manipulate you into changing your mind.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • All good suggestions, you just need to make sure you use the one that fits the situation.

    In the right circumstance, “Overcharge”, is perfectly acceptable, just maybe not 4X (at first). Why? Because no-one’s going to abuse me for free. They will have to pay for that privilege. As the abuse increases so will my fees until the abuse stops (usually by the client going away, presumably to abuse someone else). Meanwhile, at least I’m getting paid for taking it on the chin.

    Someone once told me, “You have to determine how much the job is worth to YOU, then charge accordingly.” In other words, if you really don’t want the job in the first place, cost it out to the point where you couldn’t resist taking it. At least then, if you wind up with the job anyway, what you do get paid would make it worth doing. And any job well done has the potential to lead to another one, or another client.

    • You’ve made some good points, Dick. It’s a great position to be in when you get to the place where you’re not starving for work and can be choosier about who you work with.

      So, do you have a rate card for taking abuse? Like $100 for an abusive email, $150 to yell at you over the phone and $200 in person?

      Thanks for the comment.

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