3 Reasons to Fire a Client


Sometimes you have to fire your clients. That sounds almost wrong until you give it some thought. Early in entrepreneurial career, I would say “yes” to anyone willing to hire me. The reasoning was simple: I needed to eat and someone was willing to pay for what I had to offer. However, over the years I have lost a lot of money and opportunity courting and working with clients who were not strategically a good fit for my company. Until I realized the true cost of working outside my sweet spot, I continually jumped on every opportunity that came my way.

What I did not understand for a long time is that for every less-than-ideal client or project we pursued as a business and took on, we gave up the ability to find and work on the projects that were the most enjoyable, most profitable and, therefore, most successful. The allure of the sale-at-any-cost mindset actually cost us business and kept us from growing faster and stronger.

This frustration led us to develop the critical 3 P’s that we evaluate every ongoing and new opportunity that comes our way.

Some projects (even clients) are not profitable. In my experience the smaller the client, the more demanding and unprofitable they are. You usually spend the same amount of time and effort with less drama and more enjoyment on a larger project that’s much more lucrative. The best thing you can do for your business is fire unprofitable clients.

It is important for us to be a partner and not just a vendor.  A true partnership is critical during large, complex or ambitious projects. It implies a trust between two parties and if we feel we don’t have that report going in, we usually don’t take the job. Some of our most successful projects have been true collaborations where there was a healthy give and take that made the final product the best it could be.

Not all of our clients are large. Some are small but with the right tools and guidance they  have the potential to grow and become very profitable for us. We love finding partnerships that have lots of potential and helping them grow. I rather partner with a client that has potential than with a large-budget client that’s not completely sold on the partnership. Enthusiasm infuses a lot of creative energy into any project.

Have you ever fired a client in your line of work? What happened?

  • Mark Taylor

    In our work we create a profile of companies that we thought were the best fit for us and we went after them. It's been working very well.

  • Mark, That's a good idea. I might add the "Profile" as my next "P"

  • This is a great post and outlines principles I have followed in our business.  I am sending this to my whole team so they, too, can apply these criteria.  Sometimes team members, especially the sales people, want to close every piece of business but sometimes it’s better to walk away.  Thanks for this succinct presentation. 

  • YES–YES–YES!!!!! Thank you for sharing and reaffirming that being a people pleaser and jumping on every “opportunity” is actually quite destructive.

  • I actually fired one today and for a reason of a previous piece you wrote…email bullying.

    My product is very technical and heavily research based which lends to very in depth discussions and an extremely consultative approach to selling it.  Not to mention a lengthy sales cycle.

    This particular client, or potential client, has requested a presentation for her and her staff three different times.  Each time we reach out, she blasts us via email and says she has no interest in what we do and to stop calling only to come back a few months later and request again.  

    Today it happened on a meeting SHE had scheduled and it was kind of the last straw.  I simply told her that we were not interested in working with her and her business and that I was certain there was a good partnership out there for her.  In addition, I told her I would appreciate a more cordial response in the future especially when the contact from our end was generated due to her request.

    That was at 9am this morning.  I have not heard back yet but expect to in about 3 months.  🙂

    • Good for you. If you had landed that account, you’d probably regretted it shortly.

  • Tim Peters

    Good post.  What do you do when you have a client under contract that needs to be “fired”? Do you refund deposit?  

  • Tim Peters

    Good post.  What do you do when you have a client under contract that needs to be “fired”? Do you refund deposit?  

    • I have done that as well. Trust me, if you’re already seeing warning signs and you’re not even started yet, refund the money and run!

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