When you first started your small skin care business, you were probably overjoyed when you landed your first customer. You were grateful for the work, and their belief in you validated the reason you became your own boss.

Then you got your first bad client — you know, the one that makes you want to pull your hair out. The Mr. Nothing’s Ever Good Enough or the one who believes shouting into the phone is a perfectly normal way of conducting business.

Soon, you realize that the customers who are causing you grief are also costing you money. For all the time you’re spending trying to fix the unfixable, you could be pursuing your dream clients. Everyone has the occasional bad customer, yet it’s important to recognize when they’re costing your small business big.

Before you decide that firing a client is the right step, do your due diligence and plan for the event in advance.

1. Determine whether your client is actually terrible or just challenging.

Although both may drive you to tear your hair out, the difference between terrible and challenging clients
comes down to communication and collaboration. Bad clients don’t respect your expertise, time, or work ethic, while challenging customers might simply have a work style that clashes with your own.

  • Terrible clients communicate on polar ends of a spectrum. You’re either dealing with the non responsive, disappearing artist or the clingy, nitpicking client who fires off 30 emails in an hour. Whereas challenging clients will respect your boundaries and give clear direction in terms of tasks and expectations, but perhaps their communication style might be lacking.
  • Problem clients believe that every project is “easy and quick” because they don’t understand the complexity of what you do. Challenging clients, however, understand and respect that they’ve hired an expert, and they’ll push you outside of your comfort zone. You can adjust your style and process to the challenging client, but the problem one will never be a truepartner.
2. Evaluate whether this is the right time to fire.

It may be hard to fire a client if your income depends on them. As a small business owner, if you’re just starting out, or if your pipeline is not full, it may be difficult to decide if firing a client is the right decision.

If firing the client is not appropriate, then, perhaps you can raise your rates to pay for the pain (and throw in some small extras to counter the sticker shock). Or, you can offer a transition period where you volunteer to find and train your replacement. However, if neither of these tactics works, realize that the situation is only temporarily sustainable and map out your exit strategy. Think about how you felt when you gave notice at your 9 to 5. Create and commit to an end date and then the day-to-day won’t feel as terrible.

After studying all your alternatives, if you determine that firing the client is your best solution, we’ll show you
how to cut the cord with three stress-free scripts.


      • Script #1: Shift Focus: In this scenario, you let them know that you’ll no longer be working within your current business model. “Cathy, it’s been an honor to work with you. I’ve been evaluating my business over the past year and I’ve decided to pursue [new focus] rather than [current work]. As a result, I need to reshape my client base to have more of a work-life balance while I focus on my new business direction. Unfortunately, I’ll no longer be able to work with you as of Y date. Please know that it’s been amazing working with you and I appreciate your understanding as I enter this new phase of my life. I know you have a lot of work in the pipeline, so I’d be happy to help you find another partner who can give your business the attention it deserves.”


    • Script #2: Raise Your Rates: In this scenario, you want to double (or more) your rate to guarantee you’ll price out your bad client. “Mike, it’s been a privilege to work with you and your team. Over the past [five years], we’ve achieved X and Y goals together. Recently, I’ve evaluated my pricing and have decided to change my rate structure. I’ll be changing my rates to X as of Y date. Let me know if this will work for you. If not, I’d be happy to refer someone who would be more in line with your budget. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make this transition period easier for you.”
    • Script #3: You’ve Had Enough: “Jim, I really appreciate the opportunity to work with you. Over the past few [insert time], I’ve noticed issues in our working relationship, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re not the best fit. This isn’t an easy thing to say, but it’s important that you have the best partner who will be able to be on the same page with your vision and expectations. I’d be happy to connect you with someone in my network.”
Regardless of the scenario, your close should be concrete and clear about what happens next. Present a list of next steps, including a hard end date, expectations re: deliverables, and the associated timing for completion. Communicate that you’ll outline your discussion in a follow-up email.

Firing a client should be your absolute last resort, and you should only do it when you know that the relationship is beyond repair. If managed well, your professional reputation will remain intact. Being clear, direct, and honest about the arrangement and why it needs to come to an end may be less painful than you think. However, don’t waver on your decision, and don’t leave the door open for negotiation or discussion.

Content boorrowed from Shelley Hancock and The Hartford SmallBiz Ahead

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