(aka it’s not you, it’s me).
“Firing a client” I hate the phrase (like bragging about not being able to manage client relationships well), but the necessity exists. Side note: If you’re firing clients often, you’re doing it wrong.
How To Fire A Web Design Client While Protecting Your Reputation
1) When & Why
2) How to
3) Avoid it in the future
1) When And Why To Fire A Client:
Clients sometimes overstep their bounds. Fun Fact: It’s usually my fault for not setting clearer expectations.
My 3 strikes rule:
Strike 1: Reminder
Strike 2: Options
Strike 3: Let’s move on
Strike 1: Client oversteps. I let them know but accommodate if I can. Something like “I need this change in the next 10 minutes.”
Me: I was able to make that change and happy to help. Moving forward, I need 2 business days to be sure I can hit your timeline.
This (48 hours, 2 business days, one week, etc) needs to be in your service agreement. If the client doesn’t know they need 48 hours, then it’s not their fault for requesting a 10-minute change.
• Facebook Message request
• Text Messaging request
• Short Deadlines
• More work than service agreement allows for
In your service agreement, outline how to request changes and what the expected timeline should be.
My design agreement says we will make changes in 2-3 business days submitted by email. If a client texts me, I don’t even reply. I just delete it. They’ll often send a email a day later to say “I sent a text, but I didn’t get an answer.” I just reply “Email is the only way to submit requests. I’ll take care of it now.”
(Side note: this is different for people I mentor, or white label for. They’re paying for access to me).
Strike 2: You’ve clarified and they’ve still overstepped your agreement.
2 options here: Let them know they may need to find someone else OR offer to provide them a quote on the next level of service package.
Often my approach depends on their attitude.
Maybe it’s worth charging more per month for a 24-hour change request with text message access, or maybe your service offers 1-hour per month of changes, and they need 3 hours per month.
Again, this only works if expectations are in your service agreement, and they need more.
I reply with: I’ve made the changes.This month you’ve exceeded our 1-hour per month agreement (but I’m happy to help). If you anticipate needing 3 hours of requests per month moving forward, I’m happy to upgrade your service to $299/month, or as-needed hours are $75/hour.
Strike 3: Let’s move on.
Hi Client. I’ve made the change you requested. This is the third time we’ve gone beyond our service agreement. Our business is built on the systems outlined in our service agreement, and it’s clear your needs are beyond what our systems can offer. We’re happy to transfer your website to another agency.
Please feel free to have them contact us directly, and we can make the transition before our next service renewal on the 1st of next month.
2) HOW to fire a client:
Starting with clarity, outline for the client how they’ve overstepped their agreement. If their attitude sucks, skip to a transition.
If their attitude is good, explain your agreement (show them if needed) and give them options.
If you really need to move on, offer them a referral (2 or 3 if possible) and explain why you can’t continue so they can be sure their next agency CAN accommodate their needs.
Make the transition as smooth as possible to the next agency.
Through every step, ask “How can I uphold my reputation through this transition?”
This saves your reputation with this client and the new agency.
Provide quick access, and updates throughout the transition.
3) How to avoid firing future clients
• Have proper conversations with clients during onboarding to find out if they’re a fit
• Ask why they’re leaving their current agency and why they need this change
• Have a clear service agreement
Don’t ignore an overstep multiple times, then crack down. It’s like whiplash. They think everything is fine, then end up with a confrontational email.
Start right away to identify an overstep and communicate the first time.
Storytime: The only time I’ve fired a client:
I had a client leave a voicemail while I was out one night. Client was drunk and showed his buddies his website. They mocked something that he requested (that I told him was a bad idea).
He wanted to “Show them he was boss” and decided to drink and dial, told me I was treating him like a second-class citizen (huh?), and wanted it made right tonight or he would take my business to court for taking his money and not fixing his website.
No strike 2 or 3 allowed.
I sent him an email and let him know that future correspondence would be by email only, and he had 3 weeks to let me know where to transfer his website since I would not be servicing it after the 1st of the next month.
Voicemail the next day: apologized he was drunk and embarrassed by his friends and said he wanted to keep our service.
I emailed: I’m not interested in the possibility that his happens again.
I made the transition to the new agency as smooth as possible and wished him well. I wish I hadn’t had to fire him. No red flags leading up to then (other than some odd design requests on his part).
My goal is to identify client needs early and figure out if we’re the agency to meet those needs, and be ok with walking away if necessary.
Have a client you think you need to fire? Leave a comment. Let’s explore some options.