When Is The Right Time To Fire a Client?

Yes, I said it. Firing a client. Sounds completely crazy, especially in this economic environment, right? Shouldn’t agencies cling on to any piece of business they have and take anything and everything that comes through the door? Not really, and I’ll explain why.

First, this isn’t an easy topic to tackle, and for many reasons. The first thing that popped into my head is that we – people who are a part of advertising, marketing, public relations, branding agencies – are often the ones who are lined up in front of the firing squad and are the ones being fired. Agree? With that said, there are also many intricate details and different scenarios involved with individual accounts that we could write an entire book on the topic. For simplicity purposes, as well as some food for starting a conversation, I’m keeing things simple.

To get started, it’s also worth prefacing all of this by saying that I recently had the experience of letting go of a client. After being involved in this industry for close to ten years I felt weird after the experience. Those of you who have been through this probably have shared some of the same mixed emotions I had. Was it the right thing to do? What if this particular client becomes the next mega-brand? Will it come back to haunt me, my colleagues and my company? Will they talk bad about us?  It’s doubtful, but those possibilities do exist and it really doesn’t make the decision or the experience any easier. I googled this topic to death and found all sorts of interesting things. To keep it short, I whittled it down, reinterpreted it and am sharing my personal three reasons. Let’s get to it.

Abusive clients

These are hands down the worst to deal with and are probably the easiest to let go of. There’s nothing worse than a client who is rude, condescending and insulting. More importantly, there’s no excuse to put up with it. It’s demoralizing for your staff and in the end, isn’t worth it. Save yourself the pain and suffering and part ways. You’ll be glad you did.

The bully

We’ve all been there and have experienced this type of client at one time or another. You know the type – the client who sits there and tells you how to do your job. Creativity is central to our world. What’s creative to one may not be to another, and a big surprise here for you, that’s quite alright. I’ve always believed that collaboration leads to the greatest ideas and campaigns. We’re all after the same thing.

Having a bully for a client is dangerous territory to live in. What this person really needs is an assistant who will do everything they say. Falling into this trap results in satiating a person who just doesn’t know any better. Remember this — you hire a mechanic to fix your car because they have the expertise. The same rules apply here. Taking orders from the bully client is no different than working the front lines of a fast-food joint. Do you want to make it a king size meal for just a quarter more, sir?

Maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

The cheapskate who will never see the value

This is a real tricky one because it ultimately leads to the question “why did you bother to hire us?” It’s very difficult to work with a client who just doesn’t see the value in it and, at the same time, wants it all for the lowest price possible. It can be exhausting and frustrating.

As crazy as this may sound, it’s often times the agency’s fault, especially with fee clients. What clients don’t know is that it takes time to learn the client’s particular business, train the staff, learn the process, build the relationship and so forth. More often than not, the agency over-services the client and, again, the client doesn’t see this. That leads to a client who will seek more and more work from you. In this situation, it’s imperative that agencies estimate retainers (or project fees) as close as possible and communicate on a regular basis regarding the amount of time going into the account. If this doesn’t happen, what ensues is a dangerous client-agency relationship involving doing the work for rock bottom prices. Not good.

As I mentioned earlier, it can be exhausting. Going round and round with ideas and wasting everyone’s time is no fun. It’s even less fun when the client thinks it should be free, steals the idea and does it on their own. Shame on them.

If your client still doesn’t “get it”, then it needs to be asked: Why did you hire us in the first place?

So with all of this said, I hope it leads to some insight for you as a professional and maybe something you can share with your own agency staff. I’ve also included a video that I blogged about earlier in the year but it’s worth watching again. Enjoy the show, but for now, let’s start the talk:  When is it time to part ways with a client?

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