10 Tips for Getting Rid of a Bad Client

Good clients are a pleasure to work with. They know what they want from you and they’re clear about expressing their needs and challenges. Best of all, you can count on them to pay what they owe and to do so on time.

Then there are bad clients. They take up your time with seemingly endless phone calls and meetings, but you’re never confident you fully understand what type of products or services they’re looking for. They either seek to pay less than market value or, when they do pay, it’s always late and often requires that you submit multiple invoices and reminders.

Of course, any business is reluctant to part company with a client. But successful entrepreneurs know when a client has become more trouble than they’re worth. In such situations, the wisest course of action is to fire the bad client and sever all ties with them.

How do you do it?

1. Don’t make an emotional decision. Dealing with a bad client provokes feelings of anger, resentment and frustration. It’s always better to let those emotions pass before deciding on your next step. Taking action in the heat of the moment may further complicate matters.

2. Get advice on the situation. Before you do anything, seek out advice from a trusted colleague or from a group of your peers. They can help you sort out the pros and cons, while also providing useful insights you may not have considered on your own.

3. Pay attention to timing. Once you’ve made the decision, schedule a meeting with the client during a day without other pressing issues to distract you. Depending on the circumstances, a face-to-face meeting is generally more desirable; if that seems inappropriate, plan to have the “termination conversation” over the phone.

4. Remain professional. Just as the decision to fire a client should be made after unpleasant emotions have passed, so the actual event should be as “drama-free” as possible. Focus on the issues that have emerged between you and the client, and why you feel the relationship is no longer a good fit. The client may respond in a heated manner, but the choice to be a professional remains with you.

5. Be clear in your explanation. Some clients will demand a detailed explanation for your decision. If you feel it helps, share related documentation including contracts, invoices, etc. State politely the circumstances leading to the meeting, such as their record of missed deadlines, late payments, last-minute changes to agreed projects, etc.

6. Offer the client an opportunity to defend himself. In your mind, the decision has been made and there’s no turning back. This doesn’t mean you can’t take a few extra minutes to hear their side of things. People need to process a change like this in different ways, but regardless of what they say, you’re under no obligation to change your mind.

7. End the discussion on a positive note. Thank the (now) ex-client for the opportunity to work together. If you’re so inclined, direct him to some other resource—just not a friend or colleague, since they shouldn’t have to put up with a bad client either.

8. Wrap up any loose ends. Be sure you’ve delivered on your end for anything that’s been paid for. Complete any remaining paperwork and send relevant copies to the ex-client. If you’ve borrowed equipment or other property belonging to that business, return it promptly.

9. Get it in writing. After the meeting, summarize what was discussed in a letter or email and confirm any steps that still need to be taken to close out the relationship.

10. Refrain from gossip or spreading blame. Now that the relationship is over, it’s time for you to move on. Should a colleague approach you about taking over that account, refrain from bad-mouthing or otherwise insulting the ex-client. You can honestly portray what took place and leave it at that.

Firing a client is never easy, but when they become too costly or time-consuming to retain, don’t hesitate to terminate the relationship. Plenty of other more deserving clients are out there, waiting to hear from you.

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