Breaking Up With Shitty Clients

It’s part of the new business owner curse; thinking that you must comply with your client’s every requests, no matter how ridiculous.

But, there comes a point in your business when you realize that you can and should say no!

I mean, they do want to pay you for your opinion and your talent but, if they are causing a shit ton of stress and wreaking havoc, it’s time to break up with that shitty client (or just never start the relationship)!

It’s one of the many perks to being your own boss but learning why, when and how to say no is an important step to master if you want to run your business successfully. And it’s hard to say no sometimes! When you are new and want to make it and need to make money you feel compelled to say yes to whoever is willing to pay! 

Here are a few tips and tricks we’ve learned to help realize when it’s time to say no and how to actually get the words out!  

small business owner advice 

WHY Should You Say No

You protect yourself and your business.

Setting standards is important! Clients will respect you more, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your own self worth and you’ll be setting the foundation for a multi-billion dollar company that has such a profound culture that everyone is gonna want to work there.

To create a working relationship that has boundaries.

Business hours are essential when you own a small business! Clients need to understand that your working hours are between ‘x’-oclock & ‘x’-oclock. This also helps you stay within your means and ensure you keep your sanity (or lack thereof). It’s very important that you set standards for yourself so you aren’t working yourself to the point of hating your work.

Because taking on clients that just don’t fit the bill can take away from clients that do!

Not all clients are shitty. Some are actually wonderful to work with, have a lot of potential, compliment what your business does and stands for, and appreciate the hell out of your work! When you agree to take on a shitty client, you are unknowingly transitioning a little bit of your time and attention away from those all-star clients to the jerk who emails you at 10pm in all caps!

WHEN To Say No

Your first interaction with a potential client is usually where your gut will be your key indicator that this is a no-go. Trust your judgement and maybe proceed with extreme caution before handing out the big denial.

A giant red flag is when a client repeatedly asks for a discount, special rate or special treatment. These needy clients tend to think that they are your only client.

If a potential client asks you to do something that is outside the scope of what you offer, this is a clear indicator that they think the rules don’t apply to them. Another tell-tale that denial needs to be your approach.    

If the client is treating you poorly, harassing or taking advantage of you then it’s clearly BYE- Felicia time!

HOW To Say No

When in doubt, you’re just too busy to take on another project/client. I know it isn’t the most truthful reason, but some of us need a scapegoat because we are just not good at saying no. And besides, there are those rare occurrences when the stars align and a “no” turns into a “yes”. It’s the way to go for keeping someone on the back burner.

Simply tell your potential client this: “Based upon your request/needs I think it would be better suited for you to work with someone else that can better assist you. Here are a few recommendations…” Always have a handful of people that you can refer business out to if you need to. Bonus: this helps to build some strategic partnerships with other small businesses!

When you’ve already started to work with someone is the hardest situation to say no in. First, be sure that you aren’t in a legally binding contract with them. If you are cleared for departure, schedule a meeting with your client to talk in person. We prefer a public place but if this is out of the norm for you then somewhere that’s not too isolated and secluded. In this situation it’s best to tell the client the truth; in the most graceful way possible! Here are a few examples: 

“You’re too needy!” TRANSLATION “You require more time and effort than I’m able to give.”

“You think you know it all and try too often to tell me how to do my job.” TRANSLATION “We have creative differences that make solutions very difficult to formulate.”

“You call me way too late in the evenings, request last minute changes, and are inconsiderate!” TRANSLATION “My business standards are x,y, and z and I’m afraid that our ideas no longer complement each other.”

“My other clients aren’t nearly as difficult as you are! And they pay me on time and don’t always ask for a discount!” TRANSLATION “I have decided to scale back on the amount of clients I have so that I can better focus and prioritize.”

While this list isn’t nearly complete, it gives you some ideas on how to be truthful without being hurtful! And always remember, as a courtesy and best business practice, to ensure that you will provide an adequate stopping point that way they can have someone easily pick up where you left off.

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  • Reply
    Carolyn Ann Ryan
    February 17, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    This is very helpful for a variety of industries. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Miranda Perales
      March 3, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      We’re happy to share what we’ve painfully learned! Feel free to share any tips or advice you’ve learned as well.

    Leave a Reply

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