How to Fire a Toxic Client

fire toxic client

Can you fire a client?

I remember the first time I asked that question.

Since 2012, I have fired over 10 different clients.

If you came here wondering when it is “ok” to fire a client, then keep reading.

When to Fire Your Client

Figuring out when it’s time to fire a toxic client is up to YOU. Everyone has different thresholds for what they can take from a bad client. Some businesses try to keep every client no matter how much misery they bring. While other business owners will not tolerate the mental anguish of bad clients.

You have to figure out what your “breaking point” is.

To better illustrate this point, let me explain some reasons to fire a client. These are my personal reasons, but I know you may relate to some of them.

Here are six possible reasons to fire a client (most bad clients exhibit more than one):

1. Your Client Doesn’t Respect Your Time

This is the ultimate deal breaker for me. You cannot forget the value of your time. As Tim Ferriss explains in the Four Hour Work Week, 20% of your clients are often responsible for 80% of your support time.

Most clients are great. They respect your time, understand how reporting works, and do not try to micromanage. But, you will always have a few bad seeds.

If you have 20 clients and 1 of our clients steals 80% of your support time, then you need to fire them. That way you can get your time back and focus on your good clients.

2. Your Client is Disrespectful

Everyone deserves respect, but some clients think that rule doesn’t apply to them. In a distorted sense of reality, some clients believe they can treat you like dirt because they are paying you.

Think about this way… would you continue being friends with someone who was rude or disrespectful? Probably not.

So, why would you take that type of abuse from a client?

Money is nice, but your sanity is what matters. If your heart races when you think about your rude client, then it’s time to make change.

3. Your Client Believes the “Grass is Always Greener”

Some clients will never be happy no matter what you do. They believe there is always a better SEO agency, a better CPA, or a better [INSERT WHATEVER SERVICE].

This is not to say that a client shouldn’t have high expectations for your service. You should always continue to delivery when you are getting paid to do (and beyond that). But if the client is always questioning your work and “what you have done for them”, then you should start to worry.

Every business is different, but in data-driven businesses like mine, I can always go back to the data. Business owners and marketing directors often have short-term focus. This is reasonable. Marketing directors want their bonuses and want to keep their job. Business owners are often pulled in a hundred different directions.

All I can say is keep track of the great work you have done. Some clients may need a refresher.

4. Your Client Spends Too Much Time Worrying About You

This only applies to B2B companies/marketing agencies. There are some clients that obsess over everything you are doing.

In my industry, an example is obsessing over the day-to-day movements of keywords rankings in Google. Keyword rankings can fluctuate on a day-to-day basis. That why we emphasize to clients to focus on the long-term results (quarterly and yearly movements).

An SEOs job is to influence the search results, not control it. Google is in control.

To show you a different perspective, let’s say you are a financial advisor. How would you feel if your client emailed you every day about the movement of their stock prices? That would be ridiculous because the advisor has no control of the day-to-day fluctuations of stock prices.

The point is that if a client is obsessing about the minutiae, then the situation will likely never get better. Whether their need to micromanage is from their personality or from financial concerns, it doesn’t matter. These clients will continue to critique your work, study your every move, and look for every opportunity to use you as a scapegoat for their lack of success.

5. Your Client May Actually be Insane

This is a rare one. Out of the hundreds of clients my business has served, we have only encountered two of these individuals. I won’t get too deep into it, but if you have to question a clients sanity, then there is a problem.

6. Your Client is Envious

I have only encountered this situation one time. As you know, I like to publish data-driven content.

An example is: SEO Strategy 2018: How to Get 502% More Organic Traffic

99.9% business owners and clients read, learn, and take action on these types of content.

However, there are some clients who become envious of any success you have. For example, they may send you an email like: “These are great results… Why aren’t we getting these results? What are you doing for me? Please send me a report now.” This is not only weird, but unacceptable.

Keep in mind that these reasons are from my experience as an SEO agency owner.

For example, your client experience as CPA, lawyer, or hair salon owner will likely be much different. That’s why it’s critical that you establish your own standards. It’s also important that these standards do not only live in your own head.

You need to get them on paper, so that they become standards for what your company lives by.

One last point is that B2B and B2C experiences will vary. However, in both B2B and B2C, you are always dealing with other people. This point seems to get lost in the mix within the B2B arena.

All business is a relationship between people. Like in any other relationship, you deserve respect.

Now before you start firing clients, you need to consider a few things:

  • Will losing this client hurt you financially? If this is your only client, then you obviously shouldn’t fire them. But if the client is less than 10% of your total revenue, then it should be a pretty easy decision.
  • Have you considered the long-term repercussions? It is much more expensive to attract new clients than keeping your current ones. That’s why you need to think about your decision carefully. This should go without saying, but you should make an effort to improve relations with your client before firing them.
  • Do you have reliable lead generation sources? If you are getting new leads on a consistent basis, then you should have nothing to worry about. There is always a better client around the corner.
  • Do you have a contract? If you have a contract, then you will likely have to talk to a lawyer.

Now that you know some reasons to fire a client, let me explain how to do it.


How to Fire Your Client (Nicely)

Firing a client is a lot like ending any relationship. If you do it the right way, there may be some questions, but it won’t be chaotic. The key is to remain professional and polite no matter what their response is.

Phone vs. Email

Deciding whether to fire a client through email or on the phone depends on your personality. Are you someone who can handle heated conversations? Or are you more conflict averse? If you are the latter, then you should use email with an option to call. More on this in second. If you are former, then you will have a different set of guidelines. Let’s start with email.

How to Fire a Client Through Email

Let me start off by warning you that some clients take offense to getting fired via email. That’s because it feels impersonal. They may even say something like: “You didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me over the phone.” It’s like getting broken up with through a text message.

The point is that you need to know your client. Are they someone that always requests to talk over the phone? Then don’t use email! Use your best judgement and think about how you and your client have interacted.

With that said, here is an email template you can use to fire a B2B client:

Hey {CLIENT NAME},

Thank you so much for working with our company over the past {NUMBER} + {MONTHS or YEARS). Unfortunately, we do not believe that our two companies should continue working together. That is why we will need to end the engagement. We really appreciate that you decided to work with us and we wish your business the best of luck in the future.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call at {INSERT YOUR NUMBER}.

Sincerely,

{YOUR NAME}

This is a polite and professional way to end the engagement. In my experience, the pushback has been nothing more than a question of “Why”.

Now that you understand when and how to fire a client, you need to improve your systems to prevent bad clients in the future.

How to Avoid Toxic Clients

Let me start by saying that you will never prevent working with some bad clients. It doesn’t matter how effective your vetting systems are. Some bad clients are amazing in the beginning and can flip a switch. All you can do is have solid vetting systems and use your best judgement.

Consider Your Prices

Cash-strapped clients are naturally attracted to lower priced options. Cash-strapped clients are also concerned about cash flow. That means there is a good chance they will always be breathing down your neck. No matter how good your service is. In my experience, higher prices attract higher quality clients.

Use a “Discovery” Phase

The “Discovery” phase only applies to B2B businesses. The process is simple. Create an application that every lead must fill out. The point of the application is qualify your leads before speaking to them.

Here are sample questions from my agency’s application:

  • “Have you used SEO in the past?”
  • “Who is your ideal customer?”
  • “What is the Lifetime Value (LTV) of your average customer?”

Trust Your Gut

After the discovery phase, you have to trust your gut. Use your best judgement.

Conclusion

Firing a client is never a fun thing to do, but sometimes it’s necessary. Don’t let any client/person make you lose sleep at night. No amount of money is worth your wellbeing.

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Nathan Gotch
Nathan Gotch

I’m the founder of Gotch SEO and I help action-takers achieve SEO mastery through Gotch SEO Academy (approaching 1,000 total members). My SEO geekiness is featured on Ahrefs, Search Engine Journal, and Forbes. I’m also notorious for shutting down “successful” products and services for the sake of focus.