Project Management

Eight reasons why it's time to fire a client

No IT consultant ever wants to tell a client, "You're fired." However, sometimes the relationship reaches a point where that is your best course of action. Chip Camden outlines eight scenarios that may lead you to terminate a client relationship.

 To an IT consultant, nothing is more valuable than having good clients with recurring business, especially in these times of economic distress. We should, therefore, always do our best to correct any problems in the client relationship before throwing in the towel. Nevertheless, some business is just bad, and some clients hurt you more than they're worth. Here are eight scenarios that (if you can't remedy) may require you to fire your client:

#1: They insist that you do something that's unethical or illegal. Sure, you both might be able to get away with it, but if you compromise your integrity for your client, then your client won't be able to trust you. If you'd cheat for them, why wouldn't you cheat against them? More importantly, you would degrade yourself in your own eyes. Have some self-respect and bid the client adieu. #2: They always pay you late. You can never allow late payments to become the status quo; clients will only get later with their payments. Naturally, you should take steps to improve your client's payment habits first, but if they refuse to reform, say au revoir. #3: They repeatedly angle for a reduced fee. Your rate is clearly stated in your contract — which they signed — yet on every project they ask you for a reduction for one of a number of fabricated reasons. They all translate to one real message: The client doesn't think you're worth what you charge. If you can't convince the client of your value, and you have other clients who clearly get the picture, it's hasta la vista. #4: They try to get you to work for free. There are good reasons for working for no money, and then there are bad reasons. The number one bad reason in my experience is that the software doesn't do everything the client needs, even though those features were not included in the original agreement. I'm not clairvoyant, and I don't work for free; if the client can't comprehend those points, then arrivederci. #5: Their organization is structured to prevent success. Policies, procedures, and the channels of communication are either poorly designed or abused to the point where your failure is guaranteed. It's your duty to point out these flaws and help your client try to correct them. If they just don't get that there's a problem here, auf Wiedersehen. #6: The personalities involved are incompatible. I'm a likable guy — just ask my wife (oh, forget I said that). Really, though, I try to get along with everyone. But it's just hard to work with some people. When the only reason why you would ever subject yourself to the tortures of being in their acquaintance is the money, you either need to get a lot of money or say sayonara. #7: They demean or insult you. In any relationship, insults are the first step in a plan (conscious or not) to lower your status. Insults can often be rendered ineffective by repaying them in kind, establishing your right to respect. But it's a bad way to start a client relationship, where mutual respect should be a given. And if it continues to be a useless battle you have to fight every day, it might be time to retreat from the field. #8: They require that you do things the wrong way. In any long-term engagement, there will inevitably be some disagreements over technical approaches. Sometimes you just have to do what the customer wants, even if you vehemently disagree. But that should not become an everyday thing, or you'll just hate your work. Perhaps you and your client are not a good fit. Dosvidanya.

How do you pull the plug?

If your work consists of a series of small projects, you may be able to complete your current task and then politely say "no, thanks" to whatever else they offer. Or you could change your terms to be so lucrative for yourself that even if they don't get your not-so-subtle message, you won't mind.

I prefer honestly telling the client about the reasons why I no longer want to work with them. It can be tricky because you don't want to burn more bridges than strictly necessary. Keep emotions out of it, and stick to the facts. It's more useful than concealing your complaint because it might help the client to improve, and it might help you, too. By putting your reasons into a dispassionate explanation, you might reveal some shortcomings of your own that contributed to the problem. Or best of all, it might help you both to fix whatever you considered beyond hope.

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Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

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