Cutting the Cord: Should You Fire a Bad-Fit Website Client?

Sick of a difficult client but don’t know if you should fire them? Find out the red flags to look out for in a bad client and when it’s time to cut ties.

Abby Wood

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Client Management

Abby Wood

Abby Wood

The Content Lab

Originally from Cambridge, England, Abby now lives in Ireland with her partner Nick and their border collie Bosco. A content strategist and copywriter for over 12 years, she's founder of The Content Lab (a white label content agency) and Content Goodies (providing white label content templates for agencies). She's also co-founder of Ireland Website Design (a full service eCommerce agency) and LearnRight (a white label LMS solution).

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Pass me the scalpel, Doctor. It’s time to remove this bad-fit client that’s been draining the life out of your business.

Ok, maybe it’s not always that simple.

But the question is absolutely worth asking: should you fire a bad-fit website client? And if so, when is it time to cut the cord?

Reasons to call time on a working relationship that just never seems to work

We need to work on this client relationship – stat!

Have I been watching too many House reruns? Maybe. Is that a crime? Only if you hate questionable responses to medical emergencies.

Ok, now that I’ve gotten all that out of my system, let’s talk about the reasons for saying so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye to a bad client.

It’s totally fair if the thought of cutting down your client list makes you a little (or extremely) uneasy – it’s tough enough as is to gain and maintain clients in this economic climate!

But that said, the cost of a bad-fit client shouldn’t be underestimated.

While keeping more web development clients on your books may give you a sense of security, in reality, things may be a little more leech-y than peachy. (Please tolerate my making up of words for the sake of rhymes.)

Let’s unpack that a little.

1. Negatively impacts company morale

It doesn't matter if you’re a solo operation or have a staff behind you. Work needs to be at least tolerable so you can get through the day.

All it takes is one client consistently creating problems to make work a living nightmare for you and your team. Especially when running a small business: if you can avoid stress and frustration – then you absolutely should. Dread seeing their name come up in your inbox? It’s time to have a heart-to-heart. 

2. Makes it hard to deliver quality work

Dealing with bad clients makes it difficult to produce your best quality work, ultimately impacting the final product (and your client’s satisfaction).

Lack of cooperation, delayed feedback, or excessive revisions can result in a rushed, subpar outcome – which won’t look good on your portfolio.

3. Drains your resources

When you’ve got a client consistently disrupting your workflow with issues that shouldn’t be issues, you wind up focusing your efforts where they’re wasted instead of where they’re needed most.

One client who doesn’t play ball can affect your ability to be present for your other clients, so you might wind up losing money and wasting more time than you can afford.

Knowing the signs: When to fire a client

Sometimes it can be hard to recognize a bad client relationship, until it comes back to bite you.

So, to (hopefully) spare you some avoidable pain, let’s take a look at some of the most common red flags in a bad client. That way, you can recognize when a relationship is no longer working, and when it might be time to give them the proverbial boot.

1. Unrealistic or misaligned expectations

Ah, the age-old story of the client who expects you to build them a website, make them better at their job, and also somehow fix that shoulder pain they’ve been experiencing for the past couple of months.

Unless everyone is on the same page in terms of deliverables and timelines, your project is kinda doomed – or at least set to be a very painful one.

2. Breakdown of communication

I don’t know about you, but I’m in my healthy communication era, which absolutely extends into my professional life and client relationships!

Good communication is fundamental to successfully collaborating with your clients on their website development projects. Poor communication – whether that’s unresponsiveness, unclear feedback, or constant changes in direction – will derail your project and land you with a big old pile of stress you simply don’t need.

3. Disregard for your time and timelines

I’ve seen it all. Some clients expect you to be at their constant beck and call, while others don’t even provide project details or feedback on time. Either way, it’s super frustrating.

If a client makes unreasonable demands and doesn’t respect your time as a professional, it’s going to impact your ability to do your job. Plus, you’ll need to scream into the abyss for 14 hours or so to blow off the steam, which, quite frankly, you simply don’t have time for.

4. Murky about money

Dealing with a dishonest client is no joke when it comes to budget. It can seriously impact the viability of your agency (and your livelihood) as a whole.

Whether they’re slow to pay up or challenging you on the fees you agreed on, cash flow is essential for your business to survive, and you can’t make any exceptions just to pacify a difficult character.

5. Bad fit on a cultural and personal level

Whether you’ve got a problematic client on your hands or someone you just can’t seem to gel with, the disconnect will inevitably show up in your work.

Just like any relationship, if you don’t align with a client’s values, working style, or communication, it’s not exactly going to be smooth sailing now, is it?

Got a client hanging by a thread? Is it time to end that client relationship by firing them for good?

There’s a reason so many songs are written about saying goodbye: because it sure as heck ain’t easy.

It’s understandable if you’re a little hesitant to let go of a client – even if they’re a total pain.

But maybe what you really need to do is end that working relationship.

That said, you don’t necessarily need to end your contract immediately. Sometimes, there are other solutions.

If you’ve been thinking about ending a client relationship but can’t quite seem to bring yourself to do it, why not try a few of these tactics first?

  • Assess the severity: Before making the call, figure out if it’s a persistent problem (meaning you’re likely incompatible) or if the business relationship could be salvaged with better communication.
  • Prioritize open communication: Try having an open and honest conversation with the client. Voice your issues, listen to theirs, and see if you can salvage the situation and find a solution that suits all involved.
  • Set clear boundaries: Clearly define expectations, timelines, and project scope from the outset. Establishing boundaries can help prevent issues related to scope creep, missed deadlines, or unrealistic expectations.
  • Consider potential damages: Would the cost of losing this client be worse than continuing to deal with the stress of working with them? Always look at the big picture and make sure to prioritize your well-being.

What are your thoughts on client relationships?

There’s nothing quite like finding the sweet spot with a good client relationship.

But when it’s the other way around, it can make your life as a professional web developer a living hell.

On top of impacting your business, it can have seriously negative effects on your mental health. So make sure to mind yourself and protect your peace at the end of the day.

Remember, you’re not alone, and one bad client doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job.

Take a step back, breathe, and always know that there are tons of other people out there who’ll be more than happy to talk you through it!

Join the community over at The Admin Bar Facebook Group and ask for advice on dealing with difficult clients or share your personal experiences.

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Abby Wood

Abby Wood

The Content Lab

Originally from Cambridge, England, Abby now lives in Ireland with her partner Nick and their border collie Bosco. A content strategist and copywriter for over 12 years, she's founder of The Content Lab (a white label content agency) and Content Goodies (providing white label content templates for agencies). She's also co-founder of Ireland Website Design (a full service eCommerce agency) and LearnRight (a white label LMS solution).

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