Fire the client
December 3, 1999
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Those of you who have already made the jump into freelance or project-based
work have discovered the pros and cons of working for yourself. While
there can be a certain lack of security involved with managing your own
business there can also be a large feeling of freedom. Freedom to choose
your projects. Freedom to organize your day the way you want. Freedom
to pick your clients. Unfortunately, we can sometimes still put ourselves
in the position of working for someone who is less than ideal. Sometimes
we do it because of the money. Sometimes we do it because we think we
need the work. Sometimes we might not realize why we are doing it. Regardless
of the cause, though, it is important to learn how to identify these clients
and how to extricate yourself from a bad relationship without making it
Who are they?
Your rates are too high! Can I get a discount on this? I'll cut the check
in 30 days. I know this wasn't in the spec, but can you do it without
it costing me any more money? What do you mean I have to buy the software?
Anyone working in a high-tech career has heard statements and questions
like this from a client or two along the way. . Any of them are a signal
that the relationship between you and your client is going to be a rocky
one. In some cases, such as working for a company, you can't get away
from these situations. These people are probably co-workers. When you
are out on your own, though, sometimes you have to "fire the client."
This can be one of the most stressful work situations that you ever face,
but it is also the most important. Bad business relationships will drag
down the quality of your work for other clients and might even send you
back into the relative safety of a corporate job.
Is that my phone ringing?
A few months ago I related problems with a client. I broke my own rules
about reducing my fees to help out a client who was in dire straits. Several
technical people had moved on and left him without the expertise he needed
to service his clients. I figured I could use the work to fill in some
slow periods I was having elsewhere. As is often the case, this client
turned out to be less than ideal. He was indecisive and a micro-manager.
Instead of giving me a task and allowing me to accomplish it he wanted
to sit by my side the entire time. Then, the one time I worked without
his direct supervision, he complained that I had taken too many hours
to complete the task.
At this point, I was ready to give this client an earful. I wanted to
tell them exactly what I thought of him and his project. As a businessperson,
though, I knew better than that. While this client could have very little
effect on my business as a whole I prefer not to burn bridges unless absolutely
necessary. In this particular case, I used the excuse that my other work,
my writing, my private training, etc. was beginning to take too much of
my time. I backed out of the relationship as gracefully as possible and
I feel much the better for it. I am still a bit angry about how I was
treated, but it wasn't worth the angst required to tell the client the
truth. It also wasn't worth risking the money the client still owed me.
Sometimes we all have to sit quietly until that final check clears.
Not worth the time
In most cases, it is not worth your time or energy to tell a client exactly
how stupid, cheap, arrogant or abusive they are. If the client exhibits
any of these faults they will probably not have the wherewithal to understand
their faults. They will blame everyone but themselves for their problems,
including you. IF you anger them they also might become vindictive and
attempt to hurt you and your business financially. Don't fall into this
trap. It is far better to back gracefully out of the room, like courtiers
of old leaving the King, than "flip them off" and storm out.
Actions like that, no matter how good they might feel at the time, can
only lead to bigger troubles down the road.
One action you can take, though, is the protection of others who might
come across this client in the future. You certainly wouldn't want to
recommend any of your friends to work for a person such as this. There
is no sense in sending someone else into the lion's den. You can also
gently and obtusely warn others from doing business with this person.
Again, you may not want to say exactly what you feel, but all of us can
come up with a diplomatic way of steering others away from this client.
Simply describing it as a "difficult relationship:" should be
enough to send up warning flags with other high-tech workers. There is
no need to go into details.
Sometimes we all need to "fire the client" in order to allow
ourselves and our businesses to grow. I hope you won't have to use this
power frequently, but it allows you the most control over how you develop
your high-tech career. There are always times when you need to look out
for your own best interests as no one else will do it for you.
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