22 replies
Let's face it, we're all working as copywriters to make money. If your workload is like mine it's feast or famine: you either have too much work or not enough of it. But when does the point come when you have a client that is so much of a problem that you have to consider firing them?

It's happened to me twice. I've worked with hundreds of business owners, marketing personnel and C-level people, some of whom didn't have a clue how copywriting works or who had their own ideas. Every client is different, but when you work with someone on their business you can quickly see what kind of management style they use.

Some biz owners/C-level people are attentive, smart, focused and listen to your input. They may disagree with your findings or creative direction, but they do offer a well-presented viewpoint. If you believe strongly in your copywriting or creative vision, it's your mission as the creator of that work to sell the client on why it works.

But there are also top level owners and managers who are terrible at listening. They see managing as ordering troops around without any thought about an emotional toll that they might take out on others. Even if you're armed with research and tested examples, they will find a way to dismiss your work.

I've found that these kind of people do it for different reasons, but it's always associated with some kind of emotional reason. They might feel threatened by you, an outsider. Maybe you're younger than they are, and feel that if you crack a nut that they haven't been able to solve up to now, their boss might let them go and replace them with you!

This happened to me once. I came up with a creative strategy for a landing page for a business. Up to that point, their marketing director was spending a lot of money on paid ads bringing traffic to a landing page that wasn't converting. None of the elements that helped convert traffic into customers were on that page.

I worked on the copy, came up with an emotionally engaging message and several points that added more trust to the reader. I then placed a strong call to action on the page.

The client sat down with me and hated it. They even went as far to say that I had "no idea about marketing". It bordered on making me angry and I wanted to yell back at the client, but I had to look professional and keep my cool.

I convinced the client to put up my version of the landing page. Within a month their sales had tripled and the cost per conversion had fallen by a factor of NINE TIMES. In other words, the new landing page was an astounding success.

Now the client has asked me to do more work, and I'm working on several other pages for them. However, they never apologized to me.

This client almost became the third one that I had to let go, but in the end it turned out to be a wonderful example of why you should persevere and stick it out. Still, there are bad situations that do happen and you have to cut your tie to that client. It's been hard to do so but in the end, in each of those two situations, I don't regret my decision to fire that client.

Since there are so many other copywriters working in this forum there must be an abundance of horror stories that can be shared. What's yours?
#client #firing
  • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
    I really despise when people turn it into a personal attack when they disagree with your strategy. I'm with you...had someone said "you have no clue about X" or "this is a stupid idea" to me, it would be really hard not to bristle. I'm glad you managed to convince them though. That's a pretty great story and an excellent payoff!
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  • Profile picture of the author travlinguy
    I don't think sharing "horror stories" is productive. Maybe sharing methods of how to avoid what you're talking about would be better.

    This all comes down to screening. Ask what the client is trying to accomplish first. When you do expect to get a blank "duh" sort of stare. "I want to make money," will be the answer. So it's up to you to go deeper and lead them through the selling process which puts them in the position to make money.

    I don't take many assignments these days but when I do I let the client know beyond the shadow of a doubt what my approach is going to be and how it will be designed. I discuss the hook or theme of the piece and how it will be developed. That might be through the use of a story, lots of social proof, the emotions of fear, vanity, greed, envy... whatever the hot buttons might be. No surprises. It's all on the table before accepting the work. Of course, the outcome will be sales.

    If you do a good job of that you won't have bad feelings when you deliver the piece because they already know what to expect.
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    • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
      Originally Posted by travlinguy View Post

      I don't think sharing "horror stories" is productive. Maybe sharing methods of how to avoid what you're talking about would be better.
      I think the sharing of stories can lead to that, "and how did you handle it?" discussion. There are as many lessons to be learned in poor handling of these situations as in expert handling of these situations.

      At heart, I don't think many of these "nightmare clients" is out to hurt another business owner - they just don't realize how hellish their behavior can sometimes be. But short a reasonable way to educate people in a way that won't cause serious offense, learning how to respond is a good thing.

      I think underworld's story is a good one - lord knows there are plenty of us who might have immediately fired the client for that. I'm pretty impressed that he managed to turn it around, getting the clients results and great numbers for him to brag about.
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      • Profile picture of the author travlinguy
        Originally Posted by angiecolee View Post

        I think the sharing of stories can lead to that, "and how did you handle it?" discussion. There are as many lessons to be learned in poor handling of these situations as in expert handling of these situations.

        At heart, I don't think many of these "nightmare clients" is out to hurt another business owner - they just don't realize how hellish their behavior can sometimes be. But short a reasonable way to educate people in a way that won't cause serious offense, learning how to respond is a good thing.

        I think underworld's story is a good one - lord knows there are plenty of us who might have immediately fired the client for that. I'm pretty impressed that he managed to turn it around, getting the clients results and great numbers for him to brag about.
        I understand what you're saying. In my experience though, I've noticed the more I focus on things I don't want or don't like, the more they keep showing up. I have to laugh sometimes at the unreal number of threads on the main board that focus on failure and what doesn't work.

        People read that stuff and unconsciously internalize problems they'd never have thought of. But since that's where so much of their attention goes, the problems start to show up in reality. Focus on walls, you'll get em. Focus on bridges, you'll get those.
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  • Michael Port has a great section on "Dumping Dud Clients" - I think he calls it - right at the start of "Book Yourself Solid". Probably some articles on his blog too.

    Alan Weiss also recommends firing clients - he puts them into 3 categories. Clients who want something illegal or unethical, clients who are more trouble than they're worth, and clients who are "toxic", or who you just don't like. He has a great definition for these last ones - someone who forces you into your worst behaviour.

    I highly recommend reading both these guys too.
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  • Profile picture of the author underworld90
    Travilinguy, I also don't like to dwell on the negative too much. Still, life doesn't always work out like how you expect or want it to, so adapting to it is certainly important.

    This client that complained very vocally about my abilities is the marketing director of a large company. They have a staff and are responsible for a marketing budget well into the hundreds of thousands. When someone who has a position like that accuses you of not knowing the basics of marketing, it's a pretty strong message.

    Thankfully, I believed in my strategy and I was rewarded with the positive results that happened. As online marketers we all know that no matter how many years that you have under your belt, you still strike out at bat occasionally. That could have happened in this particular case.

    There are 2 points to my story: I've learned to not return an emotional reaction when I receive one, and second, that some clients will not apologize after being proven incorrect about their assumptions. Part of my pay is earned from taking those lumps.

    I've also found that no matter how well you try and adjust client expectations and attitudes to the method of your work, there will still be clients that come along that turn out to be toxic. It's just the way things go.
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  • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
    The buck stops with us as professionals running our business and life the way we want.

    If the client's a pain in the ass, we let them become a pain in the ass.

    If the client's untrustworthy, we failed to filter them early on.

    If the client doesn't pay, we failed to secure appropriate compensation upfront.

    Not saying anything we don't all know already, but sometimes it's good to be reminded.

    Buck stops with us.

    We get what we ask for and accept - every time.

    B
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  • Profile picture of the author contentwriting360
    Banned
    We share the same experience and story. There was this client who sent tons of revision requests. Every time we send the revised e-book, we get a revision request in a blink of an eye. Until one day, after a month and a half, this client came in like a boss saying that's not what he wants and requested a refund, not to mention we Copyscaped the e-book and found it somewhere else already posted.

    Well, doesn't that make one raise an eyebrow or cultivate the idea of negative suspicion at least? Sometimes, you have to be strict on your refund and revision policy because of these abusive clients who will get all the creative juices and attempt to get everything for FREE. There's no free lunch!
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  • Profile picture of the author Outsourcingnerd
    I think we have all been in similar situations :-)

    Once I worked as sales manager for a web hosting company about 10 years ago I got a new boss.

    "Fresh from school" with a huge marketing budget to play with. She insisted that we had to use an external telemarketing company, to call small companies trying to sell them test subscription for a CMS system.

    I tried to convince her that "old ladies with blue hair," who hardly knows what a domain name is, probably is not the best person to represent our company.

    My boss totally blew up, and I tried to convince her why we had success training our own internal sales consultants.

    End of the story - I had to train the ladies with the blue hair. They first two months they managed to make three free tests and no sales!

    Our company blow up $100.000 within two months. It was really difficult not to say to my boss: "I TOLD YOU RIGHT?" Nevertheless, I decided it was better to a low profile... ;-)

    After that episode, my boss was extremely nice and not too hard headed, so we actually ended up with a super good professional relationship.

    However, I think it is extremely difficult for a lot of people to admit they are wrong, but deep inside for sure they know they are wrong.

    Same goes for customers, we often have a gut shot feeling that this particular customer would only cause us trouble to have been forced sometimes to fire a customer.

    We had a crazy lady who called our support and blamed everybody's hat her FTP program did not work (we did not have any software support).

    The support team tried to help her, but every time she just cut them off and pressed the buttons She felt was right and got even angrier. After 8-10 similar calls, I let the support team transfer the call to me.

    The first 10 minutes she was all steam, telling me how completely stupid everyone in our organization was.

    Then she said: "So what are you going to do about it?" - I told her that I was deeply sorry that she felt the way she did, but we, on the other hand, were not able to fulfill her requirements.

    It was not a part of the support plan and even that people had tried to help her.

    So I asked her to confirm her address, and then I told her that I would send her a check on the full amount.

    She was totally chocked!"How can you do that?" - "Because we have both concluded that this company is not the right choice for you and us. I was a very nice feeling check! :-)
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    • Originally Posted by Outsourcingnerd View Post


      She was totally chocked!"How can you do that?" - "Because we have both concluded that this company is not the right choice for you and us. I was a very nice feeling check! :-)
      A couple years ago one of the long distance carriers here jettisoned some unruly customers. People couldn't believe they were tossed out. The company said they were just too much trouble and would never be happy no matter what the company did.
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      • Profile picture of the author Outsourcingnerd
        Originally Posted by Joe Ditzel View Post

        A couple years ago one of the long distance carriers here jettisoned some unruly customers. People couldn't believe they were tossed out. The company said they were just too much trouble and would never be happy no matter what the company did.
        The amazing thing that grown-up people seem to be chocked when someone finally stands up, and tells then straight to their face that their behavior is simply not acceptable.

        Just see how people react in the airport if their air plane is one hour late (and they are on their way for a three-week vacation).

        Some people get furious and start to insult the desk clerks at the check-in counter - like they are the one who have changed the weather! haha

        I don't know if it is just me, but it really seems like people have a very low tolerance - look at the highways, some people completely blow up if there is a traffic jam.

        Sometimes it is a good idea simply to twist the things around - what would a customer say if we said:

        "If you were in my shoes, and you have done possibly all you could to serve a client the best way you could and that was still not enough, what would you say to that customer?"
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  • Profile picture of the author vCr8
    It may be true that sometimes we work for the bucks, it is also true that we let them become such a pain that, earning a buck from them becomes irrelevant lol. the moment that this happens, let go of them and let go of the stress that they bring in. If you have good work ethics, a more deserving client will come evenutally.
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  • Profile picture of the author RickDuris
    No horror stories here. Just a few ideas that might help in the future:

    1. Bite your tongue: What you don't say when you're upset, is often more valuable than what you do say.

    2. Do the unexpected: Take the high road. Sometimes the Client will surprise you in return.

    3. Don't kiss and tell. Don't air dirty laundry either.

    4. Put it behind you--as quickly as possible. "Next!"

    5. Whatever important decisions you need to make, sleep on them first. It usually helps the situation to slow the decision-making process way down and allow involved parties to mull over consequences.

    6. Keep the lines of communication open. Don't burn your bridges.

    7. Learn from the experience. Doing a "post mortem" on paper often releases pent up anger and allows you to refocus your energy productively afterwards.

    Falling out of love with each other's never easy. Best to part company, friends. I've had a few that came back and relationship's stronger than ever.

    I just chalk it up to a miscommunication somewhere along the way. It happens.

    - Rick Duris
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  • Profile picture of the author TheWrightWords
    I've fired clients -- mainly because I've outgrown them for now, meaning my rates have gone above what they are able to pay. I still keep in touch, and try to refer them to someone who I know will take good care of them and will be delighted with a slightly lower rate than I was originally charging. It's a win-win for me -- I get to play matchmaker and get more time to work on higher paying work. I end up with not one, but two good contacts that owe me one.

    I've been writing for dollars since 1996 and by now I have a pretty good sense of who will likely be a problem at the outset. I also tend to be selective about clients in the first place, so I've had fewer problems as I've learned to screen better.

    Hope things work out for you!
    If you need a laugh, consider the David Thorne approach to communication:
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    • Profile picture of the author JakeDaly
      Originally Posted by TheWrightWords View Post

      I've been writing for dollars since 1996
      Writing for dollars... I like that.
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  • Profile picture of the author superplatinum
    I agree with Brian. It is definitely up to us. We have to be upfront and clear with our clients from the very beginning. We have to let them know what our service is, the parameters of that service, and so on. If your parameters are reasonable, then don't be afraid that clients will be scared off. After all, you want to work with reasonable clients, right?
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  • Profile picture of the author kacuina
    I wanted to yell back at the client, but I had to look professional and keep my cool...
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  • Profile picture of the author Goran Zinic
    Originally Posted by underworld90 View Post

    Now the client has asked me to do more work, and I'm working on several other pages for them. However, they never apologized to me.
    You can't expect the boss to apologize. He apologized on his own way by providing you additional job.
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    • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
      Originally Posted by Goran Zinic View Post

      You can't expect the boss to apologize. He apologized on his own way by providing you additional job.
      Sure you can...

      Repeat this out loud: "I'm sorry"

      See how easy that was?

      Clients are not BOSSES... they are CLIENTS.

      As in under your counsel and protection.
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    • Profile picture of the author underworld90
      Originally Posted by Goran Zinic View Post

      You can't expect the boss to apologize. He apologized on his own way by providing you additional job.
      I agree with you to a point but I draw the line when it treads into losing my self-respect.

      Let me give you a slightly different example. Suppose that you work as an employee for an owner. That owner comes into work one day and accuses you of not doing your job. The circumstances then change and it becomes clear for the boss to see that you did do your job to professional standards. Does the boss owe you an apology?

      In my experience the best bosses would never have chewed the employee out, but if it happened I would expect an apology from my boss. He/she violated the professional arrangement that we had, and it's their responsibility to repair the damage.

      Payment for services rendered doesn't give your boss the privilege to walk over you.
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  • Profile picture of the author ausdeals
    some clients are hard work, and will waste your time and create headaches. Cut them loose
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  • Profile picture of the author Jennie Heckel
    I agree with Brian and Rick.

    And... It takes a bigger person to take the high road.

    But... You know in your heart what is right.

    The client knows that your copy kicked theirs out of the ballpark.

    They hired you for another job, and... that was all the apology you are going to get.

    But I know how the bad taste in your mouth lingers...

    If it bothers you too much, then vote with your feet and walk away.

    Don't suffer needlessly... Because, there are so many great clients out there just waiting for your exceptional services!

    It is not worth the rotten headache or the bad case of indigestion to swallow your feelings, because your copy will show it.

    Instead...

    Hold your head up high, and do what I do...

    I just become waaaay "over booked and it happens literally overnight."

    So I finish the job with them I have booked, and smile as I cash that last check. And... I do it with the secret inner knowledge that when I signed my name on that last check...that I just signed -- THEIR PINK SLIP!

    Our time is way too short to dwell on clients that don't appreciate you talent, or deserve your extra efforts... always remember... You are worth way more than that.

    Good luck with landing better clients that do pay you what you are worth and...
    do appreciate the extra mile you do!

    Jennie
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