I fired my first client this week & it felt good (offline consulting)

48 replies
Hey everyone,

I just wanted to share an experience that I had this week. I've been doing online work for local businesses now fulltime for about 7 months, and up until this week I have been struggling with a rough issue.

When I took the leap from part-time internet marketer to full time, I did a big push to get as many offline clients as I could to help stabilize my income. This led to me bending over backwards for a few clients and agreeing to a few deals that I otherwise should have let go.

Most of my business focuses on internet marketing for local businesses, but back then I was also taking on some web design work.

Anyway, I've had this client with whom I agreed to redesign a website for them. They paid me $500. I should have asked for much more basd on what they wanted, but I was stupid and wanted another client (they were reluctant to pay that much).

So I figured that no matter how much work it was, I could push through it and be done in a month or two, like we agreed. Wrong!

Six months later the website is only 1/5 done! They send me 1 to 2 pages a week. It is ridiculous. And they keep requesting redesigns on the site which are taking up my time like crazy. It is incredibly frustrating to deal with them. They will send content with mistakes in it, and if I correct them, sometimes they wanted it the wrong way, while other times they don't understand why I didn't correct them. Ugh!

In the meantime, my business has evolved and I'm now charging clients 5x what I was when I started, and totally focusing on marketing.

This client was killing me, and sucking my time out!

I didn't see a way out, I figured that this was just going to be a problem for me until it was resolved. Then I talked to a few peers and was surprised to learn that it is actually okay to "fire" a client.

Fire is a strong word, this was more a termination of our agreement. I refunded my client 100% of what they paid me.

Yeah, that part sucked, because I've already put so much work into their site, but I didn't deliver the end result. I could blame them for that, but I didn't. I just want to move on.

Yes, I know I could have went in and asked for more money, laid down ground rules, etc., etc. But the point is I don't want to do this work anymore.

Also, let's say if this took another three months, I could either continue to be pulled down by them or continue my focus on pushing my business forward.

I have learned a lot from this lesson, and certainly won't be getting into those types of situations again. My strengths are marketing, and I will stay far away from taking major web design projects. I don't know how to price things, I don't know how to limit clients to redesign ideas, and so forth.

I screwed up, I didn't play to my strengths. I should have had a firmer contract. All things I see now.

Anyway, I just wanted to share. I feel a bit bad that things didn't work out with my client, but I am so relieved to have it off my shoulders.

Matt
#client #consulting #felt #fired #frustration #good #local business #offline #offline marketing #seo #week
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  • Profile picture of the author Nic Lynn
    Great story, and a great lesson... I've been there myself! Btw, in my experience, most of these situations happen around website design and maintenance (like your situation)... while there is money to be made on those, I now generally try and stay away from them as much as possible and instead focus on ranking, direct response email and a whole host of other business solutions and business processes that don't seem to bring out quite so much bad behavior in certain clients.
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  • Profile picture of the author moneyblogger1
    I'm surprised you waited that long.
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    • Profile picture of the author summer07
      Working with clients is a lot like dating...sometimes you end up 'going steady', sometimes you decide to 'just be friends', and sometimes you can't break up too soon!
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  • Profile picture of the author juzanobo
    WHat is important in in service providing field, you would both agree to each terms not only on the side of the client.

    IMO, you should have refunded the portion that you haven't done and not 100%. Termination of agreement is one good way to get rid of "difficult-to-work-with" kind of clients.

    Congratulations in firing your client, LOL...
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  • Profile picture of the author freudianslip27
    Yes, I've been able to streamline things pretty well now. Before I was going in and making some fairly significant changes to their website in the name of good SEO. Now I am just doing basic stuff like some keyword adding, meta tags, etc., and then creating a simple blog where I post my content.

    There was too much pulling back and forth with the redesign stuff, and yeah the jobs where I was designing the whole site sure were time consuming!

    Juzanobo,

    I agree that I was certainly entitled to some of the $$$. Even if its menial its the point of me being paid for work I did. However, these people are super penny-pinchers and I think it would have led to me having to fight for a dime. That's just the hunch I get in this particular situation. I just want this to be over, lol.

    Matt
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  • Profile picture of the author joe.marsh
    Matt..

    Sometimes you do have to fire a customer. You cant please them all and some are just not worth working with.

    My best to you.

    Joe
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  • Profile picture of the author Buildingfutures
    Congrats Matt!

    I'm going to start my first direct mailer this week starting monday, hopefully. I gotta go ask a few friends for some cash for stamps (Bah! I don't get cash till tuesday and I'd like to start monday) and get the letters printed out.

    But I hope I have the problem of choosing which clients would be more profitable to keep or let go in the near future.

    -Sean
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  • Profile picture of the author freudianslip27
    lol kowarrior I didn't fire you!

    Buildingfutures,

    Yes, by all means get out there and start prospecting for clients! Businesses need us now more then ever

    Matt
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  • Profile picture of the author matts5150
    Back when I was doing consulting full time, I did consulting for over 10 years full time, I'd fire aproximately 20% of my clients on a yearly basis, the ones who didn't want to pay, the ones who'd spend a dollar to save a dime then blame you because it's costing too much and constant complainers. That way it'd free me up to focus on gaining better clients. In the consulting world the thing to keep in mind 20% of your clients will bring you 80% of your income. If you're constantly weeding out the bad ones, within a few years you will have built a very stable client base.
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  • Profile picture of the author Tyler Pratt
    Great story, and yes its hard to turn down work in the beginning of your business. As your confident grows it becomes easier.
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  • Profile picture of the author TommyBoy
    Until I can find some reliable outsourcing I have just turned down most website work with offline clients. I will make them a new site - my way - and am getting more and more business that way. But the idea of tinkering with an existing site is not my cup of tea. There are many other services that can be completed relatively quickly that will not drive you crazy or take up too much of your time.
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  • Profile picture of the author JackPowers
    Some people will unfortunately push until they meet resistance. Just a basic fact of life.
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    • Profile picture of the author Kay King
      I agree that I was certainly entitled to some of the $$$.
      I don't think so - and I think you did what was right in refunding 100%. You quoted a contract price and changing it to "paid for my hours worked" wouldn't be right when you are the one opting out of the contract and the job was not completed.

      It was a learning experience in how to set parameters with clients and deadlines for completing a project - and education costs money or time.

      kay
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      • Profile picture of the author Kim Standerline
        I think he did the right thing by refunding 100% as well (despite him being entitled to more)

        He's got this monkey off his back now and knows the person involved can't come back at him for anything.

        I've fired customers before as well, and it's a very liberating experience

        Kim

        Originally Posted by Kay King View Post

        I don't think so - and I think you did what was right in refunding 100%. You quoted a contract price and changing it to "paid for my hours worked" wouldn't be right when you are the one opting out of the contract and the job was not completed.

        It was a learning experience in how to set parameters with clients and deadlines for completing a project - and education costs money or time.

        kay
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  • Profile picture of the author Brad Gosse
    This is a very difficult decision that all entrepreneurs face sooner or later. It sounds like you made the right one :-)

    You wouldn't believe how many people don't have what it takes to fire a client. Two years ago my wife fired a client in her video business that was paying her close to 100 K. per year for very little work. They were too high maintenance and disorganized.

    Good job Matt you will sleep better at night.
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  • Profile picture of the author iw433
    Yea that's what I'm talking about. That's why I work for myself, and a graduate of KMAU.
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    • Profile picture of the author Michael Shook
      Back a bit when I was first doing offline, I got a client ranked for some difficult keywords, beating some of the largest corporations in the country with the knowledge I had collected. On a local basis, but the big companies all had presence in the market and at first owned all the listings on the front page.

      Then one month, I sent an invoice and they did not pay. So I went to their office and picked up a check. And the next month I sent an invoice and they did not pay. But I figured, no big deal, they wern't going anywhere. And I kept on working for them. Then the next month, isent an invoice with an addon for late payment and they did not pay again. So I called them up. I was small time (so I thought at the time, not anymore) and at that time they were my only client.

      But I did not like not getting paid and still working. So after a very short conversation, I let them go. Boy, did I feel good. And even better, I knew that what I was doing brought results. And amazingly enough, when I let go of them, I had space in my datebook for folks who were and are quite willing to pay me.

      It is a relationship that has to work well both ways. And I have always appreciated learning that lesson.
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      • Profile picture of the author Dexx
        This is why I always charge an up-front initial setup fee, and a charge for the initial marketing strategy I lay out for them.

        Let's me judge how they will be when it comes to payments etc.

        I would also establish at the beginning (in the agreement/contract etc.) that failure to pay within 15 days of invoice is grounds for terminating the relationship.

        Keep in mind some businesses are horribly disorganized and most likely they werent behind on just paying you, but other businesses as well.

        Guess what...not your problem.

        They pay on time, or you will move on to the competition that will.

        They need you, not the other way around, and make sure they know it!


        ~Dexx



        Originally Posted by JMichaelZ View Post

        Then one month, I sent an invoice and they did not pay. So I went to their office and picked up a check. And the next month I sent an invoice and they did not pay. But I figured, no big deal, they wern't going anywhere. And I kept on working for them. Then the next month, isent an invoice with an addon for late payment and they did not pay again. So I called them up. I was small time (so I thought at the time, not anymore) and at that time they were my only client.

        But I did not like not getting paid and still working. So after a very short conversation, I let them go. Boy, did I feel good. And even better, I knew that what I was doing brought results. And amazingly enough, when I let go of them, I had space in my datebook for folks who were and are quite willing to pay me.
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        • Profile picture of the author Michael Shook
          Absolutely right. I rarely invoice anymore, I usually set up an autobill subscription. And right now i only have one exception to that.

          I am worth it. And I really did appreciate learning that lesson from the clonks I let go.

          Originally Posted by Dexx View Post

          This is why I always charge an up-front initial setup fee, and a charge for the initial marketing strategy I lay out for them.

          Let's me judge how they will be when it comes to payments etc.

          I would also establish at the beginning (in the agreement/contract etc.) that failure to pay within 15 days of invoice is grounds for terminating the relationship.

          Keep in mind some businesses are horribly disorganized and most likely they werent behind on just paying you, but other businesses as well.

          Guess what...not your problem.

          They pay on time, or you will move on to the competition that will.

          They need you, not the other way around, and make sure they know it!


          ~Dexx
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  • Profile picture of the author Dexx
    Great to hear, but a lesson at the same time. When dealing with clients, and setting up any projects, it is very important to clearly establish what the project will involve and what the expected results at the beginning.

    i.e.

    Setup and installation of wordpress-based website, with 5 - 10 pages of content (additional pages to be charged at $45/pg), content to be delivered by customer and placed on website "as is." (i.e. not responsible for editing THEIR content submitted) for $500

    Then you can charge additional fees for:
    1) logo design / header design ($100-$200)
    2) Search Engine Optimization of content (meta tags, title tags, internal linking) ($250 - $500)
    3) Social Media Plugins (share this button / re-tweet) etc. ($50 - $100)

    But all of these need to be laid before that first payment is made, otherwise they could have a constantly growing website (which they did) for a low-low price.

    Jut my thoughts
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  • Profile picture of the author freudianslip27
    It's funny, for months I just felt trapped. It wasn't until I talked to some peers that I realized that I could actually part ways with these people. I sure do feel better about things and hope new people that see this thread will be more cautious than I was when taking on web design work!

    Matts5150, you are very right about having a core group of clients that are great to work with. I've got a few that are so-so but I really love the clients that let me do what I want and also openly appreciate and invest in what I'm doing for them

    I am looking at what my great clients have in common, and applying that knowledge towards finding more.

    Matt
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  • Profile picture of the author sbucciarel
    Banned
    Sometimes it's worth a complete refund to be free of a client. I've had clients that the job simply never ends. There's always something else they want, something they want to change, things they don't deliver that are necessary for the project.

    Believe me, I have "paid" a couple of clients to just go away. It's one of the hazards of working closely with clients and also with offering way too much for way too little.
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  • Profile picture of the author freudianslip27
    While we are on the subject of autobilling, I'm using Freshbooks and its pretty cool. It sends out physical invoices monthly, along with a self addressed stamped envelope for returns as well.

    Its nice to not have to worry about invoicing. Just set it up and you're good.

    Matt
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    • Profile picture of the author Dexx
      Bit off topic, but I use a Canadian Merchant (BeanStream) and I'm actually going to be using BillingBoss.com in the near future here. Its free, and they also have a Pro $5/mo option that lets me connect a link in the invoice for them to pay me and it goes directly into my merchant account.

      Receive payments by visa, Interac Online etc.

      The developers said that recurring billing will be coming in the near future here, which will let me set up a 6 - 12 month agreement, and have invoices sent automatically as per the agreed date.

      But another major benefit is that BeanStream works with the iPhone App InnerFence, which allows you to take payments on your phone.

      So should someone want a service that I charge upfront for, I can take their payment right there (perhaps extra hours of consulting) and then provide the service.

      Food for thought, but tons of options out there =)


      Originally Posted by freudianslip27 View Post

      While we are on the subject of autobilling, I'm using Freshbooks and its pretty cool. It sends out physical invoices monthly, along with a self addressed stamped envelope for returns as well.

      Its nice to not have to worry about invoicing. Just set it up and you're good.

      Matt
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  • Profile picture of the author AverageGuy
    good for you, I had the exact experience.

    at the beginning, I just wanted to have another client, so asked for a very low price, and thought the client would appreciate that (BTW, the client used the system I developed and asked a lot $ from his clients), but I was wrong.

    no matter what the work will be, the first sentence comes from his mouth will always be: "last time, I paid too much, this time, the cost should be lower."

    I thought he was joking, but then I realized that he was not.

    long story short, finally, I sent an email to him and tell him: please do not bother me if you do not want to pay me whatever my time worth. and yes, you can find someone on rentacoder, and good luck.

    guess what, after 2 months, he came back, asked whether he could pay me more to work.


    david
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  • Profile picture of the author Martin Roch
    Good advice Matt,
    I think it's best to spend your time working on what generates the greatest income for you. When you're working with clients you are still trading your time for money, rather than leveraging the automative aspects of the internet to save your time - your most valuable asset.
    Take care
    Martin
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  • Profile picture of the author freudianslip27
    Dexx,

    No way! Payments via iphone. That sounds so neat. I love the idea of setting up recurring too. I'll definitely check that out.

    AverageGuy,

    Sorry to hear your service was being undervalued. Kudos to you for ending things, that's fantastic that he came back and wanted to pay again. Did you take him on again?

    No matter what we do, there will be people out there that don't see that value of what we do. I am very thankful for those that do

    Matt
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  • Profile picture of the author MichaelHiles
    Now the next lesson for you is to not refund money spent on labor, and how to write into your contract that every deviation from the original specification of deliverables is something called a "change order" and it's billable in addition to the original contract.
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    • Profile picture of the author lerxtjr
      Ya, don't feel so bad about the situation. Happens to most of us eventually and the problem is usually with graphic design. People always thing they know exactly what "they" want when in reality it has nothing to do with what they want but what the website visitor "expects" to see when they get there.

      Personally, I was applauding the fact that you were "able" to give a refund. Good lesson there...always get pre-payment as much as you can. That way, you are in control of the project's money part instead of the client. Easier to walk away when you can just send their money back than if you're waiting for that check at the completion of the project.
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  • Profile picture of the author stgeorge01
    Thanks for this post..I've learned new things..
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  • Profile picture of the author Steve Powers
    wow,really sucks.But since you're experienced,I think you may consider the details before you accept them.I mean telling them what you will do and what you will not do for them before your designing.And every big change should be charged so that your work are not wasted.In a word,sometimes,you can't always satisfy your customers.Maybe the best way is to quit.Lol.
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  • Profile picture of the author Kunle Olomofe
    Hi Matt,

    Thanks very much for sharing. I have experienced this myself.

    I find that when you make decisions when you're desperate (for whatever reasons at all), you almost always make wrong choices.

    Moral here is... Don't make life changing choices that favor the other party more than you when the odds appear more against you than for you.

    Basically, don't let your negative situation (financial, emotional etc) be the deciding factor when you're closing deals--You will almost always regret the decisions you make.

    Best of luck with your business,

    Kunle Olomofe
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  • Profile picture of the author Taylor French
    Firing a client for the first time is exhilarating! It's pretty scary at first, but once you do it, you realize that losing that one client will free up your time for several more.
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    • Profile picture of the author kos818
      Hi Matt,

      thanks for sharing. Just cleaned up my ftp logins a couple of days ago, only to find out how many clients I fired in the past...

      What I learned in 9 years doing webdesign is that you should have a kind of status freeze. That meens you force your customer to give you permission for any set of offer and then you do it. If he has some feature or change requests later, you denial them or charge them... That should work!

      @Dexx: Nice. Would love to see something like that in Germany (planning to relocate after 3 years in China), but we are years behind Northern America... Would be a nice startup, haha.

      Cheers,
      Sven
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  • Profile picture of the author Victor Edson
    LOL, what an awesome success story. Seriously though, those people aren't worth the headache. I just ran a Getafreelancer project, and didn't choose any of the ten people for the job.

    Mostly because poor customer service skills, and inability to complete the job. But the same is true from a service provider's prospective. No one wants a dead beat client either!
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  • Profile picture of the author freudianslip27
    It wasn't easy to give back 100% of the money. I put A LOT of work into this, but in retrospect I didn't deliver the finished website to them and they are left with something they really can't do anything with.

    Well, they could give it to the next designer, but they want something already that's a bit different from what they initially had me build.

    Yes, I should have had things in place where once they approved the overall design, it could not have been changed without future charges, instead of them continuing to modify so much as I tried to move forward.

    Ugh, its frustrating to think I didn't gain a dime here, but the value of my future free time is very high.

    I feel a lot better

    Matt
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    • Profile picture of the author MichaelHiles
      Originally Posted by freudianslip27 View Post

      It wasn't easy to give back 100% of the money. I put A LOT of work into this, but in retrospect I didn't deliver the finished website to them and they are left with something they really can't do anything with.

      Well, they could give it to the next designer, but they want something already that's a bit different from what they initially had me build.

      Yes, I should have had things in place where once they approved the overall design, it could not have been changed without future charges, instead of them continuing to modify so much as I tried to move forward.

      Ugh, its frustrating to think I didn't gain a dime here, but the value of my future free time is very high.

      I feel a lot better

      Matt
      It's called "scope creep" and it's common in all creative software-related development projects.

      It's a better approach to deal with the issue on the front end, and then happily make all the changes the client requests until the cows come home, billing them for every nickel and dime they come up with.

      When you have that kind of arrangement, they realize that every little change they come up with costs them real world dollars - they aren't quite as liberal with their own money as they are with yours.
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    Isn't it empowering? Don't feel too bad. I did the same for
    a client after I had completed a $10,000 copywriting job. The
    client was rude!

    The stress caused by some clients can't pay the doctor's
    bill. So you have to say in a polite way, "We are not the
    best match."

    -Ray Edwards
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  • Profile picture of the author JonMills
    Good on you

    Some work is not worth it. Honestly
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    • Profile picture of the author sandra.IMqueen
      Ahh , i know how this feels. You see those who can wait months to get their simple site, they dont respect their business or they don't need it. Both situations are bad for you. You can't please everyone!
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  • Profile picture of the author cityofangels
    Good for you! It had to be done! Gotta use the 80/20 principle.
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  • Profile picture of the author css
    I have had similar problems just repairing pc's as a "favor". Next thing you know I'm getting called all the time because they don't know what a browser is or they have wireless with att on and on and on. Last favor I did, I told them this is the last time as I no longer do this type of work. FIRED! I can only imagine what web design would be like. I worked in customer service in a large data center for a few years and nothing gave me more satisfaction than informing the customer this is going to run $5k dollars an hour by the terms of their contract. You would be amazed at how quik the emergency changes to normal hours. And for one thing any changes had a 48 hour review period. Damn all this. Good luck in the future.
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  • Profile picture of the author freudianslip27
    Yikes! $5k per hour! Now that's the ticket!

    I bet their attitude shifts real quick. Yes, you definitely got to stand up for yourself, even though people may not intend to, they'll take advantage of you, they just want to get as much as they can. Firm boundaries and fair pricing is something I am focusing on.

    Matt
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