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Firing clients can be a very anxiety-inducing topic and many experts face this in their PPC journey. During this week’s PPCChat discussion, host Julie F Bacchini found out the circumstances due to which PPCers had to fire a client, what was client’s reaction, what was the hardest part of firing a client and more.

Q1: Have you ever had to fire a client? If so, what were the circumstances that brought you to that conclusion?

Yes, but it’s not what you might think. we got to a point where the amount of help they needed amounted to us working for free. they didn’t have the ability to increase their overall budget, so we parted ways on good terms, with them looking to in-house. @JuliaVyse

Yes, I have fired clients. Circumstances have varied. Nonpayment is the easiest reason.I have also terminated other client relationships when they do not live up to their responsibilities. Or if they are just consistently difficult or unpleasant to work with. @NeptuneMoon

Sure have. Once was a conflict of interest between clients. A few times clients were rude and disrespectful. I had to show them the door when it was clear they had no respect for what our team had done. @duanebrown

Yes, and it was 10000% due to them being abusive to my team. I tolerate a lot but the moment you treat my people badly, I have zero tolerance. @navahf

I fired a client I was getting great results for because they didn’t want to pay me more. The account had grown about 10x over 3 years and they weren’t comfortable with me increasing my fees. @Pete_Bowen

I’ve thankfully only had to do this, maybe twice in my career. The first time was due to non-payment. The second time was due to the fact that she would stay quiet all week but then power email us in the weekend, change things and then get mad that this would be disapproved/”wrong”. She saw the door within 6 weeks. @adwordsgirl

It has been a rarity for me, but I employ a three-strike system. There are “warnings” and explanations as to the severity of the transgressions (late payments, poor interpersonal interactions, timeline slowdown affecting future pacing of their work and the work of others). @teabeeshell

I’ve also fired myself from an account once (and refunded) when I took on a client with a tiny budget in a very competitive industry. I have no idea why I said yes but a month in I knew this wasn’t working. The client was very gracious about it. @Pete_Bowen

@Pete_Bowen Love that. @navahf

@adwordsgirl those Friday blasts are the WORST! @JuliaVyse

I will say this too, sometimes it is obvious that the relationship needs to end – abusive or inappropriate behavior for example. Other times, it may take longer to realize that it would be best to move on. @NeptuneMoon

@JuliaVyse I would have been okay with it. If it was on Friday. She would send emails on Saturday and Sunday and because at that time I didn’t have my notifications turned off, it would cause so much anxiety. @adwordsgirl

I fired a client for standing me up on 2 scheduled meetings and arriving drunk at a third. She had some issues. @Pete_Bowen

@NeptuneMoon I agree. I think we know when a relationship needs to end, but sometimes we romanticize it and believe that it’ll get better with time. It never really does.@adwordsgirl

Yes, and it was way way better than I thought and the client understood my concerns and we still work together. @runnerkik

@adwordsgirl Agreed. Best to spot those red flags as soon as possible. @Pete_Bowen

One thing I struggle with is when prospects get angry or sad at me for turning them down. I’m pretty strict about being proactive in accepting who I can help and passing on who I can’t. When people fight me on it, it’s tough. @navahf

@navahf business is personal. You can’t separate them. @Pete_Bowen

Same I want to help every client but sometimes I just can’t make money on budgets that low plus a retainer, nevermind expectations. @runnerkik

@navahf It helps if you have a script for yourself that you can rely on when that happens.Also, no is a complete sentence. You can graciously decline the project and then also decline to listen to them after that decision has been made. @NeptuneMoon

I’ve walked away in the pitch phase and have had a few places where we were more than happy to part ways, but never said “you’re fired.” @revaminkoff

Yup, I’ve fired about a dozen over the years. @DigitalSamIAm

Yes, it was a good one but too difficult to work with and they essentially were dictating what to do in Google Ads and I was doing it and that’s not how we work. @MarkChambers

Missed the session, dealing with a bitter experience right now. Complete bad faith, had to send an official demand letter through an attorney.@alimehdimukadam

Q2: How did the client react to being fired? Did you learn anything from that interaction that you have applied to future firing or potential firing situations?

I’ve been cursed out, called an idiot, told that I’m a fraud. I usually drink kava tea before firing a client because if it got to that point it’s not a happy relationship. @navahf

The client I fired because they didn’t want to pay me more was a little grumpy about it but I bent over backwards to help with the transition to their (really) cheap freelancer, and later fix his mistakes. @Pete_Bowen

I have been yelled at, which honestly only validates the decision. As I said in the Q1 thread, I am firm and gracious about it, but it isn’t going to be a long and drawn-out conversation. I’ve made my decision and I am done. It is not my job to make someone else feel ok about that. @NeptuneMoon

Even unpleasant firings are pretty light for us? It might be the holdco of it all, but we try to make it cold and professional.@JuliaVyse

Most just accepted it and moved on. Luckily it didn’t turn into a screaming match but I was clearly unhappy with them the phone with my stern voice. @duanebrown

I had to sue a client my second year in business too. So my views on this were forged in a very unpleasant fire pretty early on. @NeptuneMoon

With enough dialogue ahead of that parting of ways, the writing is usually on the wall. But yes, there have been more extreme, emotional outbursts. Best course is to swallow pride and exit the conversation in grace. (No one ultimately wants to engage in legal action, so in my experience, things resolve okay.) @teabeeshell

I know this sounds bad but I fire fast at this point.  I left an agency for a better life/balance not to be on beckoned call responding day of or in hours.  In the one case it was barely a firing I just said I am not going to meet expectations if xyz are the expectations and they were nice. I also didn’t take a client I was fully going to take when they asked me if I could find a place in the house where my kids would not be seen because the end client was a “cmo” – I have been on calls with global cmos of fortune 100 companies and they are ok with the kids so – firm no. @runnerkik

We try to keep it light – again, think I’ve managed to typically avoid the point it becomes confrontational… unless I just have selective memory. @revaminkoff

The non-payment client turned into my first and only lawsuit so that was fun. The second one, tried to get her management fees refunded so she reported our charges as fraud but the bank sided with us so that worked out fine lol. @adwordsgirl

Non-payment clients are always fun…@revaminkoff

Heh, mine bought a company for $7MM and then went bankrupt in less than a month! Gotta love it! @ferkungamaboobo

Q3: What is your best advice for determining if a client should be up for firing?

If the money they pay doesn’t cover the grief of working with them. @Pete_Bowen

Revenue – can you afford to fire them? then wellbeing, can you actually afford to keep them? then can the situation change? and finally, how does this affect your other work? @JuliaVyse

A few thoughts: @navahf

  1. Are they pleasant to work with and does working with them work with the rest of your book?
  2. Are you the right practitioner for them? Can you help them achieve what they want to achieve for the budget they have?
  3. Is this client creating a conflict of interest and not worth enough to maintain them?

If they don’t respect you/your team or if they violate any of your hard nos. @revaminkoff

Adding to my answer above. It’s situational. I put up with a lot more abuse when I was younger and less certain about my abilities to land new clients. @Pete_Bowen

Mostly, I want to figure out if they’re acting out of malice or bad intentions vs. ignorance or being overwhelmed or meaning well. @revaminkoff

Obviously, egregious behaviour is one strike. Period. Nonpayment is an issue that either gets resolved quickly or they are on their way out. If they are causing me stress or anxiety, then I will start thinking about moving on. I really do not want to work with anyone who is difficult. I don’t need it in my life. That being said, I do try to find out what is going on for all situations except abusive or inappropriate behaviour before I make a final decision. @NeptuneMoon

Non-payment is the obvious one.  It’s a lack of respect for you as a partner, and a financial drain.@Realicity

IMO, there’s no “universal” definition, but here are the factors I consider: @DigitalSamIAm

  1. Cultural + Team Fit – there are some clients that are just bad for the team. This is my #1 consideration – even a great paying client isn’t worth it if it kills/burns out your team.
  2. Fee & Return – we’ve fired one client for continually demanding we go way above and beyond the agreed-upon scope. We’ve offered others increased rates or we’d part ways – at some point, you can’t be locked into old rate structures or losing money on accounts. It isn’t healthy.
  3. Immoral Conduct – I’ve never had to fire a client for this, but there is a morality clause in our contracts. If you ask us to do something we’re not comfortable with, buh-bye.

Over/micro-managing and Nit picking.  The client should not complain about 3 clicks in a $90k monthly spend account. @Realicity

Well @Realicity, those clicks were REALLY Important. @DigitalSamIAm

Client-side has requirements for the relationship (predictable fees, minimum performance, timely deliverables, etc.), so the agency/consultant can as well. Grounds on the latter side can include:

  1. Basic human respect via all forms of communication
  2. On-time payments and/or acceptance of late fees
  3. Timely feedback to manage workload and project pacing
  4. Respecting scope or being willing to pay more

It can be reduced to those simply things. Implementing a “strikes” system can help mitigate the risk of these things festering and blowing up. It keeps both parties on the same page and communicates early and fast. @teabeeshell

Oh, let’s not forget the client that makes changes in the account constantly even though it is clearly stated in the contract that that is a no no. @NeptuneMoon

Oh god, and are there client partners who make the work harder? @JuliaVyse

I think having the right mindset.  I know I’m an expert, and I know my worth, so starting there helps.  I also think of tradeoffs. I could make dinner for my kids, take the burden off at home or be upset over a problematic client.  All that said I do ask the ppc community to make sure I’m not overreacting since I question myself and coming out of a job with unhealthy boundaries. @runnerkik

Oh yes, @NeptuneMoon – those clients are annoying. I file that under the “bad for the team // not a fit” category. We had a client that was like that. Literally wasn’t happy with the scale-up, so went in and turned a $1k/day budget to $10k, then complained when it spent $10k. @DigitalSamIAm

@runnerkik Definitely asking a trusted industry friend for a second opinion never hurts! @NeptuneMoon

Like…what did you think would happen, friend? @DigitalSamIAm

Sometimes you can sus it out a bit in the discovery process too. @runnerkik

How do you all feel about clients that are not problematic per se, but are fully checked out? Like literally they no longer do calls, provide feedback, etc. @NeptuneMoon

@NeptuneMoon I mean, if the cheque clears…it’s weird tho. @JuliaVyse

@NeptuneMoon  I’m not going to fire them for that – but I’d want to know why/what’s going on/ are we not talking to the right people anymore, etc.? @revaminkoff

I’ve had clients like that. Almost as uncomfortable as the clients who want their hands on the levers 24/7. @Pete_Bowen

We have some clients who’d rather be more hands off, and I’m fine with that. @revaminkoff

@NeptuneMoon some are great if things are up and to the right.  Others need to respond more.  Depends. @Realicity

I have never fired a client for being checked out. They are not hitting my fireable buttons, but I also don’t enjoy working on those accounts. Cause sometimes all is fine until you get unloaded on after months and months of radio silence…@NeptuneMoon

It depends – there’s a point where you’re just doing what needs to be done with an ad campaign. That said, if they’re not touching it and you’re not touching it, it’s up to you as the professional to say “am I stealing from them by charging a fee for not doing work?” @ferkungamaboobo

@ferkungamaboobo I’ve felt that and I’ve sent emails about it to the checked out clients. @Pete_Bowen

@ferkungamaboobo I agree.  However, there always seems to be something to do in an account. @Realicity

@NeptuneMoon – as long as they’re around if/when I need something, great. I have a client like that now — literally doesn’t want to talk as long as the lead flow is where they want it. @DigitalSamIAm

All good answers here… not much I can add., @duanebrown

Q4: What is the hardest part of firing a client for you?

The conversation itself. Firing a bad client is a relief. @navahf

Receiving that final payment. @Realicity

The actual conversation. Even with those that need to go, I tend to understand what they need and want to help. and offboarding can be quite a chore when they aren’t ready with a new partner. @JuliaVyse

I feel guilty! I question myself and I worry about never getting a good client…but I always get better fits and the guilt I’m working thru.  Putting yourself first isn’t natural always. @runnerkik

I will say, it is much easier for me to do now than it was when I was starting out. Because I am firm in my decision. It can be easy to get sucked into staying even when you know that is not the right thing to do. I’d encourage you to stick to your position of parting ways. @NeptuneMoon

The hardest part to me is parting ways professionally and amicably.  Just like any relationship. @Realicity

Trying to stay professional when all hell breaks lose. @duanebrown

I think we all also need to occasionally remind ourselves that even our best clients might up and part ways with us at any time. So having guilt about a business decision is a waste of emotional energy.I was just telling this story the other day – I had an amazing client for years. Loved working with them. It was a family business. I worked with the dad. Then the son came in… son decided to part ways with me the month before I gave birth and positioned it like he was doing me a favor. That stuck with me when I am on the other side of things. Nothing is guaranteed. So make your own decisions for what is best for you and your business! @NeptuneMoon

I personally don’t struggle with tough conversations. (No, not tooting my own horn…) I’ve just had enough in my career that I know what to expect and how to manage their flow. I don’t like them, of course, but I work through them okay. The toughest part, business-wise, is they represent a gap in revenue. Ideally, that would be replaced pre-fire, but that’s less common. No matter what, you have the double-edged sword of 1) tough convo, and 2) less revenue. This thrusts you into new business mode, which is my least favourite vein of work. @teabeeshell

The first one was difficult. The second one was easier. By the third one, I numb to it and I viewed it as a business decision. The sun comes up the next day, the world keeps spinning. The first time, I was petrified of that being the end. Now, I look at like everything else: continuing to say “yes” to a bad client means I have to say “no” to a better client. It’s all just priorities. @DigitalSamIAm

I know it can be scary to fire a client (and their revenue). But it really is true that if you stick with a bad client, it is impacting your ability to find a different, good, client. Whether it is simply time or energy to generate or pursue leads or if the bad client is impacting your mental health and happiness. Clearing that out only leads to good things! @NeptuneMoon

The hardest part for me is saying good bye to the revenue. Most relationships have pros and cons. Most professional relationships come with the pro of money baked in. Telling them I don’t want their revenue any more and just having less the next month because of it is always challenging. @BryceLiggins

@BryceLiggins the fear or reality of the loss of revenue keeps a lot of us working with bad clients longer than we should! @NeptuneMoon

Q5: Is there anything you wish you knew then that you know now about ending client relationships?And/or is there anything you’d like advice on now from this group on this topic?

that I can do it. that dollars will come from elsewhere. that it’s not worth wasting time. @JuliaVyse

I wish I knew the value of being selective about who I took on when I first started. Saying no to bad prospects goes a long way to preventing bad clients. @Pete_Bowen

I think what you just said is that other clients will come, you will feel way better.  Scarcity is what these clients thrive on, all that said I try really hard in discovery to figure out red flags, @runnerkik

You are in control of who you work with! And no amount of money is worth your mental health. @NeptuneMoon

In Q4 I mentioned the hardest part is saying goodbye to the revenue. If it’s truly a bad engagement that needs to end, it’s likely costing more money than you realize. Rip the bandaid off, and free your head space for bigger and better clients to replace it. @BryceLiggins

Also, have clear termination clauses in your contracts! @NeptuneMoon

Every time you keep a “bad” / “toxic” client on your roster, you’re effectively saying “yes” to that client. and every time you say “yes” to something, you’re implicitly saying “no” to something else – more time with your friends/family, a better client engagement, a healthier mindset, whatever. Firing clients is all about saying “yes” to the right thing, not saying “no” to the wrong thing. @DigitalSamIAm

That my self-worth is not tied succeeding for everyone. @navahf

Try to part ways as professionally and amicably as possible. It has several benefits @Realicity

  1. Helps you receive your final payment
  2. Helps your reputation, or at least doesn’t harm it
  3. Helps keep the relationship as the client could always return

I’ve long thought about an “Onboarding Questionnaire” (pre-SOW) that helps suss out possible flags. It would be imperfect, but it might shine a light on things like: @teabeeshell

  • Do they respect the relationship to fill it out with care?
  • How do they approach conflict or differences of opinion?
  • Are they savvy when it comes to industry news?
  • Are they focused on core business math metrics (i.e. affordable CAC, given OpEx, COGS, and desired net profit)?

Also, upping your game in selecting clients is a really important part of having a clientele that are good and decent clients! Ask the hard questions. Have an intake form. Know the types of clients you want to say yes to and those that you want to pass on. And stick to those standards! @NeptuneMoon

When they ask you for references, be sure to ask them too! are they good to work with? why are they looking for a new partner? (Alexa, play anti-hero!) @JuliaVyse

This industry is small. we all know each other, and can ask each other how things are working with xyz folks. @JuliaVyse

Also, get paid in advance of your work! Set up your recurring billing to bill for next month’s work this month. If they get behind address it right away! @NeptuneMoon

@NeptuneMoon I haven’t had the audacity to pull this one off yet but I’m probably in my own head about it… do clients ever give you a hard time about billing in advance? @BryceLiggins

I had a client that was a great payer and then they weren’t. We talked it out and they went on a payment plan for their back invoices. Ironically, I ended up firing them after I brought on a friend to work on their account and they were incredibly disrespectful to her. @NeptuneMoon

@BryceLiggins we bill at the beginning of the month for that months work with a 15 or 30 day net.  (Feb 1st for February work)This has worked well for us. @NeptuneMoon

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