Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When You Have to Fire A Client

© Win Nondakowit - Fotolia.com
Last week on one of the resume writing association e-lists, there was a post from a resume writer who was looking for a way to fire a client. The client in question had initially negotiated a reduced rate for a pair of resumes (although I personally don't feel that two-for-one discounts are a good idea in the resume writing industry — we're not selling shoes here, people!) and then was attempting to further negotiate, by saying that he'd pay for his resume once he'd had a chance to review his friend's resume.

At that point, the resume writer realized the client was likely a PIA, and didn't want to work with him (or his friend) anymore. The writer was looking for a way to let the client down. My advice, keep it short and sweet: "Look, this just isn't going to work." Don't argue with them, or allow them to talk you into reconsidering.

One of the things I do for non-resume clients is media training. (Some of you were on my "Feed the Media: How to Get Publicity For Your Resume Writing Business" call, where I shared strategies for resume writers wanting more publicity.) The downside of working with the media is sometimes you'll be asked questions you don't want to answer. When I train clients, I tell them: Stick to your message point. Repeat it over and over again until the interviewer gets the clue that they're not going to get a different answer from you. (If you waffle, they'll eventually get you to say something that you regret; but if you stick to the same answer, eventually they'll get bored and move on.)

So when the client says, "But I want to work with you," you repeat, "I understand that, but I've decided we're not going to be able to work together." If they say, "But I've already spent (hours) on this," you respond back, "Yes, I've spent quite a bit of time on it too, and that's regretful. I'm refunding what you've paid, but I'm sorry, we won't be finishing the project together." You can either say the same exact thing ("This isn't going to work,") or rephrase it slightly. But don't give any wiggle room, and don't back down. If it didn't feel "right" to you to work with this person, it isn't going to feel any "better" to continue the relationship. I'm of the opinion that this is business, not personal. In your marriage, YES, you should definitely "work things out." With clients, I don't feel the same way. (Some say the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I'm not insane.)

I've had to fire my share of clients over the years. (By "my share," that's a handful of resume writing clients, and about the same number of clients in the "non-resume writing side" of things.) The reasons have been varied. There was the resume client who made me cry. (She was an attorney and was impossible to please. I held it together until she left the office, but she didn't walk out still a client. I fired her the minute she became verbally abusive.) I fired the client who came in smelling like pot. (My husband noticed that one, because I lost my sense of smell at age 15.) Sorry, I'm not going to prepare you for the interview only to have you fail the drug test. And this guy was in the Air Force!

It's not easy to fire a client ... but really, it is. As self-employed resume writers, we get to decide who our clients are — who we will, and will not, work with. Life is too short to put up with people who are disrespectful, take advantage of us, or who "change the rules" and then expect us to just go along with it. Even if you've worked with a client before, you have the right to say, "Sorry, not again."

On the non-resume side of things, I've had clients who I worked with who weren't a good fit, and eventually, my head caught up with my gut, and we would part ways. Other times, circumstances would change, and that would necessitate me saying, "sayonara." A few years ago, an association I had worked with for many years (they were one of the first clients of our business, in fact), had a change in leadership. The new board president became obsessed with wanting to draw up a new contract for our work with them. (They had been a client for about 10 years at that point, and were working off a contract from 2004 — including 2004 rates, which I didn't mind, because I enjoyed the work.) Long story short, the board came back with an 8-page contract (written by lawyers) that I just couldn't live with. It wasn't easy to say "Sorry, we won't be working with you anymore" — but really, given that contract, it was.

Because our client relationships require trust. And integrity. I won't (knowingly) include false information on a resume. I once turned down a LOT of money to write a bio for a guy who owned an "adult" store in town. (I didn't want my name on that!) If a client treats me (or anyone I work with) poorly, they're no longer a client. You may not feel that way about clients in your business. (One resume writer once said to me, "As long as their check clears, I don't care."). But that's not how I work. I believe you are known by the company you keep. (And I don't want to be featured on the 5 p.m. news as the resume writer whose client was fired for lying on his resume, and he blames me because I included false information when I knew it wasn't true. I will never be that person, because it won't happen [knowingly] on my watch.)

So trust your gut. Don't back down if a client challenges how YOU choose to operate your business. (There are some things you will hold sacred. Know those things, and don't waver — things like not taking clients on Sundays, or only accepting full payment in advance to start a project.) I've found that when I compromise on those things, it usually doesn't end up working out.

And when it doesn't work out, don't be afraid to cut the cord and say, "I'm sorry, but we're not going to be able to work together." Sometimes, it's what you've got to do. And sometimes it just feels good.


  1. Great post. I recently fired a client for the first time because of several issues; the most damaging pertained to false information. It's so important to identify your company values, stick to them, and follow your gut. Although I spent a considerable amount of time and energy on the project, I knew it would be better for me to cut my losses at this point. I'm so glad I followed my gut.

    Rema Merrick
    The Write Career Boutique