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Gini Dietrich

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Fire a Client?

By: Gini Dietrich | January 26, 2012 | 
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Yes, I know it’s Facebook question of the week time, but we’re trying something new this week.

You see, Social Fresh wrote last week about the best times of the week and day to blog, in order to get social shares.

Historically, Mondays and Tuesdays on Spin Sucks are our big days, but the Social Fresh research proves we might be missing something on Thursdays.

I’m curious to see if a blog post runs at 8 a.m. and the video runs at noon, if there is a difference both in traffic and social shares.

So Lisa Gerber has answered Barry Silver’s Facebook question and that will run at noon.

This morning, however, you get an intellectual discussion about when to determine it’s time to fire a client.

A Story

In late 2010, a friend called me and said he had the next big idea and was interested in working with us.

Having learned my lesson with this particular friend in the past, I refused to do any work or put anyone from my team on his business until he signed a contract and sent us a deposit.

He did.

And we got to work early last year. You see, his business was a me-too product in the daily deal space, but we were really excited about how they were building to differentiate themselves. We thought we had some great ideas for building some Groupon competition in Chicago.

And then…

In the very first meeting with our combined teams, he looked at my team and said, “Don’t screw this up or I’ll fire you.”

Whoa! Way to motivate!

My team was a little taken aback, but instead of listening to the red flags in my mind, I pushed forward and rebuilt everyone’s confidence to do some good work.

The meetings didn’t get much better. In some cases, he’d schedule meetings and not show up. In other cases, he’d have his right-hand person read us the riot act. On work that we hadn’t had enough time to complete.

This went on for the first month. We sent our second invoice.

Going into the fifth week of working with them, the Chicago Tribune wrote a story on the 40+ (!!!) daily deal sites in Chicago alone.

And our client was not included in the story.

To say I was yelled at is being nice. I’ve never had anyone, let alone a client, speak to me the way he did. I’ve never had someone use so much profanity in delivering a message. I had to tell him to call me back when he calmed down and I hung up the phone.

The funny thing? The client’s site wasn’t yet launched. Heck, it wasn’t even designed yet. So for us to have gotten them included in that story would have been nothing short of a miracle. Not to mention, we don’t typically pitch round-up stories like that for our clients, especially when there are 40 other businesses to compete with in 800 words.

I explained both points, but he didn’t care. There was no reasoning with him. Even the proposal we’d agreed on, just five weeks earlier, didn’t have a media relations component.

At that point, he and I agreed to go our separate ways and he never paid our second invoice, even though we’d done double the work he’d already paid for and, because of his 24/7 needs, I’d pulled nearly my entire team onto the account.

It hurt us fiscally. Badly. When I had our attorney send a letter, he responded by saying, “I’m not paying this invoice and, if you pursue it, I’ll have you and your business ruined. I’m very well-connected in Chicago and it won’t be hard to do.”

The Lesson

His response made me want to fight. I’m pretty sure I would have spent every penny we had fighting him. I would have let him put us out of business just to prove I was right.

I like to be right. And he treated us really poorly. I needed my team to see I was willing to fight for them.

My attorney was a bit more calm than me. We had a discussion about strategy and what it would take (both money and time) to fight to get the invoice paid. It would have ended up costing us more than double what he owed us. And he owed us a lot of money.

So I let it drop…as much as it still pains me to do so.

The moral of the lesson is you should always listen to your gut.

After that very first meeting, when I had all those red flags practically jumping out at me, I should have fired him.

It would have saved us a lot of time, a huge write-off, and my team’s morale.

Special thanks to Bourn Creative for the image.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

145 comments
Panorama Stitching
Panorama Stitching

one of the most diffucult-est part in business is to fire a client! have had bad experiences as well.

bryanwillmert
bryanwillmert

Boy oh boy does that ring very familiar for me right now. Thanks for sharing that Gini!! The pain of that sucks but i am sure the pain of going further would have been much worse! I appreciate your candid conversation!

Latest blog post: Product Placement

rdopping
rdopping

Wow! That's a terrible situation. I suppose the friend is not a friend anymore. It's so, so hard for me to say no to a friend. I can't do it easily but I never really had a situation quite as bad as yours. I got caught in a friend/work relationship a few years ago and even though I got paid it cost me 3 times in time than what the job was worth. I had to finish it, didn't I? Yuk. Suffice it to say I have a hard time continuing to call someone a friend if they do that to you.

Good lesson learned for me. I won't take work from "friends" anymore instead recommend another designer to work with them. When a client becomes a friend (as they so often do) there is usually still a buffer of the original professional relationship there that you can always fall back on if it starts to go south. Too bad if it does but hey, we are all "big boys", so to speak.

Thanks for sharing (and reminding me of my story).

dariasteigman
dariasteigman

Hi Gini,

Thanks for sharing this story. I think too often people are afraid to say no to business (it's not always fun, especially in lean times)--but I've found I'm always better off long term trusting my instincts. When I don't, I need up pretty miserable. And these are always clients that no one (at least me) can make happy.

Love the charitable use of the word "friend" in describing the start of dealing #2 (or #3?) with this client.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

Wow what a powerful lesson. Thanks for sharing and being so candid. We all make mistakes but as long as you learn from it it's ok. Listening to my gut instinct has been something my Mom has ingrained in me since I was a child...I remember you giving me the same advice as well. It's always nice to be reminded!

Um and I hope you're not still friends with this d-bag..

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

Woaw... some friend...!!

How is this mate's company doing now??? The laws of Karma dictate that they were bought out by a larger/more honorable company than them (Enron?) before being stitched up on the sale price ("Dollars?? No we said - 1 million Lira"). Cue expensive legal battle resulting in loss of personal wealth and a life scouring the multitude of Chicago Discount offers for a cut price lawyer...

Nikki Little
Nikki Little

I had one of those "should have listened to my gut" moments during my first internship at a PR agency, and I will NEVER not pay attention to red flags again. It was a horrible and demoralizing experience, and I'm kind of surprised I pursued a PR career after the hell the agency owner put me and the other interns through. But, I learned a lot of lessons from it and am now a better/stronger person. But yes...never ignore the red flags.

Thanks for sharing this story. Hopefully it pops into someone's head the next time they're in a red flag situation.

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

Firing Clients is necessary sometimes - especially when you value your time and are in high demand. Not everyone is in the position to be picky, but it's certainly ideal when you can choose who you work with. Very good topic and story - I'm sure you won't hesitate to Trump the next jackass that raises your flags!

TomMartin
TomMartin

Gini

Great reminder -- every time I've ignored that little voice I've regretted it in some way. Funny how out Spidey Sense is so well trained eh?

@TomMartin

Shelley Pringle
Shelley Pringle

Boy, can I relate to your story. My gut told me something was wrong when a client balked at signing a contract. They then insisted on including a quote from a well known rock star in a news release, even though we didn't have his permission--talk about unethical! It got worse when they wouldn't pay their bills and then threatened to counter sue ME if I pursued any legal action. Fortunately I was able to take them to small claims court (not very expensive) and get at least part of the money they owed me. In hindsight I should have insisted on all my money upfront. I know it's childish, but half-way through my engagement with them I added their phone number to my directory so it displayed "F**k Wits" whenever they called me.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

I remember the elevator ride down after that first meeting. We both looked at each other: "Don't screw this up!"

Oh, OK. Because we were totally going to, so thanks for being clear.

That was the moment right there - and we've used that as a lesson more than once; to follow instinct. You finally blogged about it. :)

Karl Sly
Karl Sly

This post reminds me of kind hearted client I'm currently working with now, but I have to say your client sounds a bit more friendlier then mine. People like this deserve success in seeing their energy magnified and returned to their own business.Consider your time spent an investment, you'll never hear from him again. That's probably worth a lot more then what he owes you.

wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites

I was also reminded of the fact that sooner or later in the PR business, the contacts you depend on in the media and elsewhere will come to know that you are working with a complete A-hole. That hurts the brand. Thanks for the very timely moral lesson!

SFMichele57
SFMichele57

Wow! Brings back (not happy) memories: I experienced a similar, "highly motivational" welcome from a new employer on my first day during the "here's the file cabinet, this is the front door key" orientation. And, as this was during our still-ongoing Great Recession and I was so glad to have a job, I optimistically forged onward. Never again. When they come right out at the outset and definitely tell you -- as they did in your case and in mine -- in a few words or with a speech that they don't *really* want to work **with** you, you must believe it, get up, leave the office, and not look back.

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

@wagnerwrites I like that viewpoint. Sometimes, no matter what business we are in, we get so focused on the narrow picture that we forget to see how our choices will impact the bigger picture...how others will see us based on our choices and how that does, indeed, affect the perception of the brand as a whole. Excellent to remember for all of us!! @ginidietrich @Lisa Gerber @belllindsay

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SFMichele57 Was it our client?? LOL! Man! Doesn't it make you angry that you didn't pack up and leave? I guess we think, "Ah surely that was a joke. I mean, it's my first day." I'm really sorry that happened to you. Some people really suck.

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  1. [...] When It’s Time to Fire the Client by @ginidietrich via @spinsucks: [...]

  2. […] Several months ago, one of my clients had to do the deed of firing a client. […]