Every business has good and bad clients. There are clients that make your work worthwhile, and those that treat your work as insignificant. Clients with whom you have a seamless relationship, and those that you prefer to see less frequently. There are even clients that can be excellent at times, while, at others, are more of a thorn in your side.
And you must learn to get along with all of them, despite all of their strengths and weaknesses.
But at some point (if you haven’t already), you’ll find yourself with a charming client that comes to you with the best of intensions, promising nothing but exciting projects. And all too soon that client becomes your worst nightmare – a client that will end up monopolizing all of your time and energy and that you’ll bitterly regret ever meeting.
Toxic clients are those clients that not only make your work more difficult, but also disrupt your work environment. They are veritable black holes that endlessly absorb your vital energy and deteriorate your business day by day, while they continue to get more from you for less.
This article will provide you with some key ways to identify toxic clients and a number of reasons explaining why you should part ways with them.
How to Identify a Toxic Client
At one time or another, all of us have come across a toxic client and we’ve learned to recognize their true nature over time (sometimes after it’s already too late).
Toxic clients are veritable masters of camouflage and present themselves as kind and charming individuals to gain your trust. But at the earliest possible opportunity, they’ll set the gears in motion to begin milking you for all you’re worth, and you may not even notice.
The modus operandi of the toxic client is to seek out small, heavily dependent, businesses that they can easily manipulate and convince of their profitability, all at the cost of your time and money.
Some of the most common characteristics shared by the majority of toxic clients are:
- They want you to do everything they ask. No matter how absurd or technically unfeasible it may be, if they ask for something, they want you to do it. They leave no room for discussion. At first, you may acquiesce to these little “whims” in order to gain their trust, but soon these requests will become evermore numerous and will end up controlling your work.
- They question your knowledge and expertise. Toxic clients don’t care that you’re an expert in the field. In fact, they only hired you because your services were inexpensive and/or they know you’ll do anything they ask. It goes without saying that they don’t value your opinion and they will let you know. Not directly, of course, but little by little you’ll begin to see how what you say goes in one ear and out the other.
- Everything is due yesterday. Coming from a toxic client, the word “urgent” loses all meaning. Tasks that supposedly needed to get done today, and to which you devote all of your time, prove to be not very important and end up at the bottom of some box.
- They constantly change their criteria. Now they want one thing, later it’s another, and then they want you to just leave it as is. They don’t know what they want and they aren’t even aware of it. And because they know that you’ll always be there, they don’t even stop for a minute to think about what they are asking of you.
- They expect you to be at their full disposal. No matter the day or time, if they pick up the phone, they expect you to be on the other end of the line. They’ll tell you that they prefer to communicate via telephone, rather than email, because it’s faster or more convenient. But that’s a lie. They don’t use email because they want to have your full attention at all times and can’t stand being made to wait.
- They pay late and discount your rates. They think everything is too expensive and will ask you to give them a discount at the earliest opportunity. And to make matters worse, many toxic clients will make late and/or bad payments. They make up any excuse (including citing the poor quality of your work) to get a discount or to refuse to pay you the agreed upon amount.
- They absorb all of your energy. After working with a toxic client for a while, you’ll discover that your vital energy has slowly dwindled to inconceivable levels. You’ll notice yourself feeling tired, irritable, overwhelmed… And if you don’t find a timely remedy, sooner or later the stress will even affect your personal life.
If some of your clients fit the description of one or more of these characteristics, it is very likely that you’re dealing with a toxic client and my recommendation is to cut ties with them as soon as possible.
Why to Dismiss a Toxic Client
A bad client is manageable (up to a certain point), but a toxic client is someone that you should distance yourself from as soon as possible.
Here are just a few reasons to do so:
- You’ll increase the profitability of your business. Although it may seem counterintuitive, toxic clients are not as profitable as you think. Sure, they may pay all of your invoices on time, but the money you make won’t even come close to covering all of the time you’ve dedicated, and even less so, the personal costs you’ve assumed by working with these clients.
- You’ll enjoy your work more. By parting ways with a toxic client, you’ll have more time and energy to devote to your work and increase your efficiency. You’ll be able to put all of your energy into what you truly enjoy and, as a result, you’ll be happier.
- Your good clients will thank you. You’ll be able to dedicate more time to your good clients, both in terms of quality and quantity. This will serve to strengthen your relationship, making it more productive for both parties.
- You’ll gain self-confidence. You’ll recover your energy levels and become a more self-assured and happy person once again. Your stress will fade away and your personal life won’t continue to be affected by your professional life.
- You’ll improve your reputation. Thanks to your renewed confidence and recommendations from your best clients, your image will be strengthened and will act as a magnet for new and interesting clients.
How to Fire a Toxic Client
Above all, you must remain calm and suppress any strong emotion. The best way to communicate your wishes is through email, as you can carefully measure the tone and length of your message and there will be less chance of a misunderstanding.
Avoid blaming the client for the situation. Simply explain that your working relationship isn’t what you expected and that you must move forward with other projects.
Obviously, if the client has already paid you in advance for some service, you’ll have to complete the task as soon as possible. In fact, I suggest not sending your farewell message until you’ve completed any and all pending tasks you have with the client.
Working with clients isn’t easy. And remember, you don’t have to work with the first person that requests your services. An important aspect of any business is choosing which clients you prefer to work with in order to foster healthy and beneficial relationships for your business.
Have you ever had to part ways with a toxic client? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like How to spot bad clients (And How To Cut Them Loose).