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Dealing with the client from hell – Yes, you can fire them!

Posted by mandyf on February 16, 2012

In business, just like in your personal life, there are going to be times when you cannot seem to get eye to eye with someone. This is true in the SEO/SMM world as well. Over the years, I have heard story after story about the client form hell. The story always sounded the same and I used to think how awesome it would be if there was only one client from hell out there to watch out for. Unfortunately, that type of thinking was just as fanciful as thinking the the lottery was a gimmie because I won $100 the first time I played. The lottery wound up to not be an ATM for my own personal use, and the client from hell turned out to be legions of clients from hell. Thankfully, not all have been mine, but I’ve had my share.

The tendency of many of my friends in the SEO/SMM business has been to be thankful for any work that came their way. To be fair, it is a good thing to be thankful to work doing something you enjoy, but there is a time when you need to cut the cord on occasion.  The client that was once a favorite may turn out to be Satan – and no one wants to work for Satan. Still, people do.Whether it can be legitimized by tacking on a PITA tax or the client from hell is retained because you think you really need them, there are situations when you have to let them go – because trust me, they have no qualms about letting you go. Here are some scenarios from real people and their clients from hell – and yes, their business survived after firing their client.

A copywriter we’ll call Meg had a client from her early days when she was trying to break in. At first, the work was steady, but not very lucrative. She may have pulled a couple hundred a month for a dozen or so articles. Once her client’s site was well populated, it became an on and off thing. For years, Meg kept her price the same for this one client even though her new clients paid nearly triple that rate. The client however started wanting more. More words per article, more articles per order, free use or original images and all for the same price it had always been. Meg’s client was convinced that the articles she could buy on Elance would be just as good and a third the price – and used that as a not too subtle threat.

How Meg handled it was to inform her that she was booked solid but if she wanted a rush job and revision for each the cost would be ____. Client from hell bristled and swore she would never give Meg work again – at least after this one project was done at the old rate. Meg fired her on the spot, business went on, and client from hell to this day comes back to Meg willing to pay whatever she charges for copy that is both optimized and reader friendly. Meg still refuses.

Another friend, Jeff, is an SMM. He had a client come to him to get some ugly content about his business pushed off page one of Google. Jeff shot him a quote, started the next day, and in just over two weeks the damaging results were pushed down. What client from hell didn’t count on was that he was being actively attacked by a former partner. Every couple weeks , new content dogging client from hell appeared that needed to be pushed down. Things got rough then.

Client from hell began insisting that the new content be pushed down as well – and under several different and previously un-discussed search terms. Jeff shot him a new quote for another month of service. CFH paid, and Jeff was back to work. What could go wrong? CFH insisted that his businesses Facebook account not be used to help the process along. The same went for his Twitter,  Linkedin, blog that sat empty without a single post on it, and pretty much every single thing you could imagine being useful. CFH didn’t know who these people were that were now interacting with his content – and that it must be some kind of spam or Jeff trying to take over his accounts. Whatever it was, it must be the worst kind of evil! Jeff worked out the month using what he had at his disposal, which was basically nothing but updating job listings on CFH’s site, and then fired him. Jeff suffered no loss of business.

If you reach a point with a client where you cannot provide them with what they want, it is time to part ways. Some clients do not understand how the SERPs or social networking works and they fear it. They expect magic as if Harry Potter wielded his wand and bad results disappeared overnight and optimized content popped into existence in its place – seriously – some really do!  How do you know it’s time to fire a client though?

1. They are actually starting to lose you money. If you need to pour more time and resources into a client because they won’t let you do your job the most efficient way you know to do it – cut them lose!

2. If every move you make elicits frantic emails needing an explanation of the same basic things over and over again – drop them like a bag of dirt!

3. If they start threatening you saying they can get someone else to do it cheaper, faster – whatever…. punt them off your toe like a scud missile. If you let them do it once, they will keep doing it. Don’t work for a bully!

4. If a client starts trying to change the terms of your contract mid-stream without properly compensating you – send them packing! They will do it to you over and over if you let them.

5. If a client becomes a “slow payer” even though you delivered in full on time – this is not the client for you. A copywriter I know got stuck almost one year waiting on her CFH to review an 80+ page project line by line revision fashion. Eventually, she told him to keep the money and get someone else to do the revisions because each exchange cost her time she could use to make that money back twice over.

Not all clients are bad and similarly, not all SEOs and SMMs are good – look at Paul Cristoforo. Both sides can be bad and both sides can be good, but just not the right fit for each other. The lesson to be learned is that cutting the client from hell lose is usually going to make you money in the long run, save you aggravation and actually protect your reputation. You will still get work and they will get someone else to do the job you did – and then the CFH is their headache.

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3 Responses to “Dealing with the client from hell – Yes, you can fire them!”

  1. Thank you for posting this. I just “fired” a customer for not paying in a timely manner and, well, it was scary! I’m a small business and they are a large international organization. To an outsider I know it looks like I’m nuts to drop such a big name, but it is truly nonsensical to finance their promotional marketing materials indefinitely (and without being paid interest, of course).

    Anyhow, this post is validating and I greatly appreciate it!

  2. mandyf said

    I absolutely know exactly where you are. The first time you say no and let go of a big client you wonder if you’re ever going to get another that makes up for the loss. It really is scary. The other side of the coin is that if a 10 hour job (for instance) suddenly turns into a 20 hour job and there is no pay increase and you have to carry the nut for all of that extra effort – is it really worth it? Not in the least. Some may disagree, but I’ve found there are far more people looking for help with their online presence than there are people offering their services. That doesn’t mean you can hold a client up for ransom, but if they don’t live up to their end of the deal – there is always another one. This doesn’t even get into how much better you feel emotionally because when you work with people you dread and your first thought when you see an email from them or their number on a caller ID is that you need a handful Xanex, it’s gone beyond hurting your business and isn’t worth it.

  3. Reblogged this on dexterhotel and commented:
    Yes Indeed…

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