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Why I Fire Clients

“Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more
Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more.”
– Ray Charles


I fire clients.

Not with great frequency, and not on a whim. But I do fire them – and more often than you might think. More than conventional business “wisdom” would dictate.

Whenever I say that, people will always look at me surprised and in a bit of disbelief. About half will even ask me if I’m joking (I’m not). This process has become so second nature to me that I don’t agonize about it, or spend a lot of time analyzing it anymore when it becomes necessary. But those shocked reactions by others make me realize what a deviation this is from the norm.

So why do it? Customers are what keep a business afloat, right? As business owners we expend significant amounts of time and money acquiring them in the first place. Customer acquisition and retention are critically important parts of having a successful business. So long as people are willing to pay, why on earth would you ever terminate the relationship?

A year or two back a business partner of mine started working with a very high-end business consultant. The consultant provided a lot of advice, but his main mantra (or at least the one that stuck with me the most) was a more colorful/expletive filled version of this key thought: “NO JERKS.”

No jerks. Period. It does not matter how big a client they are or how much they pay you, they will cost you in the end. Cost you your time, your energy, and your sanity. And ultimately all of that costs you money. It does not matter how much money they are giving you, they will cost you more. Every. Single. Time.

Implementing that policy was an absolute game changer. And was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. In our office, we don’t complain about clients we don’t like because we don’t have clients we don’t like. At least not for long. I don’t mean that if there is a minor disagreement or occasional tense moment in a business relationship that someone instantly receives the “J” label. But if a person is disrespectful or abusive to my staff, rude, insulting, demanding, or dismissive of our value and service…yeah, gone.

My mom always drummed this thought into my head: “When people show you what they are, believe them.” If they show you they are jerks, believe it and cut them loose. And when I had my office in the same building as my dad’s business he fired a prospective client for me. Before I even met the guy. The man arrived 20 minutes early for his appointment while I was still in a meeting with other people, and within 5 minutes started complaining that he was having to wait. He became rude and obnoxious. Dad gave him the boot. So…shout out to the parents.

(Side note: if you’ve never fired a Jerk Client, it is an absolute pleasure. People have lived in the world of “the customer is always right” and “I’d like to speak to your manager” getting them whatever they want. Telling them you refuse to work with them anymore absolutely blows their minds.)

Interestingly, despite semi-routinely having to tell a client that things just aren’t working out and that they need to go find help elsewhere (we fired a dozen or so this past tax season), my firm’s revenues continue to rise. Because we are only dealing with people whom we like and who like us (and respect our time and processes). This builds us up, motivates us (we love the clients we have so we want to do anything possible to help them), and energizes us. And that allows us to handle their needs and the needs of our other clients.

And I should explain: When we dismiss clients, we don’t insult them. We don’t say “Hey you jerk-face, get your jerk butt up out of my chair and walk your jerk legs out of the door! Oh, and did I mention that you are a jerk?” We approach it professionally, but firmly. If they (in their amazement over not having their poor behavior validated) want to argue about why they are being terminated, we calmly tell them the reasons. It’s not a name-calling contest. But most importantly, it’s not a negotiation.

It was noted above that great customers – the ones we love and enjoy – inspire us to work harder and do whatever we can to help them succeed. The jerk clients have the exact opposite effect. They sap you of your energy and drain your motivation to accomplish other things. This cannot be emphasized enough: no matter how much they pay you, they will cost you more in the end.

So get rid of them. Life is too short to deal with people who are nasty and do not respect us. It will make your work life much more pleasant. And ultimately, you will actually make more money without them.

So, to paraphrase Ray Charles: “Hit the road, jerk. And don’t you come back no more.”

Any accounting, business, or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties.

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