Posted on February 16, 2009
Filed Under (Advice, Ecommerce, General, Networking) by jennifer

Turning away work — saying no to a project or firing a client — is never easy, especially in tough economic times like these when many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat. But sometimes it is necessary, for both your business and your sanity.

If you do not have the people power, time, or resources to fulfill an order or properly execute a project, do not agree to take it on. As tempting as it is to say “I’ll just figure it out” or pray things will go your way, remember it is always much better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around — and ultimately more profitable, too. (For a great example, read “The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart” from Fast Company.)

Similarly, if a client is giving you more grief than revenue, it may be time to end that relationship — or at the very least have a conversation with that client about what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. Or you may want to charge that client more to keep doing business.

True story: I once worked with a husband-and-wife design team who referred to difficult clients as “pee-ers,” as in these clients would (figuratively, of course) pee all over the couples’ designs, although they kept hiring them. The couple didn’t want to outright fire these difficult clients, but they felt they needed to do something. Their solution:  they started quoting “pee-ers” (i.e., high maintenance clients) a higher hourly or project rate, figuring it would either scare the client away, which was fine with the couple, or they would be more fairly compensated for having to deal with these difficult clients.

Similarly, if a client changes the terms of your contract or asks you to provide additional work without additional compensation (something which seems to be occurring more and more), it is perfectly acceptable, even necessary, to renegotiate the terms of the contract (i.e., ask for more money) — or to say no, especially if doing the extra work affects your bottom line or prevents you from doing other work. Remember, you are in business to make a profit.  No profit, no business.

By the way, just because a client is rude to you does not mean it is okay to be rude back. Just remember the golden rule (which is not “she who has the gold rules”) and always be polite and professional when dealing with existing and prospective clients — and clear and upfront, from the beginning of each assignment or project, about how you work and what your expectations and fees are. Many businesses explain their business philosophy and how they do business on the “About Us” or “Terms and Conditions” page of their website, as well as in their contracts, which I think is an excellent idea.

For more on this topic, check out “When, Why, and How to Fire That Customer” from BusinessWeek, as well as this shorter piece “On Firing a Customer.”

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