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Breaking Up with Bad Clients: It’s Not You…It’s Me.

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 14 years and 50 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

As any type of company or consultant, the WRONG clients can destroy your success. It is often very tempting to keep clients, since the money seems nice, but when you drill down to the nitty gritty, they are often not very profitable at best, and a complete resource drain that can damage your pocket book and your quality of life at worst. Beyond strictly fiscal drains, a bad client raises your stress levels, and makes life much more difficult all the way around. In just about any company, the pareto principle applies to bad clients. 20% of clients create 80% of the problems. Breaking it off with a client can be a scary experience, but those that practice "culling the client heard" can attest to just how important it is. If you continue to take on clients that are not great, you will end up in a vicious cycle of doing work you don’t like for people you don’t like. Don’t think twice – break up with them. Here’s some tips for breaking up with the wrong types of clients whether you do design, development, marketing, or ANY type of service based occupation as a consultant or company.

  • It’s not you it’s me. We just grew apart
    The goals of our company aren’t really progressing in the same direction, and I can’t continue to help you anymore.
  • I think we should see other people
    You would be better served by another company.
  • I need some space
    I really can’t continue to work with you due to my current workload.
  • Can’t we just be friends?
    I’d rather just answer your occasional question (via email) than charge you money, and be obligated to speak with you (by phone).
  • We aren’t right for each other
    My core competencies just don’t jive with your strategic vision

Internet marketing/ web development specific:

  • You have changed. I don’t know if you are relevant to me anymore*
  • It’s not you, it’s your data.*
  • Let’s just be linking partners*
  • You know I am afraid of commitment which is why I only do PPC. You are more SEO*
  • The thrill is gone. Your time on site is just average.*
  • We never even convert anymore.
  • We want different rankings.
  • Our information architecture is just too different
  • Here are your website files.
  • I think it’s time you changed your ftp information
  • I think that maybe you need a designer with a little more technical knowledge than I can give. You know, someone who has more of the traits you’re looking for. **
  • Would you like your contract mailed back to you in one piece or shredded into pieces?***
  • You’re website is just ranking a little too fast for me.
  • You’ve done nothing wrong. It’s me…I’ve just lost interest in the web.
  • I couldn’t ask you to trust me again after another Florida update, it wouldn’t be fair.
  • Your links just aren’t organic enough for my tastes.
  • Your site just isn’t a priority to you anymore. I really need someone who can fulfill my recommendations.
  • If our relationship was a redirect, it would be 410
  • You’re just not keeping your code up anymore. Do you even CARE what it looks like?
  • I can continue to charge you if you’d like, but I can’t do your work.
  • "I’m sorry, but I think I have decided on a new text link advertisement service."

    "What, do you not find our link offerings as attractive anymore?"

    "No, of course not, it’s just, well, I met this other company and, well, they have links with higher pagerank that aren’t as obviously paid"
    "Well, can’t we see what we can work out?"

    "I’m sorry, I have to explore this new company and see what happens, to know whats best for me and my site"***

*Courtesy of Andres Galdames of Clicktracks – who sparked the idea for this post
**Courtesy of Reese of
***Courtesy of SugarRae

You might also try some variations of the geek breakup list – I would be particularly fond of variations including:

  1. You have been unsubscribed from our client list – click here to confirm
  2. You’re a frontpage person, and you know I’ve always been about Dreamweaver. It’s not going to work out.
  3. I need a client who understands that 20 hours a day on the Internet is normal.
  4. Let’s face it – you agree with Dave Pasternack, and I think it is a marketing school of thought.

Whatever you do – don’t pawn bad clients off on friends, unless you don’t really like your friends either. Don’t waste your life in misery – break up with those bad clients. By ditching the crappy clients, you end up with clients you really ENJOY working with.

More resources on why you should fire bad clients:

What types of breakup lines have you used (or think would be pretty funny if you DID use them)?

More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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  • Rob A.

    Wow that’s great I just wish some bosses would see it that way too.
    If you’ve ever dealt with [name removed] over at IAC search and media you would know about a bad client.
    P.S. from someone at my old company about this client:
    I think she’s also a contract employee for the Devil.

    *owner’s note – edited out name – don’t want to personally offend folks.

  • tacimala

    I had an absolutely horrible client once. As soon as that site was done I rethought my entire business at the time and redid all of my contracts with what I dubbed the “BW Clause” (her initials) to try to help alleviate something like that happening again in the future. Man just typing this out right now is bringing back all the painstaking memories.

  • Brandon Hopkins

    I just had to break it off with my first client. It was hard, for him. I tried to be nice, but had to put my foot down. Can I send him your way? He’ll need the moon and will be glad to pay you $3/hr.

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  • randfish

    Todd – I have a few contracts right now that I’m just desperate to be done with; good advice there… If only I can take it in the long run.

  • Reese

    By the way, I have used, with just a couple of bad eggs, something along the lines of: “I view the client/designer relationship as a symbiotic one. This means I expect my clients to be as focused on their project as I am, but your business goals and dedication to this project is unfocused, and this will likely result in an unsuccessful, frustrating end game for both of us, so it is best that we part ways before we continue to waste each other’s time.”

    I also am reminded of something Rae Hoffman told me on the phone–something to the affect of letting clients know that as much as they are interviewing me, I am interviewing them. Many inquiries that come our way are not aware of the numerous ‘red flags’ their communications raise. I’ve learned, through instinct and experience, what ones are highly likely to be difficult clients based on their initial communications, and I politely decline working with them.

  • Kirby

    It’s called addition by subtraction.

  • tmoney

    lol, very funny you blogged about this! Have a client at the moment who I have been thinking about applying the above techniques to… she never accepts the quoted price and always wants a bargin or discount… and constantly tries to drain seo info out of me for free rather than accepting on of my seo packages.. similar to a leech…

    I think I will use this one ->

    “Would you like your contract mailed back to you in one piece or shredded into pieces?”


  • Onur Buyukceran

    Ha ha :) It was fun to read, thnx for the tips. My strategy about client is serving them the best. We do still have our passion to do great jobs :)

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  • Matt Stoddart

    HAA!! Great post, Todd. All business is not good business, that’s for sure…

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  • Matt Keegan

    Sound advice! I got a laugh from some of the geek answers — “here are your website files” is one of the best and most direct!

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