5 Reasons to Fire a Consulting Client

Breakup Staircase

Image: The break-up staircase (Jasoneppink; Flickr.com/Creative Commons)

It’s hard enough trying to drum up new consulting business, but it’s even harder when your existing client base sucks up your time, energy and resources.

Keeping a problem child in your portfolio isn’t any good for your financial, professional or emotional well being. Every extra minute spent negotiating, rehashing or collecting costs you money.

Still, before you cut bait on your client, you really need to think through whether you’ve taken the right steps to remedy. Just because you don’t see things the same way doesn’t mean you need to destroy a business relationship.

Here are 5 reasons to consider firing your consulting client and, actions you can take before severing ties all together:

1. The business culture doesn’t align with your values – Some environments are just too much to overcome. If the folks you work with are rude, abusive or don’t value business relationships/values, you need to address the problem.

Before you fire them: Stop to think about who is causing you to pain. You may be able to resolve issues with one or two people. Have a talk with your buyer and ask for some “coaching” on how to handle the situation. If the buyer is looking out for you, they will typically take it upon themselves to clear the air.

If you truly believe the problem is systemic (or with the buyer in particular) just get out.

I’ve seen some cultures where, individually, the people were fine to work with but for some reason, the mob mentality took over whenever we were in a meeting. In this situation, you may find yourself justifying bad behavior.

Don’t put up with it. There are plenty of good companies to work with.

2. The logistics of supporting the client are too much (travel, time zones, work hours, etc.) – Non-stop travel, weekend conference calls and late night interruptions are taxing. It isn’t good for anybody if your client’s demands for attention are taking a toll on you.

Ultimately your dissatisfaction will be reflected in your work and demeanor.

Before you fire them: Make a list of “asks” to see if you can’t reconfigure the boundaries of your engagement. I’ve seen plenty of buyers relent on travel and calling off hours. Chances are, they may not know what’s bothering you.

If after being proactive, the client is unwilling to bend, feel free to cut them loose.

3. You need to broaden your horizons – If you are no longer invested in your customer then, for their sake, consider cutting the cord. It’s not fair to the person paying the bills for you to stick around. It’s perfectly OK to move on if you don’t feel like you are bringing value, are bored or just want to try something new.

Before you fire them: Consider whether you actually need to “fire” the client.

You could ask for some meatier work if you have solid relationships within the account.

If your project is coming to a close in the near future, you could just use that as a natural end point without any drama. Turn down any extension requests due to “other client commitments”

Never burn any bridges unnecessarily. It’s always better to have the option to call back into a client than not (assuming they are an otherwise good client).

4. The business or industry is in a bad way – When business is down, project spend is among the first budget items to be cut. This leaves you vulnerable and doesn’t bode well for any other projects in your sales pipeline.

Before you fire them: Ascertain root cause for downturn as best you can. Is it an industry problem or specific to the company? If your client manufactures camera film then it’s a good bet things won’t turn around. Ditto if there’s some Enron type financial debacle.

However, it could just be temporary rough waters that require a new strategy, some reorganization and patience.
Remember: business problems are good for consultants. There may be an opportunity for you to sell more strategic, high level work.

Maybe a short break is what’s needed, and not a separation all together.

5. They don’t pay on time or at all – Not much to say here – you don’t run a collection agency nor a charity. You need to get paid, period.

Before you fire them: Find out what’s holding up payment. Go right to your buyer. More often than not, a hold up is due to archaic accounting processes that hiring managers aren’t aware of until it’s too late. A little attention may solve your problem. Large corporations are notorious for taking way too long to get checks cut. If you are dealing with a Fortune 500, you may just need a little patience

But, if you can’t get an answer on where your money is or the average time to pay is outside what you can support then a separation is necessary.

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