Three ways to gracefully fire a client

Richard Tubb

When I first started my IT Solution Provider business, I was grateful for any type of work from any type of client. Over time, as I migrated my business to become a Managed Service Provider (MSP), I realised I had a number of clients who it simply wasn’t profitable working with anymore, or, quite frankly, I didn’t want to work with anymore.

Whether you’re an MSP or a traditional Break/Fix IT provider, you probably have similar clients yourself. Those clients who don’t listen to your advice, but vocally moan about issues. Those clients who demand immediate attention when they have an issue, but never seem to pay your invoices on time. Those clients who penny pinch at every turn, then complain how their IT isn’t working properly.

If you have a client who fits into this category, you’d be well advised to fire them. Failure to do so will see you burn countless hours and more energy than you can imagine “dealing” with them – often at the expense of your other clients and your own business. Once you’ve fired a problem client, watch as your energy levels and enthusiasm increases and you find that within no time at all you’ve found another client to make up the financial shortfall left; another client who is much nicer to work with too!

But how do you go about firing a client? They may be a pain, but you don’t want them to talk poorly of you to others, or for the relationship to end under a cloud.

Here are three ways to gracefully fire a client.

Price them out of your client list

Raiseprices.jpgThere is a direct correlation between the quality of the clients you have, and the fees you charge them. Typically, clients who are prepared to pay higher fees respect your time and experience and are easier to work with. Clients who are cost conscious typically want the Moon and the Stars, but don’t want to pay the Earth.

By raising your prices across the board, you’ll weed out those client who work with you because you are cheap, and leave those clients who work with you because they value you.

You can also raise your price for a single problem client. Generally, the client will grumble and decide to go and work with somebody cheaper, leaving you without the job of having to fire them. But if the client decides to pay the higher rate, at least you are getting compensated for suffering them – and don’t be at all surprised if the client's attitude changes for the better to match the dollars they are spending with you too.

Fill your schedule

One of the challenges a lot of Break/Fix providers that have moved to managed services experience is that those clients who don’t move to managed services, despite having the benefits explained to them, still expect them to be ultra-responsive on an ad-hoc basis.

Obviously, this is a difficult line to balance. If you start prioritising your Break/Fix clients over your managed service clients, the managed services clients will start to question what they are paying you a monthly fee for, and the Break/Fix clients will never experience any pain or see the benefit of managed services!

The answer is to fill your schedule. There isn’t a single MSP owner or Technician out there who doesn’t have a To-Do list as long as their arm. Schedule this work into your diary and treat it like a client appointment – one not to be broken lightly. The next time your problem client calls demanding immediate action, let them know you aren’t able to attend immediately, but can do so within a few days time. Importantly though, advise the problem client that you fully understand that this might not be suitable for them, so you’re happy to provide the number of another local IT company who might be able to help them sooner.

While a problem client might get angry if you simply said “No,” no client can get angry at an IT provider who is busy and successful, nor one who has offered to help the client by providing another route.

If the client argues, tell them that your managed service clients do get priority support, but you aren’t able to offer this to non-MSP clients.

Either the client will start to appreciate your managed service offering, or they’ll take their business, and the headaches they cause, to one of your competitors. Good luck to them!

Talk to them about the problem

conversation.jpgDon’t underestimate the power of speaking directly to a problem client about the issues you have with them.

When I owned an MSP, I had a Break/Fix client who steadfastly refused to move to managed services. They were arrogant, penny pinching, overly demanding and always paid late. After some time I approached them and advised that it was time for them to find a new IT supplier.

When they asked why, I shared with them that it was obvious IT wasn’t important to them, and they saw it as a cost not a benefit and so appeared to begrudge paying us for help.

Surprisingly, the client denied this was the case at all. IT was important to them, he shared, and if late payments were a problem, why didn’t they come on-board with our new managed service offering where they could pay us by Direct Debit? The client went on to become one of our favourite clients to work with – all because we had reset or re-framed our relationship with them.

Conclusion

Putting up with problem clients within your MSP company is bad for your business. It lowers morale, it saps energy and it’s typically unprofitable.

By taking steps to fire a problem client, you’ll enjoy working with your other clients more and have more energy to find the right type of clients. On top of this, instead of losing money from lost business, you’ll find that you quickly make up the revenue elsewhere.

You want to enjoy what you do and work with respectful, like-minded clients. Trust me when I say there are enough of this type of client out there so you shouldn’t waste time working with anybody else.