While it’s tempting to believe that a small business owner should be able to accommodate even the most demanding of clients, there will be circumstances where you simply have no choice but to fire them. So, how do you terminate a professional relationship without jeopardizing your reputation? In episode #110, Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks discuss the challenging process of firing a client with special guest, Felicia Sullivan.

Executive Summary

1:37—Today’s Topic: When Should I Fire a Client and What Should I Say?

4:30—A challenging client is one whose work style or views may differ from yours, but whom you can eventually collaborate with, through a little extra effort. In contrast, terrible clients are individuals who have no respect for either you or your work and should not be accommodated.

12:46—Determining whether you can afford to fire a client ultimately comes down to your current financial situation and the toll that their behavior is having on the other aspects of your business.

16:13—If you do decide to fire a client, be sure to meet with them in person and professionally explain to them why you believe you need to discontinue your services. It also helps if you provide the resources for them to transition out of the relationship.

19:14—In Felicia’s experience, offering to help your client as they transition out of the professional relationship can actually reap benefits for your small business.

26:46—There are three approaches that you as a business owners can take when they decide to fire a client: explain that you can no longer offer your services due to a shift in focus; raise your fees out of their price range; or respectfully explain why the two of you are no longer a professional match.

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Transcript

Elizabeth: Welcome back to another episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. This is Elizabeth Larkin. I’m the editor of smallbizahead.com and I’m here with our small business expert, Gene Marks.

Gene: Expert?

Elizabeth: Do you think I said small business enough in that intro?

Gene: Yeah. I think that was a lot of small business –

Elizabeth: I just wanna make sure people know this is a podcast by and for small business owners. And today, we’re tackling a very interesting topic; when should you fire one of your clients?

This is a good one. And we’ll be back with our special guest after the break.

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QUESTION: When Should I Fire This Client?

Elizabeth: So today, on the podcast, we have someone that … Full disclosure, I’ve known for several years. We went to college together at Fordham University in the Bronx. Go Rams. This is Felicia Sullivan. She is a marketing expert. And she’s been in business for 20 years. She’s built companies. She’s built brands. And now, she has her own business called Phoebe & Kate that focuses on small business owners. And she wrote an article for us called When Should I Fire This Client? Welcome, Felicia.

Felicia: Thanks so much for having me.

Elizabeth: We’re very excited to have you here.

Gene: I thought we were gonna talk a little bit more about Phoebe Cates. I hear Phoebe & Kates, all I’m thinking about is Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Elizabeth: Okay, so I have –

Gene: Where did the name come from?

Felicia: Exactly.

Gene: Does everybody get this analogy? Right? Fast Times, and Phoebe Cates, and –

Elizabeth: Well, Felicia and I don’t because we’re so young.

Gene: Yeah, sure. Sure.

Felicia: Exactly.

Gene: Everybody knows Phoebe Cates from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Elizabeth: So, Felicia. How did you come up with the name Phoebe & Kate?

Gene: Do you know Phoebe Cates? Are you like a friend of hers? Is that like … Did you provide services for her? Were you in Fast Times at Ridgemont High?

Felicia: I was. I had a guest spot on it. I’m a fan of the film even though I’m 25. And I am a fan of the film. But I think the reason behind the name is a little bit more hokey. I’ve been an author and I’m a reader. And when I was really small, one of my first favorite books was Catcher in the Rye. I loved the character, Phoebe. And then as an adult, my latest book had a character named Kate. So I put them together, Phoebe & Kate. Kind of book endings. A child and an adulthood about storytelling and kind of …

Gene: Oh.

Felicia: And I didn’t realize until I put the names together that even in search results, that I would get Phoebe Cates search results for my business.

Gene: See, I thought that would happen. Which, by the way, she doesn’t go by Phoebe Cates anymore. It’s Phoebe Kline because she’s married to Kevin Kline.

Elizabeth: Okay, so I have a story about Phoebe Cates. Gene is very excited right now.

Gene: I’m very. I always had a crush on her.

Elizabeth: So, I used to work at a company called About.com. And one of my coworkers, her previous job was as a personal assistant to actors. So one of her first jobs was Kevin Kline.

Gene: Oh, okay.

Elizabeth: And after Kevin Kline, she was the personal assistance to Al Pacino. And she’s got some crazy stories about that. But anyway –

Felicia: Wow.

Elizabeth: Kevin Kline and Al Pacino are both wonderful. She really liked working for them. But Kevin Kline, of course is married to Phoebe Cates. And the only bit of gossip she gave me about them, she said they’re really wasn’t any. They’re like totally normal people. But she said Phoebe Cates is an extremely strict mom.

Gene: Is she really?

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Oh my goodness.

Felicia: Please.

Gene: You wouldn’t think that.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Yeah.

Gene: So clearly, she doesn’t let her kids watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Elizabeth: She is like all biz with her kids.

Gene: Cool.

Elizabeth: Which I don’t know why. That just makes me like her more.

Gene: Yeah, yeah. I’ve already liked her. Now I liked her even more.

Elizabeth: Okay, so we’re gonna jump in and ask Felicia several questions about the process of deciding to fire a terrible client and then actually doing it.

So I’m gonna dive right in, and Felicia, this question is for you, and then I’m gonna ask the same thing of Gene. How do you determine if your client is terrible, or just challenging? What’s the difference between those two things, and which one of those two would you fire?

Felicia: That’s a great question, Elizabeth. I think it comes down to really, honestly, communication and collaboration. Bad clients don’t really respect, or have an understanding of the expertise, time or work ethics. They often say things like “I don’t understand why this website can’t be made in 5 minutes,” or “These changes can’t be done in 10 minutes,” or “Why does this cost so much?” They really don’t take the time and opportunity to understand the level of detail, work, and expertise you bring to the table.

Whereas, a challenging client will either have a work style that really differs from your own so you have to find yourself kind of matching their work style. Or they have levels of bureaucracy. And we’ve all dealt with this with big companies where you have to go through layers of management to get anything done. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing on their part, it just sort of delays the project. Or finally, you might really encounter someone who, they might have different communication styles, but also, they really might be pushing you outside of your comfort zone. Your client may know, based on what you’ve done previously, your case studies, your expertise. They may set the bar really high for you, which might prove really difficult for you at first. But then you end up doing the best work of your career because you’re really challenged.

So at the end of the day, it’s really comes down, again, to those two things. Collaboration, and communication. A challenging client really does want to work with you. They really do wanna connect with you, but there may be obstacles where you have to shape how you work to kind of fit their style. For example, I had a client who I would send long emails, kind of my own little novel in email form, and they weren’t a long email person. They wanted three bullets in an email. They’re very visual. And I had to reshape my entire style to deliver screen caps where I would explain through video, kind of what I was going through and send really short emails. And just a few modifications in my style, made the working relationship really healthy and satisfying to both parties.

And again, it’s really about, for the challenging client, shaping your style. Whereas, the terrible client doesn’t even respect your style to begin with.

Elizabeth: Now, Gene, I don’t wanna put you on the spot too much, but I will. We talked about, maybe it was a couple months ago, how you had a client who you did the work, you went to her business, and then she was surprised that she had to pay you.

Gene: No. That usually doesn’t happen. So I’m not quite sure what that story is. I just … There are times when we have new clients, or perspective clients that we haven’t gone into work with, where there’s been a few times where if their personalities were really abusive, or just whatever. I just felt like our employees were not gonna … they would be in harms way, that I said “Forget about it. I’m not gonna be dealing with these people”.

One thing that I realize when I’m dealing with small business owners, because that’s usually who my client base is, is that there are a lot of nutsos that are out there. We deal with a lot of crazy people. I’m one of them. And different people –

Elizabeth: I’m so glad you can admit that, Gene.

Gene: Yeah. And the thing about people, is that different people are different. And so we had talked about … Oh, if we quote something for 20 hours, and somebody be like “20 hours? That’s crazy. I wasn’t expecting it to be 20 hours. I thought it would only be like 5 hours”. I wouldn’t run away from a client like that. My usual response because I’m so used to getting stuff like that, is being like “Okay. No problem at all. We’ll come back to you, and put something together for 5 hours that, obviously with a lot less services. But if that’s what your budget is, that’s what it is.”

So, just because somebody yells and screams, or figuratively about your rates or whatever, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna be a bad client per se. You know what I mean? I’ll do business with anybody, really. As long as they’re able to cut a check and send it to us.

The other thing I’ve also learned, is that a lot of the clients, I’ve become … I’m just not really good at evaluating people. I meet people that I think are gonna be great clients and they turn out to be absolute nightmares.

Elizabeth: So you don’t have any screening questions in the contract process where you can kind of tell if they’re gonna be balking at my rates?

Gene: Yeah, I can usually tell … We just go through and quote what we’re gonna quote because the job is gonna be what it’s gonna be. And then, if somebody comes back to us and they balk at it, I don’t take it personally at all. I just turn around and say “Okay, that’s fine.” Then we’ll quote less, but it’s just gonna be less services. It’s kind of like, I don’t know, you’re buying a car and you ask for all the air conditioning, and the sunroof, and whatever, and the sales person comes up and says “Okay. It’s gonna be 80 thousand dollars.” You’re like “Well, okay. I can’t afford that.” A good salesperson is gonna say “Bill, well, how about we sell you a version without the sunroof, and without this?” And that’s what you do. I don’t think they’re bad clients at all. It’s just –

Felicia: Yeah.

Gene: You have to just fit your project to what best suits them.

Felicia: Just to jump in on that. It’s also about education. And I think, Gene, you really hit the nail on the head about that. Some clients don’t understand how long it takes or how much it takes. And I think –

Gene: Right.

Felicia: The level of explanation at the very beginning. Liz, you mentioned earlier that “Do you run screaming if a client kind of balks at your rate?” And a lot of times, I do the first step, where I kind of explain what you’re paying for. And the value of what you’re paying for. Because we live in a climate where you find people who are bidding, underbidding you on jobs –

Gene: Right.

Felicia: Across the board. And you kind of have to explain “This is a level of expertise. This is what I can promise you in terms of results. This is my value I bring to the table. This is how long the project is gonna take.” And if they still kind of balk at the rate, you can, as Gene mentioned, go back and kind of fit the scope and the work, and the deliverable to kind of what their budget and time frame is. So at least you’re meeting them halfway.

I often find if there’s still along the way, even through the education, there’s still kind of a rage blackout over the rates and time, et cetera, I kind of feel like … Okay, that’s what the red flags start going off. Because you wanna give people the benefit of the doubt. And you wanna say “Okay. I’ve explained it to you. I’ve given you references. You’ve seen everything. I’ve been fully transparent. If you still just want this 10 thousand dollar project for five dollars, that’s not gonna happen.”

And then I also, just as one other quick note … I saw recently an episode, which was really powerful in terms of when clients are trying to underbid you. And the person was going through role play and they were saying “So, you are looking for big growth in your business. You’re looking to grow your business by X million of dollars, or X hundred thousands of dollars. What would happen if you didn’t have the services that I brought to the table? And how would that cost your business?” And it really put the onus on the business owner to think about “Okay, how valuable is this investment in my business? And is the value that I’m assigning to it? If I want to spend a thousand dollars, and I want to get out of it, a million dollars in business growth, those number seem really out of whack”. So it’s not like a million for a million. But if you want to have kind of big results, you can’t necessarily have a five dollar budget.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Right. Right. Bear in mind, all this is actually all good news. It’s really good to find out before you start your project, if the clients a jerk, or it’s a problem. Or they’re nickel and diming you early on, or whatever. Because it really does then, prepare you for whether or not you want to move forward with the project. And also how to manage a project.

Elizabeth: Okay. So Let’s say you move forward with the projects and you’re working with them, and –

Gene: Which, by the way, that happens to me all, usually –

Elizabeth: All the time.

Gene: All the time, I’ll be like, I’ll say to people in my company saying “This might be a disaster. But hey. Let’s give it a shot. Here we go”. So, that happens a lot.

Felicia: That’s when you send Cory in instead of yourself.

Elizabeth: So this is something you touch on in the article, Felicia. And I’d love to get your perspective on this. So, you take on the client, you’re working with them. It’s not working out. It’s actually costing you more money to service them, than you’re going to make from them. How do you figure out if you can afford to fire them? Let’s say you’re a solopreneur and you’re just starting out. What do you do in that situation?

Felicia: I think first and foremost, you really have to kind of evaluate the reality. Because everyone want to kind of cut and run. And that’s the easiest thing to do. But if you’re working with someone, and their business is driving their income and paying your rent, you really have to think … You have to think strategically about it, right? And you have to look at it as … Okay. If this is the only that client I have, and right now they’re paying my rent, and the contract has a start and end date. I kind of look at it through the lens of when you gave notice at your job, or your 9 to 5. And when you gave your notice, the time between you had to work and maybe those two weeks, month, et cetera didn’t seem so horrifying because you knew there was an end date in sight. You kind of –

Elizabeth: Absolutely.

Gene: True.

Felicia: Oh my goodness. To deal with that. I actually went through that very recently. And we can talk about that in the moment with a client I had to fire recently. Because you make those realistic choices for yourself in your business, right? But if you’re not in a situation where you only have one client, you have a few clients and you can kind of take the revenue hit … Because ultimately, you don’t wanna have a client where they take up so much of your time and energy that it actually takes you away or make you do bad work for your other clients. That’s a hit on your reputation, regardless.

I look at that as a way in which I can evaluate when I can fire a client. And ultimately, I’ll do one of two things. I’ll make an attempt to kind of raise my rates in contrast to, lets say, the round of revisions, or the time that it took beyond our contract. We have a lot of scope creep that happens. You can do that as a first step. Or you know, we can … And we’ll talk about the scripts in a moment. Or you can offer a transition period where you resign the client. It’s like a set part of the agree upon work. And then you find a replacement to kind of come in and finish the work.

Because ultimately, it’s your brand that’s being effected. So you don’t want to do anything that’s completely, leaves the client in a pinch. You wanna do something that’s ethical on both sides because at the end of the day, it’s your reputation that’s kind of hanging on the balance. So it’s really … Riding that balance between making sure that you have enough money coming in to kind of pay your bills, which is the reality of a lot of our situations and seeing that end date in sight. And then, maybe thinking about … Okay. How are ways in which I can transition out of a situation that serves me well. While, although it may be uncomfortable and the client may have an initial rage blackout, you’ll often find … And I’ve actually found this situation. When time has passed, they realize … Okay, maybe this is the best decision for us to part. Even though at the time, it got heated and it wasn’t. If making those decisions and how you react to those, and manage those decisions, then I think it’s really important for your business.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I would say if you are deciding like, “I can not work with this client anymore”. And they might be upset at first. After a while, they’ll realize at first, like any relationship like, “That relationship really wasn’t working for me either. So it’s good that they backed out first”.

So what are your ground rules for firing a terrible client?

Felicia: I try to put on my objective hat and I try to think “Okay, how would I wanna be treated if someone was firing me?” Right? And I’ve had that happen when I was in an agency where clients kind of had to find the agency. And I think ultimately, you deserve to tell your clients in person. Or a way in which you can meet face-to-face. Especially if you have a small business. And a lot of it is relationship based. And that’s how you kind of started the relationship. You met face to face and kind of negotiated what you want to do. I think you deserve to do that either, if you can’t meet face-to-face, have a Skype call, or a video call where you can kind of have it out with your clients. In a way, that’s really respectful. And I think it’s also … This isn’t the time also to kind of play the blame game and have an argument.

I often think, don’t make it personal. Make it about the business. Make it about the relationship. Throughout the whole time, be calm and professional. The greatest lesson I learned in business is when someone’s yelling and having a rage blackout, my tone is calm, mutual. My body language is really calm. And that is actually … In your brain, studies have shown this, is actually a trigger that makes them aware how loud and ridiculous they sound.

Unless you’re really a sociopath or a narcissist. When someone’s kind of responding to what you’re saying in a really calm and controlled manner and they’re being really respectful, the other part of their voice will come down, their anger will come down. And at the end of the day, you just want to be professional about the situation. And so I think, again, it’s about seeing them in person. Making it about the business and why you guys aren’t a fit as it relates to what you’re offering and what you plan to deliver and the result that’s coming out of it. And being calm and professional throughout the whole thing.

And I think that also sets a tone for your brand. I always say this. I always say that every single thing that you do is a reflection of your reputation, right? So, It’s how you handle the situation. Whether you got, kind of going into the job and then coming out of it. It’s always handling it with grace. And then not leaving them in alert. You’re letting them know, “Okay, our relationships coming to an end, but I’m not going to leave you stranded. Here are the next steps and here’s the time line that I see happening for us” where the client has an expectation of what’s happening next, but they also have and expectation of what they’ll get in a time frame. And also how they’ll be solved for a replacement.

So, it’s not just you get on the phone, or you send them an email. You’re like, “It’s over. I hate you. Good bye, et cetera. See you later”. It’s more like, “Okay. This didn’t work out. It’s a business decision. Here’s a timeline of what’s gonna happen next. And hey, I can find a replacement”.

Elizabeth: Not that you haven’t wanted to send that, “I hate you. Good bye” email. Okay, so –

Felicia: Draft them and then just don’t send them.

Elizabeth: Can you give us an example of … I don’t know if this is too personal for you to share, but –

Felicia: No, not at all.

Elizabeth: We’d love to … You’re like “No, I’d love to tell you about this” … of when you fired a client and what made you make that decision?

Felicia: I think what Gene said earlier. Its really rare when you fire a client. Because ultimately, you wanna do everything you can to make the relationship work, right? Because it’s just so painful to do it. And it’s a hit to your business in terms of revenue and just really kind of disrupts your whole team. So you really wanna think about this and not kind of make any rash decisions.

But I had a client, actually, very recently. He had brought me on for a project that wasn’t his own company. And we worked wonderfully together. And so I thought, “Oh, smooth sailing.” And he brought me on to work on a project with a company that was his own now. And I’ve learned when the stakes are higher, when it’s your business and your money, your attitude may shift. As opposed to when your kind of working for somebody else.

Elizabeth: Oh yeah.

Felicia: Right? Which was significant. And he had a partner. And the partner, I worked really well with. Reasonable, smart, helpful, et cetera. And over a period, I wanna say 4 months, I started to notice significant changes is working style that were not something that I could adjust for, but I tried doing that. As I mentioned earlier, I try to kind of match his style of working, so we were a little bit more accommodating. But the relationship became more passive aggressive, abusive, all those things that you don’t want from a client what kind of just makes the work harder. And you guy know this. If someone’s screaming at you on a daily basis, you’re not gonna deliver your best work because you’re under duress, pretty much.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Absolutely not.

Felicia: And ultimately, it’s not productive for them, They’re not getting what they paid for because they’re crazy, and they had a rage blackout, and you’ve delivered subpar work as a result. So, we try different stage of using his other partner as kind of an intermediator to kind of temporarily resolve the situation through … here’s a different work style that’s we’ll try that might kind of resolve for it. And when you make all those … I like to do the 3 attempt rule. If it doesn’t work out after 3 tried, then you kind of think, “Okay, maybe it’s time to fire”. And I was honestly, really direct about it. I have in the article, 3 scripts and I actually used script 3. The you’ve had enough script. And I composed the middle of the night email of, “I hate you. Its so horrible”. And then of course, I deleted it.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Felicia: And I took a breath and I said “Okay, I have to treat this person with the respect that I would want to be treated with”. And so I took a step back and I evaluated the relationship and I said, “Hey. I really like working with you. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think the best thing for our partnership is that we part ways. Because we’re figuring out that we’re not match and I know that there’s probably another partner for you that can make the whole project and process a lot easier. And you can get the kind of results that you want and you deserve with another partner.” And to be honest, that process went a lot easier than I thought it would.

Elizabeth: That’s great.

Felicia: Yeah. He was super respectful. He initially, kind of had a rage blackout response and then we had a conversation after and he saw, because it was a video. I think it again, doing this via email is horrible because you can’t tell tone. You can’t tell anything.

Elizabeth: Body language.

Felicia: Yeah. We did it through Skype and he and I had a one-on-one, and he saw how much respect I had for him, for the project, for his business. And he saw that this is a really difficult decision I had to make. And we both had mutual respect for one another. We just, it wasn’t working out. And –

Elizabeth: If someone’s being abusive though, that’s a good reason to fire them.

Felicia: Yeah.

Elizabeth: No amount of raising the rates is really worth your mental health.

Felicia: And I tried that too. I bumped up my rates for a period of time, and they kind of met those rates because I was really important to them. And we kind of talked about why we weren’t working well together, and it ultimately ended up where he really understood. I gave that transition period. I actually gave a month transition period. And I found them a replacement. And in the end, my reputation is in tact. And he even gave me a referral.

Elizabeth: Oh, that’s amazing. How often do you fire a client, and you get a referral?

Gene: Never happens to me.

Elizabeth: So, Gene. In your business, you’re actually sending your employees out to other businesses.

Gene: Yeah. It never ends as well as Felicia’s story ended. For some reason, we never come out looking that good.

Felicia: Oh, no. I keep all the horrible stories.

Gene: It’s never … There’s been a few situations where clients have been abusive, both verbally and physically.

Elizabeth: Physically?

Gene: Well, not like … Just aggressive. I’ve had a handful of situations where people have called me from a client and said, “This guy is starting to worry me.”

Elizabeth: And you’re like, “Get out of there.”

Gene: I’m like, “Get out.” And then there’s not even a conversation saying like “Thanks, John. We’re moving on.” I just move on. There’s no excuse for that.

Every other situation if a client is being difficult, for anyone of a million different reasons. Different people have different personalities. There’s ten of us in the company. At any given stage … Right now, as we sit here, I have many, many clients that, literally, I am not kidding, do not like me. They don’t like me. They’ve said to other people. They’ve said to my employees “I don’t like this guy. He’s a jerk”. And yet, but they like other people in my company.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: So, they work with other people in my company. And the other way around. I have some clients that love me. And that’s great. And they prefer to work with me over other people and that’s fine. So, a lot of times, it’s personality things. You know how you walk into a room, you meet somebody. I don’t even know this person, and you just feel like I wanna just, I wanna hit this guy in the face. And you don’t even know why. But you feel … And everybody has those people you bump into. Sometimes, you can’t avoid it and if you at least have the resources to apply where you can substitute one person for another, that’s worked for me on a number of occasions rather than losing the client.

Elizabeth: So you’re coming at this from … You have six hundred clients –

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: And you’re a ten person –

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: Company.

Gene: So we’re out there performing services. And everybody has people assigned to them.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: But if you’re a smaller business like Felicia is a one woman show, and she does not, I’m guessing, have 600 clients, it’s –

Gene: If you’re not getting along with somebody and you don’t like them, and they don’t like you, and whatever, it’s just not happening. You gotta move on. Life is too short.

Having said that, I said that earlier. I’m definitely … I can’t use the words I wanna use because this is a Hartford podcast, but lets just say, I’ll pretty much do business with anybody if the price is right and we’re not being in physical threat.

Elizabeth: Yeah. If they’re abusing your employees, then –

Gene: Yeah. Okay. Forget about that. But if a guy’s a jerk, or is a pain to work with, but he’s willing to pay twice what my rate is, or more than that, sure. I’ll be happy to do business with that person. And that’s happened as well … That happens a lot. Where people will ask us to do stuff and I will quote them a much higher rate than I would be quoting other people. And if they accept it, I’m like, “Cool!”

And by the way, my employees, if I know they’re more difficult, they share in that higher rates. I just want you to know that as well.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: So, they know. This guy’s an extra jerk. So there’ll be an extra amount of money –

Elizabeth: The jerk fee.

Gene: Yeah, it’s a good jerk fee.

Elizabeth: So, Felicia, walk us through your three scripts that you detailed in the article.

Felicia: Sure. So I have 3 scripts where you can kind of ease the pain of firing your client. And again, not making it about them, even though it’s completely about them. But I also feel like I did, just to quickly jump back to what Gene said. I really liked the kind of “Okay, maybe we don’t work out one to one, but I have someone else on my team that is more your speed.” I’ve actually done that when I was in agency environment where I was the most senior person on the team, and I did not work well with the client, but someone else on my team did. And you kind of take one for the team.

In thinking about the bigger picture of your business and your revenue. So I love that idea. If you have at least one … At least more than two people on your team, thinking about ways in which you can kind of move resources around, I think it’s a smart idea before even thinking about firing them.

But if you are going to kind of cut them out of your life completely, because you want emotional and psychological –

Elizabeth: Health.

Felicia: I have 3 scripts here. One is the shifting focus. The shifting focus scenario is letting someone know that the kind of work that you’re doing will no longer be the kind of work you’ll be doing moving forward. Right? So lets say for example … Actually, I made this change in my business where I won’t … I no longer work for large corporations because of the bureaucracy and the amounts that’s involved. And I have –

Elizabeth: What? I’ve never heard of that.

Felicia: Never. I made a material decision to work with smaller businesses and entrepreneurs. Specifically women or women of color. I made that big change in my business. So I told recently … Well, 6 months ago, I told one of my very, very, big clients that “Hey, I’m shifting gears. I’m working with smaller businesses and I really wanna get deeply involved in their business. And feel like what I’m doing, I see immediate results.” And then you let them know like anything else. What the time frame of that is. Every single one of these scripts addresses the time frame. Because again, whether it’s a breach of your contract, or just an ethical no, no. You just don’t want to leave people in the high and dry, in the middle of something. So I always kind of give them an out. A replacement, or a time frame for what I can deliver within a specific period of time.

The second script is one I love. It’s kind of what Gene mentioned. I don’t know how candid I can be on this podcast, but I call it the Blank Hole Tax. Where –

Elizabeth: We call it the Jerk Fee.

Felicia: Oh, I love that. I might use that. I might steal that.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Felicia: Of where I made double or triple my rates and may says something to the effect of how my business has grown, or shifted. That I may account for the increased amount of work i.e. scope creep. And I may say something to the effect of, “Hey, it’s been really great working with you. I’m glad you chose us.” I talk about the things that we’ve done so they can see the results because everyone’s really focused on the results. And you say, “Hey, I took a step back. I looked at my pricing, and I’ve decided, based on kind of what my client list looks like right now, and what my time is, this is my new rate structure.” And it’s really meant, quite honestly, to price them out. So you do double, or kind of triple your rates. And nine times out of ten, they can’t afford it, and they kind of keep going on.

And then, the third script which I talked about just before. The one I recently employed in terms of, “You’ve just had enough.” Really meant to address that “you’re crazy. I can’t deal with this anymore. But I’m gonna do it in a really respectful way where I look good coming out of this. But again, you really, with all of these scripts, you really open with something positive. In terms of … because you were happy to kind of get the work.

Especially if you’re just starting out. You are happy with the opportunity. Who isn’t excited when they get their first client and they open up a small shop, or their first customer? You always remember that first, right? And so you give that kind of first in the partnership, the respect that it deserved. And then you kind of address the reality of the situation. Not making it personal. You just kind of say, “Hey. I’ve noticed, over X amount of time frame, that we’ve had some issues and how we work together.” And I’m thinking for the sake of your business, you have to kind of make it about them. “That we’re not the best fit. And I think you can get better results from having a different partner with different work styles. And so I can help you find that partner. And I can make sure that within a certain time frame, we can get XYZ done.”

So again, in all those scenarios, you’re really giving respect to them as a business so they really … Regardless of what has happened, you always wanna come out the better man of it, right? And then you always wanna make sure that, whether it’s a contractual obligation, or just being a decent person, that you just don’t leave them high and dry. Unless, to Gene’s point, they’re throwing punches at you, then you kind of wanna run for the hills, but —

Elizabeth: Yeah, you just ghost them.

Felicia: But if its –

Gene: Ghost them, that’s right.

Felicia: Beating you in the face. You wanna kind of try those three scripts.

Elizabeth: Felicia, this was so helpful. I think a lot of small business owners face this and they’re not really sure what to do. Can you tell us just a little bit about the services that you offer at Phoebe & Kate because we get a lot of marketing questions and a lot of branding questions on this podcast. Tell us what you do for your clients.

Felicia: Oh, awesome. So for the past, oh gosh, I’m aging myself here. The past 20 years, since I was 5, I’ve been offering marketing and branding services to companies. So what does that mean? So basically, a company will come to me and say, “Hey, I don’t know how to talk to my customers. I don’t know who my customer is. I don’t know how to grow my business. I don’t know how to use social media or email.” I kind of go in and in a really thoughtful way, looking at their budget, looking at what they’re trying to achieve. I help put together a plan that helps them define how they’re different from their competitors. How they should talk to their customers. Who their customers are. And how they can grow their business.

So I’ve been doing that for about twenty years for really big companies like Verizon, and Mattel, and super fancy companies. And I did it on the agency side. And now I kind of took a step back and said, “You know what? I wanna use all that experience that I’ve had and use that for smaller businesses or start up companies where we see so much cool stuff happening at a local level. People building jobs and you think to yourself ‘Wow, I really wanna help those companies grow int eh way that I’ve helped these mass corporations grow’.” So that’s what I do on a daily basis. And over the past 5 years, knock on wood, I’m still afloat. So I think I’m doing something right.

Elizabeth: Great. So, specifically, that’s branding, social media, email marketing. You’re kind of “The Jill of All Trades” on that?

Felicia: Pretty much. If you come to me and say, “Hey, I don’t know how to talk about my business. I don’t know who my customers are, and I don’t know how to grow my business”. I come in and help you find a solution.

Elizabeth: So you do all the research for people.

Felicia: Pretty much.

Elizabeth: Okay, Great. So we’re gonna put a link in the show notes to Felicia’s email list with her permission because I am a reader. And I’ve gotten so many great tips from it. And –

Felicia: I send so many freebies out. I send out, kind of on a bi-weekly basis. I send out worksheets, tutorials. I ultimately want to give people education so they can kind of do it on their own and they bring me in if they kind of want to take it to the next level.

Elizabeth: That’s great. Okay. Felicia, thank you so much for joining us.

Gene: That was great, Felicia. Thank you.

Elizabeth: This is awesome.

Felicia: Thank you, guys.

Elizabeth: And thank you to our listeners for tuning into another episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. We’ll talk to you next week.

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