Warning: Toxic Clients Ahead
It can be hard to let go of a customer you worked hard to obtain, but sometimes it’s far and away the best choice.
Clients are your lifeblood. Without them, you have no business. They should be valued and held in highest regard, as they are the reason you are able to spend your time following your dreams and doing what you truly love.
As your client list grows, you will inevitably encounter a wide range of personalities. Some may be difficult to deal with, others may be a joy, but there is one category that must be identified and dealt with immediately: the toxic client.
Identifying toxic clients is a critical skill as they can infect your business, clog up production pipelines, and drain your time, energy, and money. They will hide behind the disguise of good intentions, but once identified there is only one way to deal with a toxic client: let them go.
Your time and energy is much better spent providing service to your wonderful, existing clients and landing new, grateful clients that are eager to pay well for your services than dealing with someone who wants to undercut you at every turn.
Guilty by Association
If you want to grow your business and attract like-minded professionals, firing toxic clients is of paramount importance because you are known by the company you keep. If you get the reputation for working on the cheap, putting up with unreasonable deadlines and expectations, and letting your clients walk all over you, then more toxic clients will come to your doorstep. Toxic clients often know other toxic clients and they will swarm to whatever unfortunate host is willing to accept them.
Due to their insidious nature, a toxic client can be tricky to identify. From a holistic standpoint, does something just not feel right? Do you get a bad feeling from talking to, thinking about, and working with a particular client? Chances are you should trust your instincts and move on to greener pastures. How many times have you ignored early warning signs and let a toxic relationship drag on for months or even years? How much better off do you think you would be today professionally, emotionally and financially, if you would have terminated that relationship in the early stages?
Does your client ask you to cut your rates just for the chance to work with them again in the future?
Does your client want you to work for cheap or free for the sake of experience or “exposure”?
Does your client honor contract terms or ignore them at will?
Does your client have boundaries or do they expect you to be at their beck and call 24/7?
Does your client expect you to fix the problems they caused by not communicating, dishonoring contract terms, or changing the scope and expectations without notice?
Does your client disregard your opinion and decisions?
Does the client’s industry contradict your core values?
Does your client consistently come to you last-minute when they’ve had more than enough time to reach out sooner?
Does your client brag about how much money they’ve recklessly wasted and overspent on other aspects of a project then try to renegotiate your fee because there’s not enough money left to pay your standard rate?
Does your client only give you work if you are the lowest bidder?
Does your client think they know more about your work and your process than you do and consistently try to micromanage your efforts?
Does your client ask you to work for free to help them raise funding so they can pay you for the project they want to hire you to produce?
Does your client make you feel expendable and try to devalue your work in an attempt to make you cut your fee?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, chances are you’re dealing with a toxic client and they need to be let go. Exercise this executive option with caution, however, because if you have signed a contract or made a commitment for a project, you absolutely must deliver.
Look at the Big Picture
If you don’t have a long list of clients knocking at your door, it may seem risky to consider turning down work or firing any of your clients. However, it’s far more sensible, professional, emotionally responsible, and profitable to drop toxic clients so you can eliminate the inherent frustrations and problems that come along with working with them. Letting them go will free you to pursue projects that excite you, reduce your stress, increase your happiness, boost your income, and allow you to get some much-needed sleep.
There are plenty of clients out there who are a pleasure to work with and eager to find like-minded professionals, so waste no more time, money, or energy on toxic clients — they don’t deserve you. Martin Grebing is an award-winning animation director and producer who has focused his career on smaller studios and alternative markets. Today, he provides private consulting and is the president of Funnybone Animation, a boutique studio that produces animation for a wide range of clients and industries. He can be reached via www.funnyboneanimation.com.