Rob Cairns sits down with Ryan Waterbury and talks t why you should fire a customer.
- Are there bad customers?
- When is it time to let go.
- How to fire a customer nicely.
- Boundaries and more boundaries.
hey, everybody. Rob Cairns here. I’m here, and we’re gonna do my monthly segment with Ryan Waterbury. How are you today, Ryan?
I’m doing pretty good. How are you doing?
Not too bad. And you know, this is the first one we’ve done with video. So as you know, I’ve moved to podcast to recording on stream yard and you’re the first out of the gate. So congratulations maybe or maybe not.
I’m the Guinea pig.
Yes, as usual. So today we thought we’d talked about the topic both dear to our hearts and that is saying no and actually firing bad clients. So do you want to kind of dive into that a little bit?
I don’t remember the 1st that I had thought about. You know, outright firing a client. I think I had listened to another podcast from another agency owner that said you’re. You don’t know how good your life and your other clients will. Be happier when you let go of. That problem client. And when I had first done it and said no, I am canceling your contract. This isn’t working out. You’ve had several warnings and here are the issues and you continue to be a problem. I can’t. Continue to to service you and it. Month, a few months after that, I was finding myself getting more work done on my other clients, work happier and refreshed again, and I hadn’t realized it. It was the negativity from that client that was really dragging me down.
So true negativity will drag any business owner down. And I think. Part of the problem with clients and let’s kind of break it down a little bit before we dive even deeper is. We we both been through experiences where clients do not accept our boundaries, and to me the biggest boundary starts with that contract that they’ve signed. So that’s outweighs expectations and it outlays expectations both. For the client. And the business owner. So it kind of lays it out really nicely. And I think that’s the biggest problem is they signed stuff and I’ve heard things like we didn’t really expect you would enforce that cause, but we didn’t feel that we should have to adhere to what we signed. And to me, that’s the biggest red flag going.
Oh, absolutely. You know, I had recently. Changed up a few things and went all in with Adrian and it’s on all my sites and I’ve been I on the front side it it’s had a few bugs for me and it didn’t fully fit my workflow, but you know some things got fixed and I said. I think it’s time to make the switch and what what? They added those a support e-mail. And that it auto creates tasks and and I enforce that I you know I I told clients in an e-mail I sent it out and I think 90% open had that one straight client that didn’t open and had to have a nice conversation with them that hey, I’m adding staff. And I will be taking vacation. And if you don’t send this in to this e-mail, you don’t text me. You don’t call me. If I’m out of the. Office. Your stuff’s not going to. Get taken care of and. It finally hit one of the clients and they. Literally blew up. I was out last Friday. They sent a direct e-mail called texted after, you know, and answered in a few hours and said an angry message on Saturday. On Monday I got back to them and and said hey. I was out of the office and. I actually had staff covering. Your issue wasn’t that big of a deal and probably would have been taken care of in 15 minutes had you hit the support. Right now, and because there were no other issues that came in during that time frame. Yeah, they were still furious. And that’s when, you know I when we were talking about topics that. It it came around that it’s this client worth keeping on because they’re refusing to respect boundaries and, you know, even in even in the the general talk and and how they they deliver change requests. The relying and demeaning and you don’t have to put up with that. And I I think. We have to realize as agency owners that we should be treated just as well as we treat. Our clients.
So true and. You know that’s true. Another situation out there. I went to a client recently where. Back in November, we signed their contract. They paid some money. We did some work and then the delay started kicking in. It was delayed delay, delay, delay, delay and they missed started missing dates and I actually put clauses 2 causes to put my contract as date expectations and morality classes. And I think they’re really important. Basically states if you swear at me, you mistreat me. You do this, this, this, your, your contract will be cancelled without any refund towards any money. I do that quite right though. And this client broke all the rules to the point. They broke rules even more. Then they came back to me and said Ohh we’ll pay. You more money? We’ll we’ll do some work and then I got a text message on a Sunday morning at 6:00 AM saying we want a status on our project. They’ve been told that my business hours are 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday to Friday. And anything that’s a non-emergency and the only emergency in my books is if you’re on this care plan and you have a security contract, then those site downs get done after hours. Everything else wipes and they want the status. Now I ignored them. And I ignored the text that came in midday on the Sunday and Sunday evening. I finally sent an e-mail Monday morning that said you can’t do this because. You’re breaking the boundaries and ironically, I had just emailed out all my clients reinforcing the 8:00 till 6:00 PM policy Monday through Friday. So they do work and they opened it, so they deliberately ignored that. Ohh yeah. We’re sorry. So what happens that Friday, which is the Friday before Easter known as Good Friday. Which in Canada is a statutory holiday. They start texting me again and I just washed my hands with them and it became if you can’t accept boundaries, you’re not worth. The negativity you’re not worth the work. It’s very simple.
Ohh, that’s yeah. That’s so true. And I I think in talking with you talking with some of our other peers in our small group and. You know, and in some of the industry specific groups hearing some of the horror stories, I quickly started adding some things to my contracts and just my general terms and condition. As a as a CYA and you know, I had one client that emailed me because I I emailed them when I have to take my my terms and conditions and you know, just so they can look at it and be aware that, you know something could change because I I try and be transparent. That one client emailed me and was J. And he’s a great client. Emails exactly when he’s supposed to expect service. You know, nine to five. He’s like, did I do something wrong? And I said no. I’m just. Spelling on some things more specifically. So there’s no question on when support hours occur and there’s no ambiguity and that we’re on the same page and he was greatly appreciative of because it sparked him to update his own terms and conditions to have some of those same things in his contract. So I’ve I’ve learned from other people’s mistakes and you know, prepared myself to do that. And you know, when you’re dealing with a problem client like you said, there are two routes that. You can go. You can raise the rate to make it worth your while, because you know that extra time that it takes just to weave through the the ******** of their emails to get to the core of the problem takes extra time, but it also takes extra time because it for me it weighs on me. And I start. Thinking about it past, when I work on it so I don’t I don’t work up to my potential on, you know, other work when I’m done with. So you can either raise the rate to make it worth your while, or raise the rate beyond that to make it not worth their while to continue working with you. And you know, that’s certainly one route to go versus outlet canceling a contract, but. Something I had heard and read from a couple of agency owners was fire your worst client at the end of every year. And I I. Was just kind of taken aback by that and two things. You know, people always say if you’re not raising your rates, you’re losing money every year. You should account for inflation. That one’s going to touch you, but the other one was. Look at your client list and see if it still fits your business. And how you want to work. And it was kind of interesting where I really started taking, you know, a harder look at that and. Looking at my client last night and I have great clients and but it it took me a while where I’ve let go of some of those clients the past two years and it was towards the end of the year in each instance that I had done that I and I got to tell you the calling my work. Not having to to suffer through angry communications and you know, just and unhappy. Plant only in. The the work that I do for other clients and just my my whole days turned around.
So true and we all. Know in this space mental health is a big issue, right, Ryan? So we’re all we’re all working for ourselves. We’re all under pressure. We’re under again and I’ll give you an example. Shout out to my two clients, Sean and Angie. They’re actually in at the time of this record for a conference from Nova Scotia tomorrow night. They’re we’re getting together for dinner and they needed something in a hurry. Me and they emailed me nicely and said could you please get this done before we come in town for a conference? I got it done and then they were picking my brain about some tech stuff. Do I use the USB port in the hotel? The answer to that is no, and for obvious reasons. And what do I do about my laptop? Or use VPN in the hotel and things like that. And you know what? What clients like that I’ll always jump on five or a 10 minute call and give them that extra help because they respect you. You respect them and that’s how you build a relationship, but some of these clients. Have no clue whatsoever. And that’s just like awful.
That that’s the other part of. When you know we we talked about topic and one was firing guide clients and you know that’s that’s because we. Haven’t said no. And having and. When I started my agency officially, I’ve been doing things off and on, you know, on the side for a while. When I officially launched it. I had some work. I had some clients already that I rolled in, but when you grow, you don’t say no to a lot of work that you probably should and you know, because you just need the work to start. But at a certain point, you need to learn to say no. There are some things that either don’t fit. Your business, you know service wise or the client isn’t a fit for you and it’s hard. It’s hard to know. I do it a lot more now. But I I can tell you that. And having the experiences with with bad clients. My discovery call and that is 15 minutes and then on almost every project, if I’ve qualified that lead, we go through a deeper discovery. Usually it’s paid if it’s a larger project and. We find out if we’re going to be a good fit to work together and I’ve said no after that paid discovery to a few clients over the past couple of years because they weren’t a. Good fit and it’s it was hard. It was really hard the first time because it was a very lucrative project. The work itself was good. But the client’s attitude and personality did not fit with with how I run my business and. Wanted to work.
So I knew. At some point they would be in that that that firing line so. I just said no and you know it’s hard you. It takes a while to figure out what projects and what people to say no to.
No, no question on that one. I would, I would say anybody has a tough time with the no word which is I hate that one of my most favorite words when I don’t want to get into something, there’s a really good book called the Art of saying No go pick it up and read it. It’s worth to read. But the other thing is no, doesn’t mean just not taking on the client. No could be part of the project too. So for example, we all in this business know what scope creep is when the client tries to change the deliverables and not pay, and I. To find projects is like a menu in a restaurant. So if I go into a restaurant and I want that expensive line, that expensive beer, that expensive meal. And this happened last week. We were my partner and I were out for dinner and it ends up into that expensive cost, right? And you pay for what you get. And I’m. I’m not picking on the restaurant. The restaurant was wonderful. Don’t give me or options on a car. Do you want heated seats? Do you want a a DVD player? Do you want? Extra mirrors that will cost more. Well, Web design, is it any different or marketing? So I presented as a menu and they say well, I don’t want to pay that much and I say OK, So what are we pulling out? And by the way, I want this add-on and I’m like no, let’s finish the project first. Set your boundary and then we can talk about enhancing what you want. What do you think about that?
I you know, when I instead of saying no, you know to some of those clients, that’s absolutely the you know appropriate approach. Some clients want more than that’s in their budget, but they’re the ones that understand and that you can communicate with and say. Here’s what’s within your budget and they sit down and understand that and start to realize that they can start at a a particular point. And you offer to work on that and on as another part of the project later, after you’ve launch clients that are amenable to terms like that and abide by those terms. Aren’t bad clients. You don’t necessarily have to say no one of the clients I do say no to now are the ones that want the Ferrari for Chevy budget and. You know the clients that. Had bigger budget. That I find and are willing to. Pay for quality work or less trouble.
And yeah, I’ve I’ve heard that multiple times and and every instance it’s the tire kickers and the low budget client that had been the most problematic. And I have never found that to be disproven. And to to this day. I thought I would, but Nope it it’s that’s. Always the case.
No, I would agree. The ones that wanna pay the money are usually the ones that just say go to it, come back to me. They don’t argue, they don’t complain, they they understand the value of what they’re getting. The tire kickers, no budget clients are the ones who think they’re the same ones that walk into a dollar store and say, why can’t I get to 10, the $100 item? Well, it’s just not the way it is, right? One of the things I try to do when I say to a client, it’s not a good fit and. Twice in the last year, I haven’t. Just because the conversation went so, so quickly, I will actually recommend to that client somebody else they can call sometimes. So if it’s a client where it’s just not the right fit through the personality or things, I’ll actually say to them, you know. You can call this person. I’ve had clients come back to me on price and I gotta tell you when they come back to me after they’ve told me to go away, it usually gets pretty expensive and you’re laughing cause you know where this goes, don’t you?
I I I. Affectionately call that the robbery. And yeah, you know. When I yeah, I have a problem. Referring clients that are just so bad like you. Said I, you know. I don’t want to refer them. To people that I know. That are good, but I do have a couple of of other agencies locally that. Our niches are different and I recently went to a horizontal niche. Versus a vertical, so more and wider businesses, but tighter service offering. And I did that, but you know from my experience in 2020 when I was too deep into one vertical that that got slashed, but I still have you know some local colleagues. That we refer work to each other when it’s not a good fit and you know. One of my local colleagues has more staff than I do and so he’ll take on some of these lower budget clients and he’s he’s got a lot of template and options that that work for. Some of these clients. And you know when you’ve got a a junior dev. That isn’t billing quite the same rate. That’s different, and they can handle that work where that really doesn’t fit into my model. But the nightmare clients it it. Sometimes it’s just best to say no. But if you can refer out, I think those clients appreciate that as well.
No, I I agree with you and I’ll give in. And you can say no, even when they haven’t become when they’re no longer a client too and we we should talk about that. So I. Kleiner was doing work for an author promoting a book, and they decided they were gonna cancel the contract and they didn’t meet their cancellation policy. But I made a decision just to kind of get out of it and then say I’m. And then two weeks later. They actually came back to me and said could you provide us with all kinds of statistics from our social media accounts and the first words out of my mouth were. And they said why not? We already paid you for work. I said you cancelled this contract two weeks ago. You’re on your own. You’ve got access to all the accounts. Well, you know. Ohh, but that’s not fair. Yeah, it is fair. They cancelled the contract and then they wanted stuff for free. And it’s like, no, no, no. And you just gotta honestly use that sometimes because they don’t like to hear it, right?
Ohh yeah, that’s that’s absolutely true. You know one one thing that I found and you and I have talked about this client at length. You get a client that starts out good and you know we’ve all had this situation where something happens, where they hire someone or staff changes at the organization and all of a sudden things are different and. The relationship starts becoming difficult because you’re no longer dealing with the same client and it’s. That that’s another situation where. It’s unfortunate when you have a good client that goes S because they. And you know, I let one go when a really good client, multiple sites, a couple of sub businesses you know under contract and he hired an employee. And and pulling had a chip on her shoulder about not having access to certain things, kept breaking things, using up their marketing budget to fix things and and things were starting to go South. So first I canceled the marketing contract. I said OK. I can’t. And you’re not seeing results because of these things and you know, documented in the reporting I said any and anything that needs to be fixed after after this is going to be at cost and I started enforcing the contract well they didn’t like. So eventually it got to the point where I handed them a backup. And I said, you have 30 days to find a a new provider because I can no longer service your. Account and it’s unfortunate that you know you have to end some things like that, but once that changes and they refuse to to work with you, sometimes that’s the right decision. And for everyone.
No kidding. It sure is. That said, I think generally you and I have pretty good clients as a whole. I mean, I know we’re talking about the negativity side of the business and how to handle it, but I would say like I’m pretty lucky, I’ve got over 300 security clients and most of them. Are wonderful. Like I I I wanna make that clear. Like it. This is just a a discussion on how to handle that tough side of the business that nobody wants to talk about, right, right.
Ohh absolutely. And you know, I think we’ve gotten to our good clients because we’ve gone through all the experiences of having those few and it and it’s been few and you know in in you know. I think where? Where almost half an hour into to talk about how how to deal with bad clients and so. You know? But you know, it only takes a couple to really make a difference. And you know the rest are great. I have absolutely no qualms about asking any of my other clients for referrals, for reviews, for recommendations. And you know, you you do that by building positive relationships, having good communication and providing good work.
You know, and I I was just thinking as you were saying that what we really should do is turn our monthly segment next month into. To how to foster that great client relationship? And let’s turn this around and talk about the other side of it. But you know, it’s really interesting and I think if more agencies actually dealt with the problem type clients, they would be better off and their headspaces would be better and their mental health would be better. And they get more done. So I think this discussion is well worth having every day the week, right? So thank you for getting that.
So I have to comment. We’ve gotten through our first live and your office staff has actually been well behaved today. I don’t know what you gave them, but.
It’s it’s overcast and we’re coming into. Almost four days of rain off and on. So they’ve been well exercised today.
So what I would say to you is, as you always tell me to take my Canadian weather, you take the rainy weather cause I’m tired of it. So if somebody wants to get ahold of you, Ryan, how’s? The best flight.
Hey, every major social media platform at one DOC solutions. If you want to e-mail. Me Ryan dot Waterbury at one dog dot solutions or visit my website one dog dot solutions.
Ryan, as always, thank you very much for jumping on and having this great monthly conversation and we’ll speak to you next month. Have a great day.
Thank you too.