New Years 2016: Fire These Toxic Clients Immediately

by Terri Scott 7 Minutes

firing bad clients Google SearchThe new year is always the time to make personal resolutions, but since your business is an extension of your personal life, then shouldn’t you make resolutions pertaining to how you’ll conduct your business in the new year?

Specifically, shouldn’t you make solid decisions about whom you’ll conduct business with this year?

I know what you’re thinking:

All business leads are good business leads, right?

That seems to be the pervasive perception in the freelancer/entrepreneur world. If you’re reading this post, then you’re probably one of the many who are simply grateful that anyone wants to pay you for your talents or your services.

It’s probably taken you a while to accept the fact that you can earn hundreds or thousands of dollars per project, and you don’t have to settle for pennies on the dollar per hour. This is a common perception, especially if you’re relatively new to working for yourself and generating your own revenue.

However, there will come a time to outgrow the mentality that all prospects are good prospects, and all work is good work. If you’ve been in the trenches for a time, then you’ve been knocked around enough to know that this isn’t even a little true!

You might have even dealt with project clients who have made you question why you decided to work for yourself. Maybe you’ve dealt with clients who were so horrible to deal with, you’re this close to filling out employment applications again.

Let’s face it: Becoming an employee again might be your best bet if:

  • You’re operating at a loss
  • You’re tired of robbing Peter to pay Paul in order to pay your bills
  • You’ve lost the stomach to handle clients
  • You’ve never learned how to embrace marketing

Everyone has responsibilities, and employment might allow you to meet yours.

However, you might be in the position to hang in there with working for yourself if:

  • You’re in the position to fight the good fight just a little while longer
  • You know that you have the talents and the skills to provide a great service (if only you could find the right clients)
  • You’re feeling especially resilient and you’re not ready to give up
  • You’re able to meet your current financial responsibilities

If you’ve in the second category, then there’s something powerful you can do that just might propel your business operations and your revenue generating abilities into the next stratosphere.

You can make the most important new year’s resolution of all:

You can make a list of toxic clients to fire, immediately! 

At the very least, you can make a list of client prototypes to avoid like the revenue-killing, soul-sucking entities they tend to be!

Why Toxic Client Extermination Should Be At The Top Of Your List

The short answer to this statement is, do you really want to spend another year using your creative and personal energy figuring out how out to out-maneuver and outlast your toxic client?

Do you really want to figure out a million ways to keep attempting to generate revenue from a bad resource?

I know that it’s scary and almost verboten for freelancers/new entrepreneurs to turn down an interested prospect. However, I’d urge you to consider a few strong reasons why it’s time to give your relationship with these types the mercy-killing it deserves:

Toxic Clients Slowly Murder Your Revenue

The fact is, all of the energy you’ll place into babysitting the toxic client’s unreasonable demands and personality disorder is killing the energy you’ll need to promote your service to other clients who are a lot healthier (and pleasant) to deal with.

Toxic Clients Strangle Your Confidence

The thing about especially-toxic clients is that they’re masterful at brainwashing you into believing that you’re inept, you’re not worth your fee, you’re not capable of satisfying your clients, and the way you operate your business model is all wrong…simply because they’re not getting their way.

I’ve personally dealt with a couple of client issues that left me with questions…until I checked in with trusted colleagues. I realized that I was 100 percent on the right track in my business decisions. Just because the toxic clients didn’t agree with my decisions didn’t mean that my decision were wrong.

But I definitely felt wobbly for a while, and you probably have too, especially if you’ve dealt with clients who seem lack moral barriers, and they seem to have skipped Business Etiquette 101!

They’re Bleak To Deal With

One of the many advantages of working for yourself is not having to work in an office full of people who you either marginally like, or you flat-out can’t stand!

Yet, time and again, we place ourselves in positions to work with client prospects (or current clients) who are absolutely awful to do business with!

We kid ourselves that in the end, as long as we’re getting paid, it’s worth it. After all, we get to beat our chests and tell everyone that we work at home, or at the very least, we work for ourselves. We love how we get to enjoy all sorts of tax benefits and deductions that were never available to us as employees.

These are all aspects that offer us a salve of relief after our spirits have been assaulted (and sometimes, insulted) by our toxic clients.

But, if you’re really going to enjoy the benefits of working for ourselves, then shouldn’t you align yourself with client partnerships that work best for personal and professional needs?

Do you really want to continue working with clients who cause you anxiety, fear, disappointment, disillusionment, inferiority, or doubt?

How are any of these emotions allowing your business to thrive and soar?

Clients Who Need To Be Cut From Your List

If you’re ready to operate a healthy business in 2016, then it’s crucial to cut away the gangrened aspects, such as toxic clients (or prospects).

Here’s a sampling that I’d recommend axing away:

More Work Client

More work client is the type who entices new, hungry, and desperate service providers with juicy dangling carrots of more work…as in “There will be more work if you (fill in the blank).”

Here’s the problem with this:

You’re not a horse!

You’re human, and you’re developing yourself as a respected business person. Don’t let anyone treat you like an dependent animal!

Their narrative:

You need me to keep money in your pocket!

Scope Creep Client

Scope creep client is like the teenaged child of the business world. They love pushing and testing your boundaries to see how far they can go in getting their way. They also love gaining power over you by frustrating you and ticking you off.

rebellious teenager Google Search


Regardless of how much you’ve detailed the scope of your project, they’re fond of squeezing out more.

Their narrative:

I have no respect for your project or price boundaries.

Contract Violator Client

Contract violator client is pretty straight-forward in their agenda. They’re like the wolf in sheep’s clothing of the business world because they’re initially charming to deal with.

They read your contract (or your proposal) and they have no problem with signing on the dotted line. The problem with this type of client becomes abundantly clear when it’s time for you to enforce your contract.

ripping up contract Google Search


They’ll either manipulate you into excusing them from the terms, or they’ll blatantly violate your contract terms, with no remorse.

Their narrative:

The rules don’t apply to me. I laugh at your stipulations and your meager attempts to control me!

But if these examples weren’t enough, then Boundless gives you the best reason of all to cut off toxic clients as soon as possible:

Negative or overwhelming work experiences can cause a person substantial distress. Burnout, depression, and psychosomatic disorders are particularly common outcomes of work-related stress.

In general, individual distress manifests in three basic forms: psychological disorders, medical illnesses, and behavioral problems.

Achieving Quan In The New Year

My colleague Mary Rose Maguire reminded me of the phrase quan from the now-classic Jerry Maguire movie (no relation, of course).

In the movie, Rod Tidwell defined quan as

Love, respect, community… and the dollars too!

In real life, you can’t make your clients love you on a personal level. You don’t know if they’ll let you develop community with them (or their team). But if there’s one thing that you should definitely demand, it’s respect!

Mary Rose does a great job of explaining what respect looks like in a healthy business relationship:

Healthy relationships are a combination of concessions, acknowledgement, recognition and appreciation. Those who are smart know that not everything is going to go their way in any relationship.

However, with a little work they can still feel as though they’ve created a win-win outcome.

Notice that she mentioned win-win? She doesn’t advocate business vendors allowing themselves to be taken advantage of or mistreated for the sake of independently earning a living.

Here’s an example of how you might have been disrespected in your business relationship:

An independent contractor or consultant wins a proposal to work with a company. He invoices a percentage of the fee to get the project started and after several strategy sessions, he’s ready to dive in.

After an agreed-upon time frame, he delivers the first draft of a project, hoping he came close to what the client wanted.

And then… nothing.

No email response. No phone calls. Nothing. And the independent contractor is left wondering if the project has been put on hold or if the business owner suddenly skipped town. Who knows?

During times like these, it’s easy to think the worst. If you’re the service provider, it’s tempting to think you did something wrong.

She goes on to spell out what business vendors should expect out of the deal:

Whenever you start a new relationship – whether it’s personal or professional – you probably are looking for respect. No one wants to be taken advantage of or mistreated in a relationship.

Here’s a clip courtesy of the Zulu Alpha Kilo company that sums everything up. Ask yourself, in what other field is being taken advantage of acceptable beyond the digital or creative fields?

Are you ready to leave old patterns behind in the new year? Are you ready to start addressing your health? The best place to start might be in your professional life.

New Year’s represents a time of starting the year with a clean slate. Celebrate the upcoming year by refusing to move forward with or take on clients who are hopelessly toxic to your professional and personal health!

* Lead photo source

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by Terri Scott
Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time. You can view her work at, and she'd love to hear from you: