When You Know It’s Time to Walk Away From a Difficult Situation

Know When to Walk Away advice on a cork notice board Do you find you’re not sleeping at night? Are you taking aspirins to relieve your splitting headaches? Have you complained to your friends about your “client from hell?”

These are signals that something isn’t right.

Taking Stock

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then it’s time to re-examine your client relationship and decide if you need to walk away. No one says it will be easy.

Maybe it’s your biggest client and you need the income.  Maybe it’s your boss. But can you afford to get sick over it?

You need to take care of yourself. Your health comes first. But perhaps there is a way to repair the situation. Most clients want to have a productive relationship with their outside consultants or agencies. In spite of this, they may be tone deaf to their own unreasonable demands.

Executives in companies are under increasing pressure to get results. Staffs have been cut and the people left find they are doing the work of more than one person. It’s tempting to push off the extra work outside onto the agency or consultant.

If your client is making impossible demands about the level of work or setting unreasonable deadlines, then suggest some solutions. Start by scheduling a meeting with the client and diplomatically explain what’s not working.

Be Specific

It’s not a good idea to start the conversation with, “This just isn’t working and I don’t know what to do about it.” Be specific about what needs to be fixed. These are some of the most common problems:

Too much work. Most consultants charge by the hour. Even if you are working on a project with a fixed fee, you’ve estimated the time necessary to compete the assignment. Possibly the client keeps adding work that wasn’t included in the original proposal.

Make a list of the tasks and the amount of time you’ve already spent. Say, “I thought this would be a good time to review what we’ve accomplished to date and what else needs to be done.”

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Suggest that someone inside the company perform those extra tasks. Or, say you’ll be happy to take them on for an additional fee. Remind yourself that your time is valuable. Don’t short change your other clients because you don’t have time for them. You will never grow your business that way.

Unreasonable deadlines. The client wants everything done yesterday, and continues to give you unreasonable deadlines. Explain the amount of time it will take to complete a project or task. Gain his agreement on an appropriate deadline. Create a timeline that you both agree to.

Remind him of that deadline when he continues to ask you for the finished product. Sometimes you just have to put your foot down.

The client keeps moving the goalposts. We were once engaged by a corporation to undertake a major assignment that would involve bringing in our entire team of trainers. We developed extensive materials and scripts based on their original Scope of Work.

The client kept making changes and asking for rewrites over and over again. The internal people couldn’t agree among themselves about what they wanted. It was literally making us ill and we told the head of corporate communications that we would have to resign the project.

To our surprise, she understood completely that they had been a bad client and paid us a very significant kill fee for the project for all the planning work we had done.

You don’t get paid. Be sure you set a schedule for getting paid. It’s understandable if an invoice gets delayed once. But if the company owes you money for several months, then you’ve got to stop working until you are paid. Some large corporations are now insisting on a 90-day payment schedule. If this isn’t satisfactory, don’t take the work.

When All Else Fails

There is a limit to the abuse you’re willing to take. Sometimes we continue in a bad relationship because we feel it’s our fault it isn’t working. You may think, “I can make this better!”

But sometimes you can’t. There are just some clients that you can’t work with. You can’t continue in a relationship where there isn’t mutual respect.

There are always other clients. End the relationship with dignity. No name-calling, or whining and casting blame.

Complete the projects you’re working on, and then say farewell with a simple, “We don’t believe our services are meeting your needs, and you would be better served by another agency. All our best wishes.”

After you cut the cord and walk away, you should start sleeping like a baby.

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