Today, I went back to work after a 2-week vacation. One of the first emails I opened was from a fairly new client – firing me. My heart sank, then pounded, then lifted. Sad, angry, relieved.
A long time ago, in a Facebook group for small business owners, I remember reading someone say that they loved when people unsubscribed from their email list. For most people, it was a failure. But for her, it was a great success. She was narrowing down her niche! She was making her audience more specific! That one person leaving made room for all the people who did want to hear her message! It was an eye-opening revelation for me.
I see clients leaving as the same thing. And here’s why.
All the Better for Them
It may sound passive-aggressive, but I am truly happy when a client leaves me because they can now move on to someone better. Maybe not objectively skillfully better than I am, I’m not saying that. (Although, good for them if they find someone who is a better designer!) But a better match for them.
All relationships are special, from personal ones to business ones. If that person wasn’t a good match for me, to the point where they wrote an email titled “You’re Fired”, then there must be someone out there who is a better fit. Now that they’ve moved away from me, they will know more about what they do and don’t want in this kind of relationship. I’ve seen a handful of ex-clients with sites that were fantastic! Things I never could have done or come up with and I am truly happy for those clients. Why shouldn’t I be?
I Suddenly Have More Time (And Less Stress)
I’m a fairly emotional person, to be frank, and when my clients are struggling or are not satisfied, I lose sleep over it. I put research into what’s going wrong. I talk to my friends about it to try and figure out what I can be doing better. I’ll start on their projects at the beginning of the day before anyone else’s because I want to bridge the gap between floundering and success. When they do decide to move on, suddenly I have so much more time! I don’t have to lose sleep or worry about how their project is going. Instead, I can move on to giving my happier clients extra love.
100% of the clients who have fired me (which, thankfully, hasn’t been too many) were extremely stressful, tiring, and stubborn people. The firing never came out of the blue. A lot of arguing and back-and-forth would precede the breakup. So when it’s over, it’s like a huge emotional weight has been lifted. Sure, it stings a little to know that I didn’t make it work. But when you leave any bad relationship, there is always, eventually, the feeling of freedom.
Nothing Was Lost
This point is a little bit more on the selfish side. I’ve structured my business to ask for a 50% non-refundable deposit at the very start. This covers all the work I do up until the end. There have been 1 or 2 people who didn’t like this concept and therefore, chose to move on. But for the most part, people accept it and pay it and don’t regret it.
When I get fired for a project, it’s almost a monetary gain. I usually haven’t done half the work yet, but I still got half of the payment. It sounds a little selfish and almost like a scam, I know. When I was fired the first time, I considered giving the money back! But it occurred to me that it is my responsibility to make sure the client is the right fit for me and it is equally the client’s responsibility to make sure I am the right fit for them. I love when new clients ask me millions of questions and keep me on that first call forever. It means they care about their project and they want to make sure I am the best possible solution for them. It’s their money being spent, not mine.
And honestly, even if I put a good amount of work into the project and get fired, I can never not use the practice. Typically, the firing happens within the first month or so, so not too much work goes in. But even if I was almost finished, even if I was 90% done, that work still made me a better designer, even if I don’t get to add ut to my portfolio.
I’m One Step Closer to Never Losing a Client Again
It sounds so cheesy, but everything is a learning experience if you want it to be. When a client breaks up with me, I am forced to ask myself what I could have done to have prevented it. Not, “What could I have done to make them stay?” But rather, “What could I have done to realize earlier on that this person and I were not a good fit?”
In the most recent instance, I realized I need to be more upfront about my process. I need to tell potential clients that they will be required to do a certain amount of work to make the project happen. I won’t be able to show them anything without that work being done. I also need to make sure that my clients are familiar and comfortable with Google Drive, or at least willing to learn. My last client wasn’t on board with it at all and just got annoyed when I asked if there was another method she would prefer.
Hopefully, if I learn from each experience, I will end up with a perfect interview method, perfect intake method, and perfect onboarding method and therefore, perfectly satisfied clients!