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Firing a client without burning your bridges

Posted by Ilise Benun on

One of the pleasures of working for yourself is the freedom to choose whom you want to work with. However, that process isn’t always pleasant, especially when you have to “fire” a client. Sharon Bending, of Bending Design did it the right way – without burning any bridges – and when it came back around, it didn’t bite her. Au contraire! Here’s what happened:

I recently had to fire a client. I had let the project get out of hand; it was a big, giant, hairy project that in the end taught me a ton. But after a year, I was still working on it, paying a developer and losing money.

This wasn’t the first time I had to fire a client. The first time was someone who had never worked with a design firm and for the life of me I just couldn’t translate their thoughts into designs that worked for them. I let them go, agreed to return a portion of their deposit — everyone won there – and felt like I handled the situation professionally.

Here’s the kicker – this week, unbeknownst to her, my assistant cold called the client I’d fired (she was now at a different company; the name was familiar but she didn’t know the background.) My assistant left a voicemail message and the “prospect” called back to tell us there was a better person in the company to approach. Then she said, “By the way, I worked with Sharon on a project at my last company. She had to end the project because she was pregnant and had a lot on her plate. Anyway, I’ll put in a good word for you guys.”

Wow, I was so surprised that she 1) called us back, 2) gave us the contact to speak with, and 3) said she’d put in a good word… This was someone I had fired a year and a half earlier! That goes to show – handle yourself professionally no matter what the situation. You never know what will happen. That, or get pregnant and you can use that as an excuse :)

Do you have a “firing” story – good or bad – to share?

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