For Architects: How to Fire a Client

We have worked with several hundred homeowners in the past few years and roughly one out of one hundred have been just downright mean. When I say mean, that includes behavior honest people can’t imagine.  I asked a lawyer friend of mine if he ever has to fire a client.  He said he does it all the time.  He stressed that it is just not worth the personal stress that a bad client causes you and their behavior can really hurt the rest of you your business too.

Here is how he fires a client:

“I have a very busy practice with many clients who I truly care for.  You, unfortunately are not one of them.”

That’s it.  You’re done.

I’ve never said this though. I don’t have the courage. We’ve also been good enough to consistently note that we charge for the services provided and that weeds out quite a few people right at the start.

Every professional service person such as an architect, contractor, engineer, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, landscapers learn early in their careers that avoiding a problem client.  In order to survive they do so very early in their careers.  According to one electrician he “has very good antennae for the problem clients”

Here are the tactics that more polite people use to avoid challenging people before they even get started:

The polite ways that we have seen architects and contractors effectively fire people include:

  1. ” I am booked for the next year and can’t fit this in my schedule. I’d be happy to work with you next year”
  2. “Who referred you to me? I’m busy working for the children and relatives of previous clients.  Sorry:
  3. Provide a proposal that is two or three times more than they are charging a comparable, but nice client.  Note to owners: When someone bids way too much this is their “walk away price”.
  4. Don’t return phone calls or emails.  This works and may be the most common tactic but it doesn’t reflect very well on the professional.

Here are a few “fireable” actions:

  1. Throwing a proposal back at the designer saying it’s too expensive “fix it”.
  2. Refusing to pay for the services offered.
  3. Negotiating to reduce fees below what the professional needs to earn to run a successful practice.
  4. Fighting other projects in the neighborhood.
  5. A bad relationship with previous professionals, contractors, tradespeople.
  6. Claiming they can’t afford the professional services while magically finding money when it’s time to buy nice gadgets and finishes.

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