Fire Bad Clients 

When I was 23, I became the top executive of a 60-year-old organization. 

One of the most powerful lessons I learned in that role is: don’t be afraid to fire a bad client. 

Imagine being 23 and managing this 60-year-old organization. You and your Board make a tough, controversial decision that you know deep in your gut is right. People laugh, scoff, and roll their eyes when it’s announced. The next day, you receive a phone call from a major funding source… 

“If you don’t do XYZ (the opposite of what we decided), maybe we’ll take our money somewhere else!”

PANIC! This actually happened to me. 

Entering a meeting shortly after that call, I relayed the information to the chair of the committee responsible for the decision. A tough, hardened, experienced businessman, he said…

“We stick with our decision. We’ll find other sources of money if needed, but we’re going to make the right decision for this organization not for Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So.” 

Translation: don’t be afraid to fire a bad client. 

Since that advice, I’ve never feared a tough conversation with someone that could result in a loss of money. I never want that outcome, but I don’t fear it. 

Sadly, there are many, many takers in the world. Our guts tell us this is going to be a difficult relationship, and instead of walking away, we go into it hoping for different results, but it rarely works. 

Sadly, many experienced business owners, nonprofit executives, and other leaders are held hostage every day by bad clients and donors. It doesn’t have to be that way. For every bad client who insists you do it their way, there are many more who will line up to support your doing it the right way. 

As bold and risky as it may sound, never be afraid to fire a bad client. 

And, for the record, we did the right thing, stuck to our decision, kept the funding source, and everyone, including the funder, LOVED the ultimate outcome of the decision. 


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