An Honest Guide to Keeping (or Firing) Your Consulting Clients

We’ve all been there before. You’re excited to get on the phone with a new prospect and when they send over their URL, you have a mini heart attack.

How am I supposed to work on this garbage website?!

If you’re selling PPC, hopefully you’re also including landing page creation and management so this isn’t so much of an issue. But for most of you that sell SEO, this can be a major roadblock to getting your client results.

The site isn’t responsive, it looks like it was built in the 90’s, and it has one paragraph of content on it.

The real question I am going to address in this post is: How far should you go for clients?

This can be further broken down into 4 stages of dealing with a client and questions you should be asking yourself:

  1.  Should you even take the client in the first place?
  2.  How much “extra” work is needed for you to be successful?
  3.  How far above and beyond to go for them?
  4.  When should you fire your client?

These questions mesh together so closely that I won’t separate them into different sections.

How Far Should You Go For New Clients?

Let’s say you sell SEO and the client’s site is so bad that it’s simply not going to rank, ever. Some people suggest making a separate website purely for ranking and pushing the leads from there to the client. But let’s be real – that isn’t proper branding and they’re still stuck with their garbage site.

For me, the problem is usually the prospect having a custom HTML site or with a Content Management System that isn’t easy to use or good for SEO. Let’s be real – most SEO consultants nowadays (including myself) can’t program and won’t be able to work on a pure HTML site without a CMS like WordPress.

If they have an in-house developer that can make the changes you suggest, it’s the ideal scenario. Any major development needed outside of that just to clean things up is just not worth the headache.

Do I usually take on these clients in the first place? No, switch to WordPress then call me.

You must have a baseline of what you’re willing to work with because you know that the extra time to fix/learn/create the system is not worth it.

For example, I was recently in the position of being eager and willing to pay for a done-for-you “funnel building” service. I was excited to work with one specific team but they made it very clear: you must already be using the tools (autoresponder, landing page software, etc) that we use or be willing to switch. I wasn’t quite ready to do that, so they lost the sale.

When I thought about it a bit later, I realized how smart this was on their part. Yes they lost out on thousands of dollars, but with the current tools they use they can literally import everything they already spent years perfecting in a couple of clicks into my account. If they were forced to use and learn another software, this would require more developing hours, doing everything from scratch, and they are better off spending the time selling to people that are willing to switch to their streamlined solution than paying for more employees for the time figure out different systems.

This can also go another way – let’s say you’re really good at getting your clients rankings and results. They also have a beautiful website. Yet they’re not converting because there are some glaring faults with their marketing approach or their copy.

This can sometimes be a LOT of extra work just to fix these faults- everything from copywriting to Conversion Rate Optimization.

Yet you KNOW that if you don’t do this extra work, then the traffic you bring them with your efforts and specialized services won’t be doing much good.

Is it your duty- morally or as part of the scope of work- to do this extra work and help them?

Sorry, I can’t answer this question for you. But I think you’re starting to see a trend here related to valuing your time.

Your Options

Your options are pretty limited:

  1. Change your delivery model to something that allows you to be in complete control and that you are confident delivers incredible results (eg. pay per lead)
  2. Set hard limits on what extra work you’re willing to do for a new client. If they require work beyond that, don’t take them on. Or charge for it if it won’t lead to a major headache.

Keep in mind while it may seem wise to include this work for free (client will appreciate you, off to a great start/relationship), what you’re actually doing is lowering the value of your service and opening up possibilities for wrong expectations about your service and possibly being taken advantage of.

Remember, in most agencies the goal is to eventually have the client on board for multiple services and traffic sources that you provide. So why give them away for free in the beginning?

That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going above and beyond for clients. I actually do this in a very strategic way:

  1. Keeping the expectations either very vague or underpromising on the actual deliverables. Then when it comes time to deliver, I “over” deliver. They’re blown away with the results, reports, and all these things they never expected. Meanwhile I knew the whole time that is my regular service that I provide.
  2. Quickly fixing a glaring roadblock, not to impress the client, but to make the work easier for you and your team. Set a weekly or monthly upper limit to how many “goodwill hours” you’re willing to dedicate per client, and if it fits (and isn’t part of another service altogether), then estimate the hours and do it.

Anything, don’t be afraid to explain to the client that there is unforeseen roadblocks and work that they will need to pay for if you are to continue working.

Don’t be taken advantage of. As a buyer, I am definitely guilty of taking advantage of eager contractors (especially when it comes to website design and development). But sometimes when they show how they’ve been going way above and beyond the scope of work and I’ll have to pay, I appreciate it, value their time more, and often will pay for it.

Know your value, calculate your time’s worth, the worth of a headache, and remember there are always opportunity costs in not being able to sell another client in that time.

When to Fire Your Clients

I’ve discovered a simple secret 4 years ago that I still live by to this day: If you’re having a problem with a client, it’s because you didn’t do your due diligence before taking them on.

The same actually applies to getting on the phone with someone that doesn’t need or can’t afford your services. You wasted your time because you didn’t do the proper qualification and preliminary research on the prospect.

But maybe it’s too late. The client had organizational changes or some unforeseen event happened. They’re already paying you and it’s just… awful.

Every client relationship boils down to different forms of communication and the results you get for them.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the best clients speak to you once a month, with a one-liner “Thanks Lior” email reply after sending over a monthly report. They’re simply too busy working and growing their business, and you’re helping with that. They trust you. They see you’re getting results. They don’t need to know everything.

Happy Clients. Happy Lior.

I’m not sure if I’ve set communication expectations really well, I do good work, or I just got very lucky, but 90% of my clients end up being that way after about 2-3 weeks of working closely together.

Then there is communication that is flat out horrifying. 1-2 weeks delayed on responses, 15 back and forth emails a day asking why rankings aren’t up yet, random calls asking for advice not related to anything you provide.

Let’s just make this simple once and for all:

Unless there is some unusual circumstance (conflict of interest, dating your client’s daughter, etc), feel at full liberty to fire your client if their communication adds you any undue stress into your life, or if you are not delivering results.

“Results” generally means a healthy ROI, but in the beginning it can mean breaking even, or being able to deliver items that are not in your expertise.

Be more selective. Be more lean. Don’t be afraid to fire. Release your attachment to the money.

Bonus: How to Keep Clients That Want to Fire You

I know that feeling. The weekend is going great, life is good, and out of nowhere you get that notification on your phone from PayPal:

“Your Client has canceled their subscription to SEO – 10 keywords package”

Even worse, sometimes they’ll let you do the honours and cancel it yourself. “It’s not you. It’s me. Actually it is you. Your results suck. Please cancel our monthly payments.”

Kidding aside, I’ve definitely been there before but experience has also taught me a few tricks to salvage the relationship and make the client happy:

  • Increase communication. Show you’re on top of things when a Google update happens or a new competitor crushes your ad campaign stats. Don’t just wait for the monthly report to let them know they’re in good hands
  • Change the key metrics that you’re reporting on. Ok, sales aren’t flying up just yet. But hey, we moved up all your keywords 50 spots to page 2. This is incredible improvement and we’re really close to game-changing traffic increases
  • Provide value in other ways. Are you just a keyword-ranker or are you giving such invaluable advice that you became indispensable to the client?
  • Offer side services that complement the work. Are they already running ads? Can you deliver leads in another way, or improve conversions somewhere else? Don’t be afraid to charge for this, but if it won’t be a lot of extra work, get them results in other ways. This is a great example of going above and beyond when you really need to in order to get results (eg. PPL, social media management, press releases)

Here’s what you’re NOT going to do: Never lower your price in order to keep a client!

A good friend of mine recently fired a contractor of his and immediately the contractor started reducing his prices in order to keep the retainer. That got my friend thinking… why was I paying him the “full” amount if he is giving me a discount now? Clearly he doesn’t value his service, so why should I?

Offering a guarantee or structure where you keep working until they get results could be fine and works in many cases to appease a frustrated client. Just promise me you won’t lower your prices.

What to do when you are delivering good results…

If you tried the above methods and all else fails, drop the client. If you’re NOT delivering results, and they want to fire you, let them. As we discussed above, it’s just the right thing to do.

But there are going to be times when you are delivering good work and the client still wants to fire you.

Here’s another secret: If your client isn’t happy but you’re delivering them results (especially an ROI), then you didn’t set proper expectations.

(Again, the same applies to the sales call. If someone has too many objections when it comes time to the pitch- especially price objections- it’s because you didn’t properly help them understand the value of your service and what kind of results they are going to be getting with your service and why they’re important.)

Expectations are everything. Maybe they didn’t hire you for an ROI, but to just be there for advice or do another service that they thought was included. Set expectations early on, like timelines, typical results, deliverables, type of reports, quality of work, etc, and you should be fine.

If it’s too late for that, it’s time to put your foot down and set the expectations now. Get on the phone with the client (not email) and state clearly and unequivocally what they should expect from paying you. If I sense my time will be taken advantage of, I will also let them know how communication with me works in terms of reporting, emailing, and/or meetings.

Be firm and if they’re not having it, why would you want to work with someone who doesn’t value your good results? Pull the plug and see how they like their profits plummeting.


That’s it from me! I’d love to hear from you in the comments below what your go-to tactics are for firing (or keeping) your clients. Any interesting anecdotes?

Good luck and keep prospecting!

  • 5 years ago

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