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Management Tools for Parking Area Sweeping

When is it Time to Fire Your Client?

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Posted in November, 2006.

Yes, you can fire your client! (Sometimes you have to...)

We all like to get paid. Some of us don't even mind working to get paid. So, you might ask, why would you walk from a situation where you were getting paid to do, in your opinion, professional work. The answer is: when you're working for a 'bad' client.

A lot of new sweeping contractors, especially, just want to get the work coming in because they need the cash flow to make sweeper and other payments. So, they tend to put up with anything. However, besides keeping your dignity intact, firing your client can be good for your business.

1. To begin with, don't sign up for something you can't do.

This is not really a "when to fire your client scenario;" however, it is important. Be sure that you establish what you can and cannot do from the very start. If a prospect has special needs you can't accommodate, such as sweeping off-schedule, early or late, due to noise restrictions in an area, then tell them exactly what you can and cannot do to meet these or any other requests.

If they want a full service exterior maintenance company and all you do is sweeping, don't take the contract with the hope they'll never need any graffiti removed or a pothole patched. At the same time, if you do provide other services besides traditional parking lot sweeping-related services, make sure they know that from the start, as well.

2. When the money stops flowing, sweeping needs to stop.

This seems simple, but especially contractors who are just starting out ignore things like their accounts receivable timeframe. If a client is not paying you, and in a timely fashion as agreed-upon, you need to quit sweeping for them. Provide them with a clear, concise timeframe in which you need payment for you to continue handling their account, then stick to your guns in quitting if they don't follow through as agreed.

Unfortunately, especially when you're just starting out, you can fall prey to clients that call for your services precisely because their previous contractor refuses to carry their account any further. That's why it's also always a good idea to check business references prior to taking on a new client. Don't hesitate to ask who has been sweeping for them and then call the other contractor to find out if payment has been an issue.

3. When the client is always late and/or doesn't treat you as a professional.

Maybe the client doesn't keep their commitment for meetings, or are late on signing off for scheduled projects or in getting you other items you need to begin. Everyone has their own threshold for how much of this they can take. Discover your threshold and start sticking to it. When clients don't treat you professionally, they'll also tend to 'nickel and dime' you whenever they get a chance. Next thing you know, they become a client that isn't making you money. Stop this type of behavior early on and you'll have a much more profitable client base in the long term. Demand respect -- and be sure to provide it, as well.

4. When a client isn't truthful.

Unfortunately, some people lie. Often, this can take the form of omission. I'm reminded of the sweeping contractor who took a call from a prospect who asked "when you sweep do your machines pick everything up?" The contractor answered "yes" and subsequently signed a contract to start that very night. When his sweeper operator arrived, he discovered a dead horse at the back of the center! Of course, the client expected it to be removed...

If you have clients that regularly leave out key details that end up costing your crew extra time (= money), then at some point you need to let another contractor in your area have them instead.

5. When your customer is a client of your client's client.

If you have ever played the parlor game of telephone, you know that messages that go through a lot of people often get distorted. One of the key ingredients to a healthy client relationship is managing the expectations. You have expectations of your clients and they have expectations of you. These are much easier to keep track of when you know who you are dealing with. Ideally, you should be able to speak to your 'checkoff people' directly.

This is also a reason why email proposals and responses have become so valuable in today's business climate. Since an increasing number of properties are today being managed either remotely or with checkoff required from a national home office remotely situated from the client property, email is a quick and easy way to 'keep things moving.' If you send an email with your proposal (including a digital photo(s) of the situation, if applicable) to your contact, then they will, in turn, be able to easily forward it to whoever has to provide final approval. Email also documents 'who said what' at every step along the way.

6. Changing the contract.

This is a situation that can be tough to call, and must be evaluated on an individual basis. Maybe a customer has decided they are paying you too much or they want you to do extra side work that was not included in the initial agreement. This is often the result of a visit from another contractor who's offered to do the same work for less. They may want to reduce the amount they pay for the same work, or want added services or sweeps per week at the same price. This requires a soul-searching evaluation of the situation, including an accurate analysis of the profit the client is currently providing you.

Treat these on a case-by-case basis, and be sure you don't choose to keep the client at an unprofitable rate. Seasoned industry veterans will tell you they often get customers back who have left them for a promised better deal with another sweeping contractor.

7. When the deal changes over and over.

Sometimes clients have no clue what they actually want from you. This occurs more often in construction cleanup situations, but also happens with regular mall-type sweeping. They tell you they want X and now they want Y. So you adjust, since you want a happy client, right?

Turns out they're then happy for awhile, but then they want a few more bells and whistles added in -- all at the same price, of course. So you change your service level once again. Then, they want something else added. When this type of situation gets out of control, you need to assert control of the situation. Looking back, typically contractors realize that, if they'd have charged appropriately for the initial changes in the first place, then the situation would never have gotten out of hand.

The bottom line is about managing expectations and having clear and honest communication from the very beginning through the end of the project. If you see red flags, it's best to address them from the very beginning. If things don't get better you may need to fire the client.

So, how do you fire a client?

Document everything - First, you should always attempt to address and resolve each and every issue asap, and this should always be documented. Be as concise and level-headed as possible. Don't let emotion enter into the equation!

Read your contract - Know what your options are for terminating the relationship and meet all of your obligations as best as possible. If the contract had clauses it shouldn't have, then determine not to sign an agreement with those clauses again. (Newbie contractors often sign whatever contract they're given. Pros either offer their own contract or cross out offending language in client contracts prior to returning them signed.)

Don't whine or 'burn your bridges' - This can include telling the client off, yelling at them or detailing all the things you think are wrong with them. Keep it professional and keep in mind that if you do you may well get a call from them in a few months.

Ranger Kidwell-Ross is editor of If you have new information to provide on this topic, let him know and we can add it in as an addendum to this article.

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