Is It OK to Fire a Client? When and Why?

When you work in the wedding industry, the success of your business lies in finding and keeping new clients. There may come a day, however, when one of your clients makes you question whether or not the job is worth the effort. (Bridezilla, anyone? Groomzilla? MOTB-zilla?) How can you identify the type of client that just too much trouble to be bothered with, and how do you deal with the situation? If you want to build and support your brand as a wedding business, you need to be prepared to defend it, and that might mean firing the occasional client.

  Trump - You're Fired! from AnimateIt.net

When to Fire a Client

You’ve spent a great deal of time building not only your business, but your brand as well. You know exactly what niche you occupy within the wedding industry, and you have a specific quality of service you deliver to all of your clients. So what happens when one of your clients makes it difficult (or impossible) to maintain that standard of service? For the sake of maintaining your brand, your reputation, and the wellbeing of your business, you may need to direct that client to another company.

So how do you identify the type of client that should be fired? It is quite simple — if working with the client will require you to compromise your brand or your quality of service, it is not worth working with him or her.

Take for example the client who constantly changes her mind about what she wants from you. This type of client is never satisfied and causes you and your staff a great deal of stress in trying to keep up with her latest demands. If working with this client would cause you or your staff to compromise the quality of service, it may not be worth the effort. (It will likely also pull time away from servicing your better/ideal clients.) You may also need to fire a client if she continually refuses to pay or makes late payments, if she is disrespectful to your staff or vendors, or if she expects a level or type of service that doesn’t correspond to your brand.

How to Fire a Client

In order to ensure that you have the option to fire a client if need be, make sure your contract has a clause that allows you to do so. Somewhere in your contract you should state your right to terminate the client relationship if necessary — you should also outline the process for returning the client’s deposit and for receiving compensation for the work you have done up until the point of termination. With these protections in place, your client will not be able to argue that it is completely within your rights to terminate the relationship. (As always CONSULT a lawyer to ensure that your contract allows you to terminate the relationship.)

So how do you go about firing a client? If you have determined that you simply cannot work with this client, you need to tactfully explain the situation and return any money due to them. Write the client an email or letter explaining that you think she would be happier with another company. Do your best to keep the letter civil and avoid putting blame on the client. Simply state that you do not feel that you can meet the needs of the client and that she would be happier with another company.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you ever had to fire a client? Share in a comment below.

How Many Payments to Ask of Your Clients

CashInflowIs it better to ask for 2 payments from a client? Or, 4 payments?

Typically, wedding pros make this decision based on what they can manage in their workflow. (Asking for payment becomes a nightmare to people who don’t always have simple systems in place.) But – the real question is: what is the impact on your cash flow? If you have cash coming in year round, then it doesn’t matter. But, if you have a slow part of your season, you’ll want to specifically ask for a payment during that slow season.

Here’s an example:

July and August is slow for weddings in hot hot hot Texas. I would recommend that business owners in Texas have 3-payment plans: ask for a retainer/deposit when they book their client, a second payment due July 1st, and a 3rd payment due 2-4 weeks before the wedding.

By scheduling your 2nd payment to occur during slow times you’ll ensure that you have money coming in during an otherwise slow time. There is nothing that says your payments need to follow structured windows of time. WORK your cash flow to YOUR favor. Payments could be set up as such:

A Seattle business that asks for payments on December 1st (slow), February 2nd (slow), and June 1st.
A Florida business that asks for payments on April 1st, July 1st (slow), and September 1st.
A DC business that asks for payments on January 1st (slow), May 1st, and July 1st (slow).

Naturally, you can make exceptions if a client wants to break out the payments into more payments. I’m always a fan of working with the clients’ needs to streamline their cash flow too. They’re likely to book you if you can be flexible with payment plans.

Payments from clients are less a function of your operations and more a function of your finances. When will you need the money? Ask the client for it then.

Need help with your cash flow? Talk to me: michelle@sageweddingpros.com .

 

Damage Control

Outstanding customer service isn’t just about meeting client demands. Outstanding customer service is about solving problems, fixing mistakes, and good ol’ fashioned damage control. In an ideal world problems don’t happen. We know that isn’t the case in the real world. And, we know that no wedding is without its series of unforeseen events. What separates the best wedding pros from the rest?

Damage control.

Do you have the reflexes, quick thinking, and creativity to solve a problem in a flash. And can you do so with all over you sanity and peace-of-mind intact, in a calm cool manner?

These are the situations that will get your clients talking about you to their friends and family. “And – Oh my god! The cake arrived and one side of the frosting was all mashed! I couldn’t believe it. I was about to freak out crying when Sally, our amazing wedding planner, told me ‘no sweat’. She grabbed a few flowers from a centerpiece and was able to pop them into the cake. The cake looked gorgeous – as if it was supposed to have those flowers. I couldn’t believe she thought of that! I’m so glad I hired her. She saved the day!”

Weddings are high stress. (Yeah – I get it – it’s not brain surgery. Try telling that to the bride. It’s a once in a lifetime event and there’s a lot at stake.) How able are you to cope with the stress of this job? This job depends on it!

 

Getting Paid, Part 3

This week, I’m making sure YOU get paid!  :)  On Tuesday, we looked at some changes you can make to your contract so that you safeguard yourself against non-payment.  Yesterday, I shared my favorite tools for invoicing clients.  Today, it’s time to tackle the ugly:  WHAT if your client doesn’t pay you?  ACK – the horror!

Here are steps on collecting payment from non-paying customers:

1 – Make sure all payments are collected PRIOR to the wedding.

If you offer a day-of-the-wedding service, your contract and invoicing needs to indicate final payment BEFORE the event.  The day of the event can be a little chaotic for a bride to be whipping out her checkbook.  And, after the event… well… you’re certainly not a priority anymore as the couple heads off for their  honeymoon in Fiji.  It will become increasingly challenging to collect on invoices after the event has occurred.

If you sell a product, you need to consider how much of your work is at risk in producing that product.  For example, if you sell custom stationery you will most likely be unable to re-sell any client’s canceled orders.  (In my stationery business, I require 50% deposit at contract signing and 50% when production begins.  Once production has begun, the client owns all of that inventory and work we’ve put into it.  I don’t start any work on a job until I’ve received 100% payment.)

Make sure to time payments received with how much work you have put into servicing the wedding.  For example if you are wedding planner, you want to time the invoices with the work you are doing.  If you have only invoiced them for 25% of the fee and have done 75% of the work and they cancel their event, you may have a hard time collecting that 50%.  (See  #4 and #5.)

2 – Remind, remind, remind.

As I mentioned yesterday, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  If the client has $1000 in their bank account, they’re going to make the check out to the wedding pro that is most insistent on collecting it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Trust me, the more on top you are of getting paid, the less often you’ll face any problems.

If I’m expecting payment from a client, I have a ‘3 strikes, you’re out’ policy.  After sending the initial invoice, I’ll send 3 reminders.  Each reminder has a due date.  If the client misses the due date, we need to have a deeper discussion.

3 – Learn what the problem is and work with the client.

If the client has missed all my reminders, I get that client on the phone.  I’m very sympathetic to people’s problems and I want to learn what is preventing them from paying me.  This sympathy goes a long way.  Ultimately, I want the client to pay me.  So I need to work with them.

If the client is having financial problems, some times it is simple enough to resolve by setting up a payment plan.  Maybe the $1000 bill was too hard for them to swallow in one lump sum.  But, a $200/month payment over 5 months may be a little more manageable.  If I can learn what the problem is with non-payment, then I can work to offer the client some solutions.

4 – If there is no response and the client owes you money…

If the client owes you money, you need to make some tough choices:

  • If you are servicing them on the day of the wedding, will you not show?  If they haven’t paid you to render day-of services, this is a very real consideration.  Naturally, you need to let them know that if they haven’t paid you by the wedding, you won’t be showing up.
  • If you do show and they have not yet paid you, you need to be at peace with the fact that you may never see that payment.  I’ve heard of too many situations where a wedding pro felt bad not showing up to service the non-paying client’s wedding.  This is business.  You HAVE to get paid for it.  And, if you still service the non-payment client, know that you may be kissing your income on this wedding goodbye.
  • If they owe you money for services you already rendered or for a product they purchased, how will you pursue payment?

5 – If this leads to arbitration…

If the client owes you money, you can seek payment by taking them to court. Before going this long painful route, you’ll want to send the client a demand letter.  (Check out Nolo’s guide for writing a demand letter.)  The demand letter essentially tells the client, in the nicest way possible, to “pay up or we’re going to court”.  Most people will want to avoid this, so it’s a fair way to warn someone about the steps you’re willing to take if they don’t pay you.

And, if this doesn’t work, you can seek legal action.  Depending on the county where your business is established, you’ll have a threshold for seeking judgement in small claims court.  For example, in Miami-Dade county, claims of $5000 or less must be pursued in small claims court.  You’ll want to investigate this for your own county.  You’ll also need to decide if this is something you want to put your energy and time into pursuing.  Smaller amounts are generally not worth the time and the expense.

Has this ever happened to you?  What did you do? Share with us by posting a comment below.