When to fire a client?
Good day to all,
I am in a strange predicament, I have had this client for over the past ten years and I think it is time to end this relationship. Let me give a little back story, I get a call back in April of this year from this client to do this project (half an hour doc), that has already been thru 3 other editors (my first clue not to take this project). So, I come up with a propsal of how much I think it is going to cost and how much time I think it is going to take to piece back together. The only thing I had to go on was a vhs rough cut that I used as my template. Then I am supplied a new audio track that matches up thru the first 13 minutes then for the most part is new track, not a tweak/embelishment of the old track. The material for this show is quiet specific and some of the source footage, most of it is on vhs, so the lists I was supplied from previous edit would not match time code. So, he flips out at the first proposal, okay we have a little chat and now he gets a little more specific about what he really wants to have happen. I have tried from the get go, to make him aware that I need to rebuild (re-create) the show so that I can give it the polish that it needs (I was dead on with that, because of the way the new audio track works). I don't think that he was getting what I was trying to say. But any way, I made sure that I got a deposit up front, and it wasn't even the correct amount. Let's say it was less than it should have been. So, I've known this client for a while no big deal.
(Sidebar) My client is up in years, a little hard of hearing and I think at this point, maybe a little forgetful.
So I get on box of tapes from him and I knew that he had to have more tapes, which I was correct and I needed to pick them up from him as well. I start around Memorial Day and at one point I was going to have something for this client by the beginning of July. Well we have a coversation about a week later and the client tells me that they'll be on holiday for the month of July, so I can wait until the beginning of August to have something to show him.
Once I get into this project it is much more than I bargined for as an editor. I plod methodicaly thru eye matching every shot, and as many of you know this is a long process. Part of the problem I run into is that a lot of the footage is coming of the vhs tapes that are other programs. So, now I am constantly watch 12-15 hours of footage and stills to figure out where this shot is coming from. Okay enough of how long this process is taking, I think every has the idea.
Well while I was on vacation this client left a message at my day job, the first week of July ranting about how I hadn't delivered anything to him. Forgive me didn't you say I could wait until the beginning of August? So, I leave 3 or 4 messages trying to get in touch with this client. No response, no call, no nothing. I call August 2nd to try to set up a time to meet. At this point, I have about half the show completed and some holes towards the back, because of the new material. Also, I have some music for the client to listen too. All I get from this client is that he has sent some letter and he was very upset that I had not delivered. At this point I could not get a word in edge wise, and also taken aback at this clients demeanor and total unwillingness to remember the conversation about having something to show in August, because they were on holiday. Well, I stop work on the project and wait for this letter to arrive. Which is still has not arrived as of today. Anyway the other partner calls me and tells me to keep working and try to set something up with them. Okay, I say, but I have been stopped down for two weeks. I start back up and then get booked a huge project that is only going to be a couple of days, but very long days and one of those days happened to land on the day we were supposed to meet. I call and try to explain the situation and tell them honestly was is going on and that I would send a dvd of my progress so they could look at filling in the hole at the back. Also, I was upfront with the client about how daunting this project was, but that I would keep true to the budget and all I get is a raft of crap about how I am not a business man and other insults and that I must deliver the dvd by Saturday, this is on Thursday night. I agree to deliver a dvd overnight fedex to them for Saturday delivery.
Well today is Tuesday and I finally get a call, once again at my day job (I did explain to them that what I was doing for them had no involvement with my day job, they have my cell and home number). Now the client thought we were supposed to meet today and refers back to a letter I have not yet recieved.
I am at my wits end, I have done more than my share of work from capturing about 15 hours worth of footage to organizing the project, to researching music and of course the editorial. In a nut shell, I am ready to fire my client.
I had a similar experience with an ad agency that I used to do some work for (I'm an illustrator). There was an art director who pulled similar shenanigans. I later learned he was in the middle of a divorce and screwing up everything he touched. I talked to the CD, who decided to work with me directly, and things went smoothly after that. Perhaps ther is someone else at this firm that you can actually work with, rather than lose the client.
You answered your own question to this serious problem.
Fire them now not later and tell them why you refuse to work with them.
Bill them or keep the deposit for the time you have put in and deliver the work for what you have been paid up to.
Don't lose any more sleep or effort on this one.
Fire them or I will for you (via email or course).
It's time. But you know that, don't you.
Send them an invoice that properly reflects the time and effort that you have put forth, just as though everything is proceeding in a normal fashion.
In an accompanying letter, list the timeline exactly as it took place, as you did for us. Leave emotions elsewhere.
Simply explain that there seems to be a problem communicating with the client and that you feel that the client/vendor realtionship has run it's course.
If he owes you money, invoice him.
If he's ahead, send him a check.
Keep a level head and a professional demeanor. If you should somehow end up in small claims court, you've done what the law expects you to do.
I had the same problem with a client about 10 years ago and we landed in the judge's chambers. He said that there was no real way to figure out exactly who owed what to who but we were pretty close. I had asked that we finish the project and the client wanted his money back. His decision: I kept the money that I was paid and the client got his raw footage tapes and the master. It was pretty fair and we both just walked away.
Your time and efforts will be better spent courting a new client. Take your wife to dinner and celebrate.
It's a dry heat!
From my extensive legal training ( of watching TV shows), I'd point out that contracts assume a "meeting of the minds"; that both parties are in agreement about the facts of the contract. If your backstory description is accurate, this contract fails the first test. So I don't think you're in a weak position from a lawsuit standpoint. But you want to avoid things going that far.
From here it looks like you did the best you could with a client that kept changing the arrangements. We all have a desire to please, but sometimes you just can't please everyone. Then it's best to walk away while trying to remain fair and open to negotiations over how to conclude things.
The best idea I have read inthis thread, adn they are all good ideas, is to try to go over this client's head and finish up the deal, up or down, with that person. Stress going out on a classy, professionsal note.
Awful situation, but when I read the phrase "Raft of Crap", I laughed a good :30.
I think there is nothing singularly worse than the client that revises reality and doesn't accept any culpability for their own mistakes.
As far as going above his head, tread carefully. Even though they may be aware of his issues with apparent senility, their relationship may be at a point where the other partners take up for him, regardless of if they know.
I actually had a client with a Production Manager who had borderline personality disorder and was slandering me and all the other producers whenever she could (between emotional outbursts). Eventually, I decided to leave. When I explained to the creative director that I was leaving to protect my name, I was told "Awww, that stuff doesn't get back to the VP of the network". It was then I realized that the CD was aware of this person's problem, and was covering for her.
The point is, he may have a problem, and you may be right, but going over the crazy guy's head doesn't mean they won't still blame you.
Just get out as fast and painlessly as you can. New clients will come. Nobody wants to be under the stress of a client that can't maintain a consistant grasp of reality. Eventually you'll jump every time the phone rings, and that my friend, sucks.
John Davidson____ writer | producer | director____http://www.magicfeatherinc.com
"Forget it, Johnny; it's Polynesian Town".
Ah-ha...the client who revises reality. Geez, I love those guys. At some point you actually start to question your own grasp of the facts...insanity can be contagious.
I think you understand what has to happen here. My only add to what's been said is that in some of these situations, you may be better off to even leave the deal without getting fully paid. Collection under these circumstances is just more stress and if any bad-mouthing ever gets back to you, you can simply state that you gave them their money (or some portion of it) back because there was simply no way to please this client.
Our field is relatively tight so most of this stuff does come back around. The key is to be calm when you refer to it, be factual but don't dwell on it, and show some confidence when you refer to it because you are comfortable with the way you handled the situation. This will help put any future clients who may have heard the story from the other side more at ease.
I'd give them their tapes with the DVD and tell them bye-bye at the earliest opportunity (but, yes-include a letter with a timeline and the chronology you related to us, but with no emotion attached. The events are absurd enough to simply read dry...).
Creative Cow Host,
Kathlyn and I had this happen to us once. It was a nightmare and we ended up calling it a nickname, the infamous "The Job That Wouldn't Die." It dragged on and on and the producer was rude and disrespectful. It was the only time we ever took over a job after another editor and we learned a lesson and we do not do that any longer -- well, not unless we were invited to the first editor's funeral or retirement party.
There came a time when I looked at Kathlyn and the producer and said: "I have had quite enough of this and so Kathlyn, please write (insert name here) a refund for their deposit." I then handed him back all of his materials that he had brought. I did not hand him any of the work that I had done for him. I walked him out of our office and told him that I did not ever wish to do business with him again.
He was an idiot and I later learned that he's been thrown out of a number of studios in our area. Someday, he may even learn but then, on the other hand, Paul McCartney may be right that "Some Poeple Never Learn."
I lost a lot of time that I never got a penny for but if I had kept any of his money, I would have had to hand him something for it and that is why I chose to just end it. Nothing else made sense and there was no way in hell that I was going to spend another moment with this guy.
For me, when it's time to move on, sometimes losing some money is of no consequence when compared to keeping my peace of mind. But hey, that's just me.
Your mileage may vary,
The money is really secondary when it comes to the jerks out there.
We recently tossed a client who is probably going to be very wealthy soon but when you know you're going to face a boatload of bullsh-- to work for someone, it's far better to cut bait and move to another part of the lake.