How killing a chicken improved my client relationships

A toy with the words sacking a client how telling my chickens prepared me for a client breakup.

It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning flashed across the sky as I faced the task ahead.

One of my chickens had been ill all week and on this day, she’d literally hit rock bottom. She had sat down in the mud and hadn’t risen all day, sitting forlornly in the pouring rain. I knew seeing her off was the right thing to do. I just didn’t want to do it.

Who would have thought I could make a business analogy out it? Are you ready for it? Killing off a chicken and crappy clients (not literally, of course) are quite similar. It’s hard to say which was harder, the client or the chicken, but it’s fair to say that we all ended up better off.

I’ve only had to politely sack one client and kill one chicken. I’d prefer not to tackle either again but, having been through the process, I came out stronger and more confident in my abilities.

Here’s a little guide if you ever have to do either.

Step 1: Realise you have to end it.

I knew I had to make a decision about Emily (my chicken, not my client) in the days leading up to D-day. She’d deteriorated quite quickly and the collective neighbourhood experience told us there was no happy ending for Emily.

When it came to my client, it actually took a few weeks to realise. Quite a few weeks.

The copywriting was for a website centred on multi-level marketing. My internal alarm bells had rung a few times during the briefing but I was just starting out – I wasn’t about to end it so soon. But every rewrite dug me further into my hole. It’s not that my copy wasn’t good. It’s just that my client thought her copy was better. I tried to adapt it. And around and around we went.

Step 2: Prepare the ground.

That fateful night, I put on my husband’s big hooded anorak and my gumboots. I picked up a shovel and walked into the rain. It was like a scene out of Misery, with lightning flashing as I prepared a chicken-shaped hole.

For my client, I wrote out a logical list of reasons why the relationship wasn’t working and planned what I was going to say. It all boiled down to a relationship mismatch. I wasn’t going to apologise for my copywriting, because I believed it was good copy.

The basis of the breakup was that I wasn’t the right copywriter for her project.

Step 3: Look for ways you can both win.

The whole chicken-killing scenario was not a win-win but I looked for the best method to make it quick and painless for us both.

I also tried to end my client relationship on a positive note. Even though she didn’t get the result she was after, I wanted her to remember the copywriting experience in a positive light. If I weren’t the right copywriter, someone else would be.

As part of the break-up speech, I explained that she had a lot of great copy she was welcome to use. I wasn’t going to charge her for the (many) hours of work done, as she didn’t get the result she was after, but the deposit was non-refundable. Not a high-fiving win but not a loss either.

Step 4: Make it quick.

I have to admit to you now that I failed Emily. I am a girl from the suburbs and the only references I had around killing chickens was a couple of YouTube videos. They made it look easy. It was not.

But moving right along… When I spoke to my client, I said my piece. I didn’t embellish the key points and I was careful not to ramble or get emotional. I asked her what she thought and let her answer.

And you know what? It was ok. I was calm. She was calm. She agreed with me and was actually happy to end the relationship without a lot of fuss.

In both instances, I felt sadness and relief. Mostly relief. Even though the end result wasn’t ideal, I felt more confident in my abilities and I knew I’d done the right thing.

The big lessons

  • You don’t have to work with everyone who wants to work with you.
  • Trust your gut. Don’t let your relationship linger on when it’s not working for either of you.
  • It’s ok to end a relationship but it’s better to do it early.
  • Make it a logical decision, not an emotional one.

So that’s my story. I killed a chicken, I sacked a client and I survived. I’m glad I’ve not had to do either again but if I have to, I know I can.

Have you sacked a client? Tell me your experience.


9 Responses

  1. I have sacked a couple of clients in the past. Either they’re high maintenance or we’re just not the right fit but on one occasion, I had a gentleman say to me “Just pretend you’re in the army and do as you’re told”…well that was the end of that “business” relationship!

    1. Oh my! That one comment illustrated how he saw you missy. Not an resource who can add value, but a subordinate. Thanks for sharing Kirsty.

      I think it’s important to remember that it’s about fit. There is the right service provider for every client – neither of you are “wrong” but you’re just not matched very well. 

      It can be a gut wrenching experience though, laden with guilt! 

    1. You raise an interesting point Annabel. It sounds like you don’t have fixed pricing so you can compensate for your actual time and effort. I often don’t find out my client and I “aren’t a good fit” until it’s way too late and the price is fixed. A surcharge would be great!

  2. Hi Belinda,
    Well written article. For someone like me starting out in the freelance world of copywriting, this article is a great reminder that client relationships can and do go awry. Trusting your gut. That’s the clincher for me.


    1. Hi Karla and thanks for commenting.
      It is really hard to say no, especially as a freelancer. You’re right about trusting your gut although I often question myself as to whether I’m just trying to avoid difficult jobs. It’s an internal conversation worth having. More often than not, I pass on the project and feel better as a result. That makes me realise it was the right decision.

  3. The gut-feeling thing is so true! But this post did disturb me a bit, as I kept seeing my name connected to a story about death. That’s normal, right? 😉

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