I suppose it is akin to knowing when to hold them or when to fold them, but it is important in a small business to know when to cut “them” loose. “Them” may be an employee, or it may be a supplier, or it may be a client. Speaking with other business owners over the years, I have heard many stories that started with, “I should have fired him/her years ago…” We have had that experience as well, but the fear of the unknown (who would we hire to do the job?) sometimes has led us to taking the easy route, which is not so easy, in letting the employee stay too long. The same is true with suppliers. Though we have always tried to be loyal customers, there can come a time where the changes in the supplier’s business are such that they are not keeping up with the times or perhaps not offering a competitive price. If the differences can be worked out, fine, but it pays to be cognizant of one’s options should a change happen quickly so that the need to change suppliers doesn’t become a crisis. Finally, firing clients is a difficult thing to do and there has been some attention given to this in the business world. It is something we have rarely done, and when it has happened most often it has been by letting the relationship die quietly by not following up with the client about new cases. But with a very few clients we have had to tell them we will not work with them or for them. These have been abusive clients, sometimes demanding more than they are willing to pay for, but in at least 1 instance, a client who was verbally abusive to my partner, myself, and our staff. The client was shocked to hear we would not take his money, but the damage he was capable of doing made the decision obvious, even if it was painful to turn away money.
Most of our parting of the ways with employees, vendors, and clients have been brought about by choices made by these individuals, including choices that have been unrelated to their work with my company. The most painful parting of company in my career was with a long time vendor, with us since the founding of Magnus in 1993, who moved thousands of miles away from the business she owned and who, over the years, neglected her company to the point it could no longer provide the important function required for my company to do our work. When this vendor became unable to finish a job according to the terms of our contract, I was forced to find another vendor to take over the job, as well as all future work of a similar nature. As much as it pained me to do so, my clients are more important to me than anything else, including a long time relationship with any vendor. Another sad, but instantly foreseeable, parting of the ways was the result of a long time employee, who worked for my company for almost 15 years, marrying someone who despised my spouse/partner and me upon meeting us and who embarked upon a campaign to ensure our employee’s resignation. Even though I expected this employee to choose the spouse over my company, the employer, I reeled when the resignation was emailed and included the statement, “effective immediately.” As David says, it is never a good idea to burn bridges, but I will add it is never a good idea to drop a nuclear bomb on one either! As far as cutting ties with a client, those decisions have been mine exclusively. If someone is disrespectful, unprofessional, and/or abusive to me or anyone on my research team, we will perform the work we are obligated to perform, then if we are ever approached about doing additional work, we decline the opportunity. My philosophy, in all aspects of life, is that life is too short to spend time with mean people, even if they are paying me for it!