People you couldn’t pay me enough to work for

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work bad clients

We’ve all done it, at some point.

A customer or client shows up with a big, fat pile of money, wanting to give it to us. All we need to do is say yes.

  • Yes, I will take you on as my client.
  • Yes, I will work with you, even though I don’t respect you.
  • Yes, I will work with you, even though you treat me and my team like garbage.
  • Yes, I will help you achieve you goal, even though I personally deplore it.
  • Yes, I will give up hours of days immersed in work I have no passion for.
  • Yes, I will cause unhappiness or harm to others, because I want to pay my bills.
  • Yes, I will keep myself busy with your work, so that I don’t have the time to work with people and on projects that make my entire body smile.
  • Yes, I will give up a chunk of my life to something and someone who summarily empties my soul, but fills my bank account.

We’ve all done it, especially when we need that money to keep ourselves alive. But, is it really keeping us alive…or is it keeping us buried?

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20 responses

20 responses to “People you couldn’t pay me enough to work for”

  1. Shana Albert says:

    For me…. accepting all jobs isn’t always about the money, but about finding it difficult to say, “No”. Feeling I need to accept all jobs. I land up feeling not only spread to thin, but also quite bitter. But, I think whether you take a job for money or to make yourself feel needed/important it lands up making us feel buried…. excellent point, Jonathan.

  2. I used to work in litigation and, I swear to God, those were the absolute craziest people I have ever worked with.

    The attorneys would throw temper tantrums and treat their secretaries and paralegals like personal slaves. If they weren’t screaming and throwing something, then they were demanding you watch their dogs while they were out of town.

    The support staff was cutthroat just plain manipulative.

    The work? Absolutely FASCINATING. Now, ask me why I work in corporate and securities doing mind-numbingly unimportant work.

  3. Yes! says:

    You are right on. Personally, I have my price… I’ll work for anyone doing anything at all for a certain amount of money. If it’s something I really like for a person I really like, I’ll do it for very little. If I don’t like the person or what I’m doing it will take a lot of money for me to do it. Nothing is off-limits for me if I get paid enough.

  4. When I first quit my corporate job 2 years ago I took any work I could get at any price. When I found myself thinking “I’d rather be cleaning the house than going off to see this client” I knew I needed to make a change. No matter what my financial situation, I do not take any work just to have work. I take the right work. I take work I can do well and that in the end is helpful and satisfactory to the client. And if I don’t think I can successfully help a client I will refuse the work. I quit my corporate job so I didn’t have to work with people who didn’t energize me. As my own boss I do have the ability to choose!

  5. Shama Hyder says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    We say no to wrong prospects all the time. It’s nice because we can afford to do so at this point in our business.

    We have even refunded money because we knew it would never work out. There are always signs…requiring way too much attention (to the point of calling at odd hours), going back and forth on what they “thought” they wanted, not being able to communicate, etc.

  6. Levi says:

    I have really taken all those “fire your clients” articles to heart. No realistic amount of money makes it worth the stress of working with certain clients.

  7. Dave Navarro says:

    What I’ve discovered is that if you take all that energy you were devoting to grab whatever client you could and redirected it towards positioning yourself as an expert, you can start billing higher rates and start finding clients who you like more.

  8. I am happy that I decided early in my life to not deal with jobs that depleted me, never mind didn’t gratify.

    When I was in between closing one business and looking for a job, I decided to substitute teach while I looked for work. Teaching is my callling and the situation was perfect in many ways: a 6-month assignment, close to home (I could walk) and the principal was flexible. In spite of all that, I quit after one day.

    It was tough after having made an agreement to call the principal and quit. But the school was so out of control that I refused to be a part of it. It was more important to say “yes” to myself and feel authentic.

    I was separated from my husband, had four children at the time, and no savings, but I strongly believed that we would not crash. And we didn’t.

  9. When I was in the travel business, I fired my biggest account because he was such a pest – calling me five or six timea a day.

    He was also insulting to my staff in the office. I made the decision when my top producer came into my office crying. She never did that. And that was IT!

    I decided that even though he spent thousands of dollars with me on every trip, I was working for less than minimum wage and he was contaminating my life and my office.

  10. I had a big problem with this early in the life of my business. Having started the business in the wake of unexpectedly losing my job, I literally could not afford to say no to any project. But once I got rolling and was able to pick & choose a little bit, I got wise.

    I wrote an article about this on my blog a couple of years ago; it got picked up my Software Development magazine at the time. It might be worth a read: The 11 Clients You Shoudl Fire Right Now (

  11. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Shana – nothing like feeling bitter to inspire your best work, eh? (PS, NY rules, Philly drools!)

    @ Hayden – being a recovering lawyer, myself, I have to agree, the stress of practicing law tends to bring out the most interesting sides of people!

    @ Yes! – We all have to make out own decisions!

    @ Stacey – great point about feeling like you can genuinely help a client, before taking them on

    @ Shama – congrats on your growth, you totally deserve it!

    @ Levi – same page!

    @ Dave – Agreed, the time spent pitching and dealing with life-sucking clients would be far better spent increasing your professional value

    @ Flora – Wow, what a story, sounds like you made the right call

    @ Corinne – Crossing the access boundaries is often one of the first signs that the fit isn’t right.

    @ Thanks for sharing the article!

  12. […] This is an expanded version of a comment I posted on Jonathan Field’s blog. Take a look at his blog and how others responded to his post. Leave a […]

  13. I used to design jewelry for the trade, and ended up with some real lulu clients once in awhile. I started evaluating whether the “hassle factor” was covered in the price, and if not, I jacked the price up. Then they either left or I felt better about putting up with them a little while longer.

    I wrote about one of the worst projects in a post called Creative Burnout from Unreasonable Customer Demands. That one was about a five ounce gold ring we nicknamed the Omigod Ring because it was so hideous. I was not too sorry to hear that customer eventually landed in jail.

    These days “No” is such a nice word!

  14. Yes! says:

    Okay, you guys are crazy. Are you honestly saying that even if said client who you don’t want to work for was paying $150 million, you’d still refuse to work for him? I think a big enough check is well worth dealing with a rude client. Ka-ching!

  15. Ben says:

    The answer is “buried” if you believe in “lack”. Here is my example. A man was laid off from a company due to downsizing. He and his wife celebrate by opening a bottle of champagne and having their favorite meal together.

    Did they know if they would survive? No. Could they have been worried and desperate taking whatever work came along? Yes.

    Is that what they did? No. He pursued his potential opportunities, believed the universe was kind, and in a short period of time accepted a better job for a higher salary. He loves his new job and it is much better than the one he was dismissed from.

    As a friend of mine has said. You get just exactly what you are willing to allow\receive in this life. You will know them by their fruits and that does not mean how much money they have.

    I find that to be true and the universe to be kind.

  16. Brad says:

    I’ve just finished reading a book called the “The No Asshole Rule”. I picked it up after a friend recommended it to me. Read it, it’ll help you say “No”.

  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Lexi – Love it, I think I need me an Omigod ring!

    @ Yes! – Can’t speak for anyone else, but there are certain clients I would reject, regardless of the money. What do I care about a boatload of money, if my guts are falling out of my body from the stress? Maybe I’m old, dunno, just the way I operate. Making money is not so hard, making money in a way that fills you up is the far greater challenge.

    @ Ben – interesting analogy and metaphor, thanks for sharing them.

    @ Bob Sutton’s The No Assholes Rule rocks, it’s one of my favorites!

  18. Yes! says:

    You are right, making money is not hard. But if a polite client is offering $200 for 10 hours of work and a rude one is offering $200,000 for 5 hours of work, who are you going to work for?

  19. Lisa Gates says:

    I have made some ridiculously stupid mistakes. And yet, I have a penchant for personal reponsibility. My feelings and thoughts are mine, and through them I make up that they’re real and that they take place “over there”…He’s a jerk, she’s a control freak, he’s an ass, etc.

    These days, my personal mantra is asking “what am I willing to be responsible for?”

    More often than not, I look for the clients whose will is stronger than my small mind opinions. I don’t always want to be preaching to the choir…I want to be the change.

    Much easier to ponder than to put into action, but there it is.

  20. Ingrid says:

    Great topic. Not sure how many of us truly live by our personal values.