Parting ways with clients is a normal and pretty common part of doing business, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In this article, Kellie Byrnes acts as your client relationship counsellor to help ease the pain of separation.
As someone working in the professional services field, you place high value on each of your clients and want to satisfy and delight them.
Unfortunately, not all clients or situations are created equal and sometimes business arrangements don’t turn out to be mutually beneficial.
When you have a client who takes up more time and energy and causes more stress than is worthwhile for the dollar value they bring, it may be time to part ways with them.
This can be a hard thing to do, particularly if you’ve had a long relationship with them or if you’re regularly worried about when your next project is going to come in.
Yet, ‘breaking up’ with clients is a common and necessary part of running a service-based business.
Keep in mind, too, that moving on from an arrangement that isn’t working for you may be the best thing for your client if it means they can find someone else more suited to their current needs.
Here is the lowdown on why and when to say goodbye to customers, and how to do so gracefully.
As a professional services provider, whether a marketer, accountant, lawyer or other professional, you typically make money based on the work you do.
This means that your time is not just valuable; it’s critical. The same goes for your energy and focus.
You only have a certain amount of productive hours in each week and need to use them wisely so you can maximise your income and your happiness on the job.
As such, it’s sometimes the right move to drop a client because dealing with them is more trouble than its worth.
While this isn’t an easy decision to make, remember that the time and energy you spend dealing with a difficult “D” client is much better used attracting and working with top “A” and “B” clients who pay well and are more fun to work with.
Plus, you change and grow as a businessperson and an individual over time, so what worked early on for your goals and needs might not be working now. This is okay and nothing to beat yourself up over.
There are multiple signs that it’s time to cut ties with a client.
For example, if you started working with a client early on in your career when you charged less, and can’t get a client to now pay your current rates (commensurate with your current skills and experience), say goodbye to them.
Also, if a customer takes up a huge amount of your time, more than your other clients for similar jobs, they won’t be the best fit for you.
People can waste time with constant questions, complaints, changes to briefs, dithering, and more.
This saps your energy, too, which is another issue to consider.
Clients might also be painful if they’re simply unpleasant people in general.
If you find yourself dreading having to call or email a client, or if you cringe anytime they get in touch with you, it’s likely best to walk away.
Customers may also be frustrating if they regularly miss or reschedule calls and meetings. This indicates that people don’t respect you or your time.
Sometimes those working in the professional services field find that clients start stalling on projects.
People might seem positive and all smiles on the surface, but if they keep putting jobs on hold indefinitely or don’t respond when you ask where things are up to, it’s a sign there’s an issue.
The client may not be happy with your work anymore, plan to go in another direction, or not have the funds to go ahead.
Either way, you need to be communicated with properly. If not, see this as a red flag of bigger issues to come.
Also look out for clients that have a habit of fighting you at every turn on the advice you give them and directions you suggest.
While it’s perfectly normal to have professional differences of opinion, and customers certainly don’t have to go down the path you suggest all the time, if people no longer listen to a thing you say, be wary.
They will likely start blaming you if things don’t work, regardless of the circumstances.
In turn, you could end up in a bad situation even if you advised something completely different.
It’s best to avoid this and get out of the relationship sooner rather than later.
Of course, unfortunately, an all-too-common problem for consultants is clients not paying, or taking months to do so.
Customers sometimes think it’s okay to take as long as they like to pay for your services, especially if you’ve forgiven late payments in the past.
If you continually have to chase them though, this will not only be frustrating and a time sap, but also limit your ability to grow your business.
On the other hand, sometimes the client is lovely and easy to work with, and hasn’t done anything frustrating, but it’s the work itself that is the problem.
You might enjoy working on different kinds of projects now than you did earlier on and find yourself keen to drop boring or otherwise unfulfilling projects.
Having the conversation with clients about your desire to part ways is uncomfortable, but there are things you can do to make the situation as positive and effective as possible.
For starters, if you have a contract with an organisation or individual, read it over carefully.
You may not be able to terminate the relationship until the contract has ended, so don’t rashly tell someone you can no longer work with them – if you do, they could pursue legal avenues.
Speak with a lawyer or other professional for specific advice as required. Often, a certain period of notice is required to end a relationship, such as 30 or 90 days.
If a contract is about to end and you don’t want to renew it, or if there is no contract to worry about, have an in-person (or over the phone or online) chat to explain your decision.
Be sure not to say anything too personal to people, avoid placing any kind of blame, and focus on how the issues at hand are affecting you and your business.
It helps to write out a script for yourself. Before the day, practise what you’re going to say and how you want to say it.
Always keep your cool, even if the client reacts badly. Don’t give them any fuel to start bad mouthing you in the industry.
Note, too, that in some instances clients don’t realise things haven’t been ideal for you.
Once they hear you want to move on, they may be open to renegotiating terms or promise to do things differently in the future.
In this situation, you’ll have to decide whether you want to try for a bit longer, or still say goodbye.
This is a case-by-case process, but it pays to listen to your gut reaction.
Some people will turn into A-list customers once you’ve alerted them to an issue, while others will be all talk.
Alternatively, some customers who were wondering whether or not to keep paying for your services because of their own situation may be delighted to have an easy way out.
Where possible, try to end the conversation and relationship on a positive note.
Suggest someone else they could approach as a replacement for yourself. This way, you’re not leaving them in the lurch.
Tell people you may be able to work together in the future, too, if and when circumstances change.
Also, if you think you can, ask for a testimonial or referral from the client.
Whatever the circumstances, if your working relationship with a client has reached its natural expiry date, managing the separation professionally is simply another way of differentiating yourself and the services you offer.