How to best break up with bad clients

Ending the relationship with clients may seem counter-intuitive when building a business. However, it can help you ensure your company thrives

How to best break up with bad clients

Kymberlee Jay is a speaker, business coach and the entrepreneur behind DoodleDirect

The idea of ending a professional relationship and walking away from a person who pays you money can seem absolutely ludicrous. It can be especially daunting if you are self-employed or leading a small organisation and don’t have a steady stream of clients banging down your door. However, it is not as crazy as it sounds, In fact, in some scenarios, it’s even necessary.

Everyone has at least one client they dread seeing pop up in their inbox. You brace yourself for another out-of-scope request or ignoring your well-considered technical advice to forge blindly ahead. Even worse, they want the world but need it at a 90% discount by 3pm this afternoon.

If just recalling such experiences is elevating your heart rate, listen up: you didn’t start your own company to work with clients and customers you fear. You launched it because you love what you do, can do it well and enjoy delivering a service or a product to your target market.

Feeling relentlessly stressed over certain clients was definitely not part of the plan and shouldn’t be tolerated. While these clients help you pay your bills, your mental and physical wellbeing is more important, and you should be doing all you can to nurture it. Allowing its destruction is not an option.

It is unacceptable to have one bad client affecting your work with other clients or your love for what you do. It’s not what you signed up for. Being an entrepreneur is stressful enough without being forced to deal with bad clients. The time not spent pleasing the unappeasable can be used to seek out and engage with clients you want to work with, that make you happy,  that inspire you to be better, that allow you to do great work and who constantly remind you why you chose to launch your business in the first place. If this means a smaller pay-cheque at the end of the month, it’s worth it.

That being said, you need to think long and hard before you break up with a client. Were your completely clear about your expectations and policies upfront? Perhaps, an attempt to reset expectations with the client under the guise of allowing you to give them the best possible work would be a good place to start.

Similarly, everyone has bad days. Sadly, this means you might just be finding yourself on the receiving end of a client’s sharp tongue. If you’re thick-skinned enough to know that this is business and not personal, then do march onward as you were. If you think your relationship with your client can be salvaged with a bit of a talking to, don’t be afraid to try that. Tell them as politely as you can how you think this relationship can improve. As long as you think you can keep it positive and about making the experience better for them, then give it a shot.

That being said, if the mere mention of their name is giving you palpitations, especially if they’re not paying your invoices, it’s time to stick a fork in it.

Assuming that firing your client does not mean you run the risk of facing any legal ramifications and that you don’t owe your client any work, there are a few simple steps to ensure you accomplish a smooth uncoupling.

Firstly, decide how best to communicate the end of the relationship. I recommend using email, not to avoid a conversation but because email is actually a nicer way of letting someone go. Notifications via email give your client time to process what’s happening on their terms, compose themselves and respond accordingly. Expecting an immediate response is difficult as your client might experience a number of emotions and dealing with that ‘live’ is a lot for both of you. Your client is human, so they’re going to need a moment.

Secondly, remember that no one likes being dumped. Even if they have made life a misery for you, it doesn’t make sense to burn bridges. So, send a polite, to-the-point email, which formally states that you don’t think you should continue working together as you’ve realised that you’re not the best fit for their requirements. It’s not them, it’s you. Give them a suggestion on the best way to complete the project or refer on to someone else you know. Although it’s a good idea to give that person a heads-up. Remember to include specific dates. If there is money owed to them let them know exactly when and how you’ll be refunding this.  Likewise, outline the terms if they owe you money. Finish by wishing them well, no hard feelings and let them know that you require written confirmation of this communication.

Finally, enjoy the strange but wonderful feeling of firing a client. While there’s a thought process that says you should hang on to every client for dear life, you must see the bigger picture as a business owner. Leaving a client that isn’t worth the investment of time, resource, emotion and sleepless nights frees you up to do better work for other clients. Yes, panic will set in for a moment but stay strong and forge on. You’re free to go back to loving what you do and who knows, perhaps you have now just made space for your perfect client to come along. 

This story comes courtesy of Kymberlee Jay, the speaker, business coach and entrepreneur and creative director of DoodleDirect, the animated-video company


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