In the business world, just like in our personal lives, sometimes relationships don’t work out and you need to cut ties with a client. It can be a difficult situation to navigate gracefully, but it’s important to remain professional and do the best you can for the client, even if you’re parting for unpleasant reasons. It’s important to leave strategically and set your client up for success even after you’ve gone separate ways.
Client breakups happen for many reasons, and learning to recognize when you need to sever a relationship is an important skill. If they don’t treat you or your team members with respect, it can lead to all kinds of problems. It’s often best to choose not to work with clients who don’t share your values—often they can cost you more than you’ll earn from their business. This type of client usually costs you more than it’s worth. Other reasons might be that they expect something from you that you can’t provide; they’re unresponsive, costing you time and effort and delaying other projects; or they don’t hold up their end of the contract. If these issues can’t be resolved, it may be time to “fire” that client.
On occasion, a client may break up with you, for any number of reasons. The same advice applies—set them up for success and maintain your professional reputation. Doing right by your clients is doing the right thing. If your client is the one who decides to leave, it may be because you can’t provide what they need as their business changes, that they need to cut costs, or that they no longer need your services. In most cases, it’s probably not personal.
Here are a few tips to make business breakups easier on everyone involved.
- Create a plan for finishing their projects.
Don’t leave your client hanging. If you have the time and ability to finish their project, do so before you end the relationship. This ensures that everyone gets what they were expecting—your client gets their project finished, and you get paid for completing it. It also makes handing things off a lot easier. If you’re nearing the end of a project anyway, sometimes pushing through to the finish is easier than cleaning up all of the loose ends. You can then tell your client that you won’t be doing any more business with them after this project.
If you’re not able to finish the project, keep everything as organized as possible and create records of what you’ve done so that whoever will finish the project can pick up where you left off.
- Organize an efficient hand-off.
Hand your client off to the new agency they’ll be working with. No one knows the project better than you and your team, so it’s up to you to make sure all of the relevant information is passed along to whoever will be working with them next. Not only will your client appreciate this, but it will help you establish your professional reputation by demonstrating your values and your efficiency.
If your client doesn’t have a new agency lined up, which may be the case if you’re “firing” the client, help them find someone. You don’t want to leave them stranded—it reflects poorly on you, and it’s not the right thing to do. Things will go much more smoothly if they have another company to transition to afterward. You can create a list of recommendations, but a personal referral is often best. Don’t forget to hand the client and their projects off to the new agency with all of the information they’ll need to succeed.
- Strategize the conversation.
The most difficult part of breaking up with a client is often telling them you will no longer be doing business together. Go into the conversation with a strategy to help things go focus on the positive things you appreciate about working with them. No matter the feelings involved, even if the client has been rude to you or your team in the past, avoid starting any kind of conflict. Burning bridges is almost never a good idea in business.
Remain professional and polite with a calm demeanor, but don’t leave the conversation open for negotiation. Allowing room for negotiation can let the conversation quickly slip out of your control. That’s why it’s best to talk with the client directly, either in-person or over the phone or a video call, rather than in an email. It allows you to put time parameters on the conversation. Let the client know your plan for finishing their projects as well as how you’ll hand them off to the next agency with a strong sense of care and professionalism.
Whatever the reason is for your client breakup, allow them to continue to be successful, whether it was they who wanted to leave or you wanting to end the relationship. When business relationships end, it can put everyone involved in a difficult position. These moments are when it is most important to demonstrate your character. Create the best possible scenario for everyone involved by reducing the amount of damage a negative business relationship can create. Doing so maintains positive reputations for both parties at the same time leaves you with your professionalism and integrity intact.