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The Art of Ending Client Relationships

By: Ellie Burgueno

As a business owner, establishing and maintaining strong client relationships is vital for your success. However, not all client interactions are smooth sailing. Some clients bring unique challenges to the table, ranging from the “I’m always right” type to the occasional dishonest or aggressive individual. Every client relationship carries its weight, even the challenging ones. However, there comes a time when parting ways becomes the most viable solution. But before making that decision, it’s essential to explore potential remedies to address any glaring issues.

In recent days, I found myself at such a crossroads, faced with the decision to part ways with a client. It was a decision driven not only by the need to reclaim precious time but also by a commitment to self-respect and a desire to alleviate the additional stress this client was causing. This stress, layered atop multiple responsibilities encompassing roles as a mother, editor, writer, speaker, event planner, and artist, reached an unsustainable tipping point. Consequently, I made the difficult choice to formalize guidelines and requirements within our publication, establishing a more structured contract for future clients.

Signs You Should See When It’s Time to Part Ways with a Client

While recognizing the telltale signs is essential, the decision to part ways with a client should be the culmination of a well-thought-out process. Here are some key steps to consider:

  1. Adherence to Contract Terms

Always ensure that your decision is in line with the contractual terms you’ve established. Review the agreement carefully to guarantee you’re acting within its boundaries.

  1. Project Completion

If there are ongoing projects with the client, fulfill your obligations or provide a comprehensive list of handovers for the next service provider. Completing any outstanding work demonstrates professionalism.

  1. Suggest Alternatives

Whenever possible, recommend alternative businesses or freelancers better suited to the client’s needs. This not only assists the client but also strengthens your professional network.

  1. Maintain a Professional Approach

Refrain from engaging in a blame game or resorting to emotional exchanges. Approach the situation with professionalism and courtesy throughout.

  1. Conduct a Personal Conversation

Rather than terminating the relationship via email, initiate the process through email but subsequently follow up with a phone call. This approach allows for a more empathetic and personalized conversation.

  1. Document Everything

Keep detailed written records of all significant communications. These records may be valuable if any disputes arise following the termination.

How to Communicate the Decision

Although the process of ending a client relationship varies for each business owner, several common approaches exist, along with suggested phrasing:

1. The Referral Approach

   – Express your appreciation for the opportunity to work with the client but clarify that you are unable to meet their needs. If desired, provide referrals to other businesses or professionals capable of assisting them.

  1. The Upfront Approach

   – If the relationship is irreparable: Convey gratitude for the collaboration while acknowledging the issues that have arisen. Explain that it is in the best interest of both parties to terminate the relationship, effective from a specific date.

   – If the client’s behavior is unacceptable: Adopt a firm yet polite tone. Communicate that their behavior is not acceptable, and notify them of the immediate termination of the contract.

  1. The Rate Increase Approach

   – Inform the client about forthcoming adjustments to your pricing structure, including fee increases. If possible, direct them to a pricing page on your website or send an updated list of prices via email.

  1. The Wait-the-Contract-Out Approach

   – If the natural conclusion of the contract is imminent, provide the client with ample notice (approximately one month) to secure a new service provider. Express gratitude for their past business.

Conclude the message by conveying gratitude for the client’s business over the designated time frame. Leaving on a positive note, if possible, maintain a professional and respectful tone.

Parting ways with a client is often a challenging decision, but at times, it is the best course of action for the well-being of your business, your employees, and, most importantly, yourself. Remember that exceptional clients are still waiting out there, eager for the opportunity to build productive and positive business relationships. When you find them, invest time and effort into nurturing these connections and delivering exceptional work. In the grand scheme of things, the value of mutually beneficial partnerships cannot be understated.

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