How to Break Up with a Client

Being in business is such an adventure.  We often aren’t ready for everything it will entail. Most of our clients are amazing, wonderful, and a joy to work with.  In the beginning, you are excited to see them, and they are excited to see you.

But nothing stays new forever, and every now and then, we need to end a relationship.  The reason may be that you are no longer inspired by the work, you are taking your business in a new direction, or the business relationship just isn’t working. No matter your reason, finish with the same professionalism you started with!

How to know it’s time

Breaking up is never an easy decision and is rarely made in an instant.  The realization that you need to break up usually builds up over time. There are red flags, and sometimes we ignore them…

          Do you dread your weekly check-in meetings?
          Are you uninspired by the work?
          Are you growing your skills, or stagnating?
          Did you sign a contract for a rate that no longer works for you?
          Is the work not what you expected, or beyond your skills? 

All of these are valid and worthy reasons to break up with a client.  If you are thinking of doing it, you may have mixed feelings about it. After all, you signed a contract and things were good.  It’s normal to wonder, “Will things get better?  Should I give it another chance?  Will I regret this?”  Breaking up isn’t an easy decision. Take the time you need to think about it.

Even if you feel sure of your decision, breaking up means having an awkward or difficult conversation. The person you’re breaking up with might feel disappointed, sad, or angry. When you’re the one ending the relationship, you want to do it in a way that is respectful.

What to do before you do it

Before breaking up with a client, it is important to assess where you are with the client’s business and make a plan for “off-boarding.”  If you are not using a project management system, I recommend writing a bulleted list of where you are on projects and tasks. Make a list of the platforms you use on the client’s behalf and who owns those accounts.

If you own them (you shouldn’t), ensure that you provide a time period of at least 30 days for the client to access and remove any pertinent data.

If the client owns the accounts, provide instructions to change passwords or remove your seat. If you created any SOPs on behalf of the client, you will need to update those and make sure you provide them to the client.

When you meet with the client, go over all of the documents you prepared.  Make sure that your client can access all of these documents. I have found it beneficial to create a thumb drive and mail it to them.

Preparing for the conversation

Some people avoid the unpleasant task of starting a difficult conversation. Others have a “just-get-it-over-with” attitude. But neither of these approaches is the best.

Avoiding just prolongs the pain, but if you rush into a difficult conversation without thinking it through, you may say things you regret.  Something in the middle works best.  Think things through so you are prepared, then act.

Every situation is different. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to breaking up, but there are some general “do’s and don’ts” you can keep in mind as you start thinking about having that break-up conversation.

DO:

  • Think over what you want and why you want it. Take time to consider your reasons for your decision. Be true to yourself and do what is best for your business.
  • Think about what you’ll say and anticipate how the client might react. Will your client be surprised? Sad? Mad? Hurt? Or even relieved?
  • Be honest, but not brutal. Tell your client the things that you enjoyed and appreciated. Then say why you want to move on. “Honesty” doesn’t mean “harsh.”
  • Say it in person or on Zoom. Basically, respect them enough to look them in the eye. Also prepare a detailed email with all their information that you need to relay.
  • If it helps, confide in a trusted mentor or accountability partner. It can help to talk through your reasons and help you find the right words.

DON’T:

  • Don’t break up through text or Facebook, and don’t blast the client’s name in groups or on pages. Think about how you’d feel if your client did that to you.
  • Don’t avoid the other person or the conversation you need to have. Dragging things out makes it harder in the long.
  • Don’t rush into a difficult conversation without thinking it through. You may say things you regret.

Ending a relationship, as hard as it is, builds our skills when it comes to being honest and kind during difficult conversations.  Whether this relationship has lasted a long time or a short time, there is value and learning that will help you grow going forward.

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Dionne ThomasDionne Thomas is IVAA’s Membership Director and Founder of The Zeva Group.
Learn more about Dionne at zevagroup.com