Breaking up is hard to do. Neil Sedaka famously sang about it, and if you’ve been through any kind of breakup, you know it’s not much fun.
But what if you’re a business owner and want to break up with your client? (Some would call this firing your client, but we’re trying to be nice here.)
While you may be able to avoid an ex-spouse, in the business world, you’ll likely run into a past client or people they know. Your reputation is on the line—as well as the possibility of future referrals. But sometimes, you do have to end a client relationship. When that happens, you want to ensure you don’t burn bridges and you’re able to walk away with your head held high.
Why You Want to Break Up with Your Client
There are a number of reasons to end a client relationship. You may not feel as if you’re giving that client value any longer. Or you don’t want to work in that industry or on that particular service line. They might take too long to pay your invoices. Worst of all, they could be high maintenance and a drain on your emotional and physical resources.
At the end of the day, it may just come down to the fact that you’re not a fit.
Some sources even suggest it’s smart to fire a percentage of your clients annually. As a business owner, you are always looking to up-level your game, and you can’t do that with smaller clients. Since time is a valuable commodity, you may choose to let go of those clients who are taking resources you’d rather direct to bigger fish.
Just like breaking up with a significant other, breaking up with a client is never an easy decision. You likely hemmed and hawed about it, talked to friends and colleagues, and stayed in the relationship much longer than was healthy. But now you’re ready. It’s time to break up with your client. Now you just need some ways to do that so you can salvage the relationship.
Raise Your Rates
When you have a client who is more work than you feel is necessary, or they are a slow payer, raising your rates may be just the way to say goodbye. After all, if you’ve been with a client for a few years, it’s likely time to raise your rates anyway. But in the case of wanting to break up with your client, an increase in your prices could be the thing that sends them looking for another provider.
Of course, even with higher rates, there is a possibility that the clients you hoped to fire will be willing to pay and stay on. If you’re happy to have the extra income, you can keep them. Otherwise, you could try one of the other methods.
With growth, companies sometimes take a change in direction. If you have a service or product you no longer want to provide, you can easily break up with your client when you stop offering it. When it makes sense to roll clients into another offering, you can definitely do that, or you can just cut them loose.
Update Your Terms of Service
Slow payers are the worst—and usually the clients we most want to let go. One great way to do that is to change your terms of service. If you currently allow for a 30- or 60-day window to pay, change it to 15 or 30 days. Or impose fees when clients are late to pay. You may also request that clients pay ahead, if they’re monthly, or provide a down payment along with incremental payments as milestones are reached.
A client who doesn’t want to conform to your new rules will soon find another provider for their services.
This is the old “It’s not you, it’s me” routine—but when it’s genuine, it can work. If you are committed to offering value, yet feel like you are not doing that for your client, that’s the perfect reason to end a partnership. Here, you can break up with your client by putting all of the blame on yourself. Perhaps you have reached the limits of your time or knowledge or just don’t feel like you’re able to provide the level of service you initially promised. It’s hard for your client to argue with that as a reason for a split.
After You Break Up with Your Client, Save the Relationship
No matter how you choose to end a client relationship, you still want to stay on good terms with those people. After all, we live in a very small world where referrals can come from anywhere. And what if your client is an employee and moves to another company you really want to work with? Burning bridges is never a positive option.
To salvage the relationship, try the following:
- Provide an appropriate timeline to end the relationship. A 30-day notice is standard, but you may want more of a cushion, depending on the client. Just don’t drop the ax on them and say you’re done starting next week.
- Offer another vendor to take over where you left off. This is great on two levels: you give your client an option to continue moving forward, and you share business with another person in the industry. Perhaps it’s a junior person who’s starting out, and now that you’ve outgrown your client, they’d be a much better fit.
- Don’t badmouth your client to others in the industry. If anyone asks, give them the standard, “We were no longer a fit and parted ways” speech. No one needs to know the specifics of why you had to break up with your client.
You can clear out clients who no longer serve you, your business, or your goals. But you want to do it for a good reason and with clear intentions so you can sleep well at night and leave yourself open to future possibilities.
About Ink & Quill Communications
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