Knowing When To Let a Client Go
No one wants to fire a client. I don’t know many people who find joy in cutting off relationships, but in the business world, we have to be willing to let a client go. It’s always helpful if you can vet potential clients on the front end, but too often clients don’t show their true colors until the relationship has begun. In order to have a healthy client base, you’ll need to prepare yourself, prepare your client, & have an exit strategy. If you take these steps when building your business in the early days, then you’ll be able to prune your client list without a second thought.
Most people that struggle with firing a client have unrealistic expectations. They want their client to respect them, respond instantly to phone calls & emails, pay quickly, and refer rapidly. However, clients are people too, and they will have good days and they will have bad days. When building your client list, remember that even your best clients will have bad days. Don’t jump to fire a client after one uncomfortable phone call. Regroup, evaluate the situation, and then proceed. If a client sends you a nasty gram, DO NOT RESPOND IMMEDIATELY. Wait until you have had a chance to cool off so that you may respond with respect. You don’t want to damage your reputation and credibility by acting on impulse. Be sure to have contractual agreements with your clients at the start of your relationship so that it is clear what your expectations are for their business. This will provide clarity and protection from misunderstandings. If you can write down your process for services as well, even better! This way, the client knows exactly what to expect and has a clear understanding of deadlines.
Prepare Your Client
Most disagreements stem from unmet expectations. Prepare your client by over-communicating the progress of the service you’re providing for them. If they feel like they have been kept in the loop throughout the project, they are less likely to pitch a fit. When they ask “when will my project be ready,” overestimate and over deliver. Make sure they know that you appreciate their business and take every opportunity you can to say thank you. People won’t remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel. If you make a client feel appreciated then they are much more likely to extend you grace when things go wrong.
Have an Exit Strategy
There are some people that no matter how you prepare yourself or prepare them, the business relationship turns toxic. You dread their emails. You ignore their phone calls. You can’t wait for the project to be done. If another client tells you they are a bad client, listen to them. A bad review is worse than no review at all. Have an exit strategy from day one, so if the need arises to exit the business relationship, the process of letting them go is not personal. Just like corporations have procedures for how employees are fired, create a written exit strategy so you are prepared if it comes to that. Some things you can do to help soften the blow would be to refer them to another company you respect who can pick up where you left off; the classic “No, but…” strategy. An appropriate response can be “This isn’t working for me, but I know a company who would be great for you,” emphasizing that you care about them and want to make sure they are being taken care of. Put the spotlight on how you are not the best fit for their business pursuits, instead of saying what a bad client they are. Again, if you have established from the beginning that you care about them, then they will understand that your decision to end the relationship is coming from a place of compassion and respect.
Ultimately, the best way to fire a client is to never get into business with them in the first place. Take your time when you are vetting your prospects to prevent awkwardness down the line.
Getting client on the specific types of clients and businesses you want to work with will also help prevent these kind of situations from the start. Keep in mind that not everyone is your ideal client!