Is it time to break up with your client?
Back when you first started your small business, you probably would have worked with anyone. Any client willing to pay for your services was a good client in your books, right?
Hopefully, you’re now at the point in your business, where you know that not every client is a ‘good client’ and that you don’t have to accept just anyone. Just like in the dating world with many fish in the sea, you’re allowed to be picky and choose who you want to spend your time with.
Why? Because you’re a damn fine small business owner who deserves to work with your ideal clients on projects you actually enjoy. Don’t believe me? Keep reminding yourself until you do!
Feel ready to only work with your ideal clients on projects you actually enjoy? Chances are, it might be time to break up with at least one of your clients – for the health of your business and your sanity.
Breaking up a business relationship is never fun and can almost feel like you’re breaking up a romance. A romance with much less heat and fire, sure, but a business relationship is still a kind of relationship, after all. That feeling of anxiety, fear of confrontation and sickness sitting in the pit of your stomach can all still come into play.
So, how do you know it’s time to break up with your client? Get comfy my fellow business friend and grab yourself a cuppa – I’m here to talk you through the top signs and give you some tips on how to do the (heart) breaking along the way.
Heartfelt reasons to break up with your client
Let’s start with some of the common reasons it might be time to break up with your client, to help you go from ‘not feeling quite sure,’ to knowing this is absolutely what you have to do.
• You don’t like how you feel when you deal with them
• The money they’re making you isn’t worth the stress they’re causing you
• You don’t share the same vision or values
• They were never the right ‘fit’ to begin with
• They don’t respect your boundaries
• You’re being treated poorly and they’re difficult to work with
• They have unrealistic expectations
• Their payments are always late and you’re constantly chasing invoices
• They often ask for discounts or special deals
• Your niche and focus areas have since changed
• The work you signed up to do originally, is no longer work you want to do
• You’re no longer earning what you’re worth and they won’t’ accept your price increase
• They’re unresponsive or the communication is consistently unclear
• You’re not enjoying the work anymore
• You simply don’t feel quite right about working with them
How to break up with your client (without breaking their heart)
Now, for the scary part. I know, you’ve probably been avoiding this like the plague, and part of you is probably still questioning whether you’re making the right decision, but it has to be done – it’s what’s best for you and your business.
You’re now wondering how to do it. And no, there is not an easy way out…
This isn’t high school and we’re not on Tinder, so you can’t just ‘dump’ them and you certainly can’t ‘ghost’ them either. So, what do you do? You politely and professionally break up, using 5 of my top tips as a guide:
1. Check any contracts or terms
Before you do anything, you must check any contracts or terms you have in place with the client to ensure you’re still adhering to them. If there is any chance you won’t be, then there’s a chance it’ll come back to bite you. So, consider speaking to a legal professional about this first, if you’re feeling unsure.
2. Be prepared
When it comes to a break up, there’s always a possibility of things getting heated (even in the business world). So, it’s important to be prepared. Write down what you want to say – ensure you get all the important points across and try and keep it short and sweet. It’s also a good idea to have someone else read over it, ensuring it’s free from any emotion or personal attacks. It’s even a good idea to role play with someone a few times to help you practice and feel a little calmer when you say it.
3. Break up in person or over the phone
Sure, sending an email or text might seem like the easiest option, but it’s also a cop out and it isn’t professional. Have you ever been ‘dumped’ via text? Yeah. It isn’t nice. Don’t do that to someone else.
Make sure it’s either in person or over the phone – get in touch with them to arrange a meeting or phone call, so they have a chance to prepare for a discussion too
Feel like you need additional support? Arrange for someone to support you through it as an observer or a witness – this could be a friend, mentor or even a business coach like me, and can be really helpful.
4. Use the shit sandwich technique
Shit sandwich literally means to take something highly undesirable and make it more palatable by attempting to surround it with more tolerable things. So, you guessed it. I’m suggesting you start with a positive, deliver the bad news, and then end on a positive.
5. Reflect and assess
Often, after a breakup, you’ll take a bit of time to wallow – this usually involves a tub of your favourite ice cream, sad music (you may have even mastered your own rendition of ‘All by myself’) and a box of tissues. In business though, wallowing isn’t going to get you very far.
By taking some time to reflect and assess, you can learn from the experience and change what you might do in the future.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Did I miss something important in my client onboarding process?
- Were there initial red flags from the client that I ignored?
- How did I get myself into this situation in the first place?
- Were they ever my ideal client, or did I just take them on for the money?
- What could I do differently in future to avoid clients like these and having to break up with them?
Here’s a brief example:
I’ve enjoyed working with you over the past couple of years and seeing your business grow. It’s come so far and you should be proud. Unfortunately, I’ve come to a point in my business where I’ve decided to no longer offer this specific service offering, which means I won’t be renewing our contract next month. There are a couple of great local designers that I’d be more than happy to refer you onto, so you can still receive the service and help you need.
I know your business is going to continue to grow and I wish you all the best.
6. Refer them elsewhere
Unless the client has treated you very poorly, has refused to make payment or been abusive, I would recommend having another professional you trust up your sleeve, to refer them to. This is professional, shows you care and are still trying to ensure the client receives the service they need.
You’ve probably finished your cuppa by now, so, what do you think?
Is it time to break up with your client? If it is, please do it sooner rather than later to save yourself any further pain.
Don’t have the courage to do it alone? Don’t worry, I got you!
Book an hour of power with me – let’s come up with a breakup plan together. I can even give you some guidance to help ensure you don’t have to go through a breakup again in future (a business breakup, that is).
With kindness – Lala xo
Making small business better