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How to "Fire" a Client Without Burning Bridges

Ending a client relationship is never easy, especially when you’re a small business owner who values each customer. But sometimes parting ways is the best path forward for your business. Handled carefully, you can fire a problematic client while preserving your reputation and referral opportunities. Follow these best practices for gracefully firing a client.

Evaluate the Situation


Before deciding to end things, take an objective look at the client relationship. Ask yourself:

  • Is their behavior toxic or abusive? This warrants immediate termination.

  • Are they constantly late on payments or not paying invoices? Non-payment should not be tolerated.

  • Do they demand special treatment compared to other clients? This drains your time and sets the wrong precedent.

  • Are they causing unnecessary stress or negatively impacting your mental health? Your well-being comes first.

  • Would terminating free up time and resources for more ideal clients? Consider opportunity cost.

If the cons of continuing the relationship outweigh the pros, it may be best for both parties to part ways.


How to “Fire” a Client Without Burning Bridges


STEP 1: Consult your contract.


Your contract should include a line about cancellation. (If it doesn’t, add it!) Before you communicate your exit with your client, make sure you’re abiding by the rules you set in the contract. Not only are you legally bound to fulfill your contract, but it’s also important for your reputation as a business owner.


Use your contract to create a timeline for your exit. If the contract requires two weeks’ notice, determine what you’ll complete in the next two weeks. If you still owe your client deliverables, figure out how much time you need to complete them. This will prepare you for your conversation with the client.


STEP 2: Communicate clearly in writing.


Business coaches say that you have to have the “firing” conversation face-to-face, but let’s be real. This isn’t a breakup, it’s a business conversation! While it might seem nicer to chat over Zoom, you need this conversation in writing. You’ve got two options:


1. Go straight to email, announce your exit, and outline your next steps.

2. Talk to the client over Zoom, and then immediately follow up with an email reiterating what you discussed on the call.


Basically, treat it like giving notice at a traditional job. You can have a one-on-one conversation with your client if you’d like, but what’s most important is that you create a paper trail as proof that you’ve communicated your exit.


No matter which option you choose, remember that this isn’t the time for brutal honesty. I know it’s tempting to tell it like it is, especially if you’ve been dealing with a particularly difficult client. But that serves no one, and the goal here is to maintain a professional relationship.


Here’s an example of an email from a copywriter to their client:


Hello Jessica,


I hope your week is going well. I’m writing to let you know that I’ll be ending our contract on September 1, 2023. While I’ve loved working with you these past six months, I’ve decided to make a shift in my business, and this unfortunately requires that I prioritize other projects.


That being said, I want to make sure you’re all set up before I go! Here’s what I’ll be working on:

  • Completing the four blog posts I promised for the month of August.

  • Scheduling the next eight marketing emails, which are already written.

  • Organizing and duplicating all of our working files so you can save them in your records.

Like I said, working with you has been great, and I hope our paths cross again in the future! If you have any questions or want to hop on a quick Zoom call, I’m just an email away.


Thank you,

Sydney


This email provides the end date, the next steps, and some kind words to keep things civil and professional. That’s all you really need!


STEP 3: Offer alternative solutions.


It can be especially hard to leave a client in the middle of a project. Even if you don’t love the client, you don’t want to leave them high and dry. In this case, provide them with a few alternative solutions.


  • Recommend another contractor. This is a great time to refer to your friends! Don’t send them a toxic client, of course. But just because this client isn’t a good fit for your business doesn't mean they can’t make magic with someone else.

  • Share your professional opinion. Sometimes, you’ll have to drop a client because they just aren’t ready for the work you offer. In this case, don’t be afraid to kindly share your opinion. You might say something like, “While I know you hired me for social media marketing, I believe your marketing budget would be better spent on web design right now, and I want you to get your money’s worth.” This is constructive for the client and makes them feel like you truly care.

  • Be flexible with your end date. If you do like this client but still need to end your contract, you can always discuss a later end date. This will give you both time to tie up loose ends and reach a solid stopping point in your project.

Remember that you are under no obligation to do this. It’s a kindness, but it can go a long way in preserving your professional relationships.

STEP 4: End on a good note.


When you finally complete your contracted work, send your client a few kind words. Let them know that you’ve enjoyed working with them (even if that’s not entirely true), and wish them the very best in their future endeavors. You never know when you might cross paths with them again, so keep your final conversations positive and professional.

What to Do If Things Go South


If you’re in business long enough, you’ll inevitably run across a client who doesn’t take the “firing” conversation very well. It happens, and it often has nothing to do with you. More likely, they’re feeling insecure in their own situation.


Depending on how the client reacts, you have a few options for how to respond:

  • If they’re sad, kill ‘em with kindness. “I understand that this is an inconvenience for you, and I am truly sorry. I want to make sure you’re prepared before my exit. What can I do in the next two weeks to make your life easier and set you up for success?”

  • If they’re snippy, stand firm and reiterate your boundaries. “I understand this is an inconvenience for you, but unfortunately, I need to make this shift in my business. My last day will be August 20, 2022, and I will complete the following before I go…”

  • If they’re abusive or cruel, cut all ties. “I understand that this is an inconvenience for you, but I do not tolerate abuse. I will be ending our contract, effective immediately, and you will receive a prorated refund for the final two weeks of our contract. Take care.”

You’re in charge of your business, and you don’t have to take crap from anybody! Don’t be afraid to set strong boundaries and stick up for yourself. Trust me, if you communicate clearly and professionally, most clients will react accordingly!


Want to feel calm, cool, and confident in your business?


Who doesn’t?! Check out The Ultimate Accounting Checklist, your guide for managing and maintaining your business finances with ease.




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