Neil Sedaka put it best, “Breaking up is hard to do.” And when it comes time to “breaking up” with a client, there is no uncomplicated way to say, “Let’s just be friends.” Firing a client should always be a last resort and implemented with care and consideration. The goal is to allow the client dignity in the severing of the relationship as well as leaving the door open for you, to one day re-examine the opportunity of beginning a new functional and productive relationship but under different terms and circumstances.
Here are guidelines for you to consider as you change your relationship status with any of your clients.
- Assess the reasons for terminating the relationship. Before taking any action, it is important to assess the situation and the reasons behind the decision to terminate the relationship. Consider whether there have been any violations of the contract or any unethical and/or illegal behavior. Also evaluate whether you have tried to resolve the issues with the client and have exhausted all the options.
Moreover, it is important to determine the extent of impact losing this client will have on your business. If it is going to have a significant adverse effect on your bottom line, it is imperative that you find a way to mediate and attempt to salvage the relationship.
- Communicate the issues both in writing and verbally. Objectively assess if the communication has been consistent both on your part and the part of the client. If there has been a lack of response, failure to follow through which has resulted in the ability of your company to complete contracted tasks, that is a critical component to this decision.
Schedule a meeting, virtual or in person, or call and express your concerns in a professional and respectful manner. Be clear about the issues that have led to this decision and give the client the opportunity to respond and address the issues. It is essential to follow up this conversation in writing with detail regarding all the concerns and issues discussed. Be sure to include any action items and which party has responsibility for these as well.
- Review your contract or engagement letter. Evaluate whether your company has fulfilled its contracted obligations and provided all requested products where possible. It is highly recommended that you complete any/all open projects before terminating the client. Offering a suggestion for a substitute option or competitor at this point can often be perceived by the client as both gracious and professional.
- Provide an action plan. Provide the client with a plan of action to address any fixable issues. Offer guidance and support to help the client improve the relationship and work towards resolving the issues.
- Offer a graceful exit. If the client cannot or will not address the issues, offer a graceful exit from the relationship. Be professional and courteous in your communication and provide clear details about how the process will work and what the next steps are.
- Keep records. Maintain detailed records of all communications related to the firing of the client. This should include all e-mails, meeting notes, and phone call logs. This information may be useful in the future.
Remember that firing a client is not an easy decision and should only be executed when all other options have been exhausted. It is important to approach the situation with professionalism and empathy, while also protecting yourself and your business.