When you finally reach breaking point and you know its time to move on but you don’t know exactly what to say, you need to read this. Firing a client is akin to breaking up with a partner – it’s awkward and the most unfun you can have outside of month end grocery shopping. Provided you have noticed the red flags and tried to salvage the working relationship, it’s finally time to cut all ties and fire your client.
Check the Contract
Before you get ahead of yourself make sure you’re not missing something, ensure that you are upholding your end of the deal – you can’t fire a client if they are insisting that you provide them with services you initially agreed to render. There are other circumstances in which you may not legally be able to fire your client either. Be smart, dot your is and cross your ts before you inadvertently trip yourself up and look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Fulfil Your Contractual Obligations
Make sure your ducks are in a row before you make the final call. If you are a step ahead of your client or your boss, you already know what needs to be seen through to completion or finalised. If you insist on terminating the relationship before the completion of a major project, you may have your ethics questioned. This is a key step if you intend to ensure a clean cut from your client, you have to verify that you do not owe them any work just as much as they need to pay for any work done.
No one is enamoured by rejection but it blows less when the rejectee (your client) feels like they are part of the process. If you have conducted your due diligence and tried to salvage the working relationship, they are more likely to see it coming and understand your thought process. If your thought process is a mystery, however; they will be confused and feel blindsided. It is essential that you offer fair justification for your decision as well as put a positive spin on it.
Along the lines of signing off with a positive spin, make sure you’re polite about it otherwise you may as well not do it at all. Think of it this way; it’s better to say, ‘There’s a cultural mismatch between our organisations.’ Rather than ‘You’re impossible to work with’. Or; ‘We’re technologically incompatible’, rather than ‘fax machines were officially declared extinct at the turn of the century – 18 years ago’. Just picture what your client might feel insulted by and think of another, kinder way to say it. Never add so much as a pinch of passive aggression either. When you stop being polite the conversation degrades very quickly and you just end up looking bad.
Refer Them Elsewhere
One sure-fire way to cushion the blow of your breakup? You can recommend someone else that they could work with. Just because the two of you aren’t a match doesn’t mean they can’t work with a company similar to yours, a freelancer or even a competitor. They will appreciate the fact that you didn’t kick them to the curb and leave them out in the cold, if you refer them to someone you trust they’ve got options and a plan going forward.
Give Them a Fair Amount of Time to Make the Transition
So once all of the groundwork has been done, it is essential that you smooth out the final details with your soon to be ex-client. Making sure that everyone is on the same page about what happens next involves deciding on a hard end date, expectations and deliverables. Just to make extra sure that everyone is clear, follow up with an email to confirm the discussion, avoid any confusion and ensure that you don’t leave the door open for additional negotiation.
Stick to the High Road, Sling no Mud and Bite Your Tongue
The last step and easily the most important one is avoiding the he-said, she-said. It goes nowhere and inevitably leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Instead of getting into the nitty-gritty walk away feeling all the joy of never having to answer to that particular unnecessarily difficult client again. Better still, walk away recognising your own mistakes too and don’t repeat them.
Firing a client or leaving your job should be your absolute last resort. It is essential however to remain professional at all times. The manner in which you see this difficult process through will stay with you and your professional reputation for years to come, so you best do it right and walk away on a cordial note. You’ll feel lighter and you will have more energy to give to your awesome clients.