The Break-Up: When To Cut Ties With A Client

As a woman in business, your natural inclination might be to please clients. And so it can be tempting to fall into the trap of taking any client that wants to work with you. After all, it feels good to be in demand—it makes you look and feel successful.

The hustle is addictive. And the thought of saying “no” is scary, especially when faced with the uncertainty of when your next client will be locked down. But while cultivating and growing your clientele, your list of frustrations might follow suit.

PSA: There will likely come a time when you’ll want to flush some clients. It might be something you’ve been considering for a while now as a result of clients behaving badly (shit happens), or maybe you’ve simply become too busy and need to edit your client base (high five, babe).

Whatever the reason, it’s uncomfortable AF. And considering your reputation is on the line, you’ll need to finesse this difficult convo.

So to help you manage your business relationships and determine which clients are giving you good vibes and which ones deserve “goodbyes,” we spoke with life coach and author of Designed With Purpose, Andrea Crisp.

The Cheat Sheet

According to Crisp, here are 6 signs you are subconsciously done with a client:

1- You feel completely drained after having a conversation with them because you rehash the same thing over and over.

2- You work overtime trying to please them when it becomes apparent no one can satisfy them.

3- You find yourself watching the clock every time you have a meeting with them.

4- You believe there is no amount of money in the world that makes working with them worthwhile.

5- You contemplate going back to your 9 to 5, just to escape this client’s requests.

6- You stop billing them in the hopes that they don’t contact you again.

Here are 6 signs that a client is legit giving you life:

1- You are willing to put aside time to work on a project; in fact, you look forward to it, even on weekends or at 3am. (And even if it means foregoing a Black Mirror binge…)

2- You feel compelled by the cause and are passionate about the impact it is making.

3- You are fueled by every conversation. Every time you speak with the client you are motivated and energized, and feel even more creative.

4- You think of ways to help them, even during your “me” time.

5- You are on the same wavelength and kinda want to be their BFF.

6- You are willing to go the extra mile for them, even though it’s not part of your mandate.

More yeah!, less meh

So if you’re starting to feel the “cons” outweighing the “pros,” it’s time to release these clients—and release yourself in the process.

"If you’re starting to feel the “cons” outweighing the “pros,” it’s time to release these clients—and release yourself in the process."

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Here are some ways to do so:

Set boundaries right from the start

This not only helps you as an entrepreneur, but also gives clear guidelines to your clients as to when they can expect work to be done, and when they can expect you to respond to their emails, texts and calls. So you avoid receiving emails on weekends (if that’s not part of your mandate) and avoid anxiety-inducing emails with subject lines that read: “Urgent: need this ASAP.”

Crisp adds: “At the beginning of every client relationship, I outline a clear coaching expectation so that my clients are aware of how this relationship will work. It has served me in so many ways. And, I have to constantly remind myself that even if I don’t think a client needs to hear my expectations, I need to say them. It keeps me in check and accountable to my clients, and allows them the freedom to ask the right questions.”

Know your niche

Your dream clients are ideal because you are passionate about helping them, and your expertise matches their needs and vision. As soon as you take on clients outside of your niche, you have to work harder than ever to figure out what they may need. This becomes super frustrating, as there starts to be a disconnect between your “dream clients” and your “dreaded clients.”

Release yourself from the pressure

Crisp puts it clearly: “Release yourself from the pressure that you need to be everything to everyone. As women entrepreneurs we may want to have all the answers, have the biggest client roster and a strong social media following. But in the end that does not produce results and only pushes us closer to burnout and fatigue. The biggest obstacle that stands in our way of making an impact as female entrepreneurs is ourselves.” Boom.

"Release yourself from the pressure that you need to be everything to everyone."

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Give yourself a break, allow yourself to have a day off, turn off your phone. The world will not end. Trust.

Look at your numbers

If you know you simply can’t even with this client anymore, look at your upcoming projects and revenue. Can you afford to let this client go? If this customer is draining you from all your energy and not allowing you to perform at your best, then it sounds like letting them go will help open the window for other awesome clients. And good clients lead to other good clients, after all. If the client is mistreating you, then you’re better off without them.

Have the difficult conversation

Don’t procrastinate; the longer you put off the inevitable, the harder it will become to have “the talk.” After all, there are times in every relationship, like with your squad, team or clients that you have to tell the hard truth. This may involve being honest and vulnerable, which can be very difficult. Face it head-on, take a deep breath and stand tall—you’ve got this.

Don’t look back

Once you make your decision and fire your client, don’t look back. See the situation as a key learning for the future -- upwards and onwards. Trust the process.

When is enough, enough?

The moment you start to believe that you need to fill your calendar with clients out of your niche, is the moment you have to work double time to accommodate their needs. Don’t go there.  

When trying to determine “the last straw,” you have already passed the point of no return. This may sound counterintuitive, but the real question you need to be asking is: “Do you have the confidence and assurance you need to only take clients you want?’

Tbh, it really is more about you than them. Ask yourself these tough questions and don’t become a slave to the hustle by taking clients that drain your energy and creative flow.

Another key point is that once you grow, your focus might narrow, which can lead to some clients no longer matching your brand. Recognize when this happens too—no matter how lovely the client might be.

Remember: a client-supplier relationship is a partnership. And if you’re no longer satisfied with your end of the deal, it might be time to say, “K, bye.”

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Karin Eldor is a coffee-addicted copywriter, with a long-time love for all things pop culture, fashion and tech. Ever since she got her first issues of YM (remember that one?) and Seventeen in the mail, she was hooked on the world of editorial content. After earning her Communications degree, she spent 6 years honing her craft as a Senior Editor for AskMen.com. More recently, Karin enjoyed gramming and strategizing as Social Media Manager at ALDO. Today, she is Chief Content Writer at 818 Agency and a social media consultant.

Priscilla Castro

Director of Social Media at Create & Cultivate