How to “Break Up” With a Client

August 18, 2021
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As a business owner, your natural inclination may be to please clients, and it can be tempting to fall into the trap of taking any client that wants to work with you. 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 cut ties with some clients. It might be something you’ve been considering for a while now as a result of clients behaving badly (hello, unpaid invoices), or maybe you’ve simply become too busy and need to edit your client base (high five, boss). 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 Andrea Crisp, a life coach, host of “The Couragecast,” and author of “Designed With Purpose.”

Is it time to break up with a client?

According to Crisp, here are six 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.

And here are six signs that a client is 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 3 a.m.

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.

How do you break up with a client (and prevent it from happening in the first place)?

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

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.”

“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,” explains Crisp. “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’re 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 entrepreneurs, we may want to have all the answers, have the biggest client roster, and have 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.

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 of 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, after all, good clients lead to other good clients. 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 addicted to the hustle by taking clients that drain your energy and creative flow.

Another key point is that as 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.”

About the author: 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. She’s a contributor to Forbes, Coveteur, MyDomaine, and more.

This story was originally published on November 28, 2016, and has since been updated.

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