How to Professionally and Mindfully Fire a Problem Client
This was originally published on AllBusiness.
When you’re a micropreneur like I am, you have no buffer between you and the client. If you have a client who is … let’s say, challenging, you can’t pawn them off on a junior staffer. And yet, I fully believe that you should love the projects you work on and the people you work with.
That’s why I’ve started firing clients.
Know When it’s Time to Move on
I had a client recently whom I really enjoyed working with—when I could get his attention. But that attention was (understandably) spread thin in his startup. I’d send email after Slack message with questions, only to hear crickets. I’d schedule reminders on my calendar to check in yet again every week.
I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, fretting about the situation.
One day, I decided this was eating up too much mental real estate. I needed to let the client go.
In the past, I haven’t been so zen about it. I’d hang on to the client (in part because I was operating from a scarcity mindset—how would I replace that income if I lost the client??). I’d get so stressed about it that I’d resent working with them. I’d bitch about the situation to all my friends who, truthfully, didn’t want to hear it.
But I’m in a different place now. I think life is too short to work with people that stress you out, particularly if you are an entrepreneur and chose that path because it brings you joy.
Sometimes letting go of a client can replenish that joy when it’s been depleted.
The Tactical Aspects of Firing a Client
I always carefully think of how to word the email I send to end a client relationship. I don’t need to let my frustration show, but I do need to say that I have boundaries and I feel those aren’t being honored. And I never burn bridges; you never know when this client could come back with a different availability or attitude, or even refer business to you.
In another situation, I was also having frustration with a different client whose consultants were canceling our scheduled calls at the last minute. I worded out a kind email to my contact, saying that I didn’t feel my time was being valued and that I needed to let go. He called in a panic, desperate to find a way to make things work. And we did find a solution. I’m glad.
While I was willing to let the client go, that email opened the door to a more frank conversation about honoring my time, and now the situation is completely improved.
This is to say that sometimes you don’t actually need to fire a problem client. There may be a way to improve the situation, so be open to listening.
Fire a Problem Client Mindfully
If you’re considering firing a client, never do it from a place of anger. Yes, you probably have frustrations, but voicing those emotionally will not serve your purpose. Draft an email and sit on it before you send it. Reread it when you’re in a better headspace. Don’t point the finger. Explain what you need (more boundaries about your time, more respect on project scopes) and just say you’ve got to move on.
Years and years ago, I had a client who, quite honestly, was sometimes emotionally abusive. I was young in the game and didn’t have thick enough skin, so when I had the “you’re fired” conversation, I erupted into tears (I tend to cry when I’m raging mad). I now feel it invalidated my perspective to her, and that she probably didn’t hear me on any of the points I tried to make. But therein lies the lesson: It’s not your job to teach a client how to treat people better. You can only put up boundaries around how you will allow them to treat you.
If possible, do your best to leave the client whole. I will give my “notice” a month in advance, or outline what projects I will complete before moving on so the client has the opportunity to find my replacement. If I’m able, I will refer another writer I think they’d be a better fit with.
Firing a client mindfully is about you finding better balance in work. Emotions don’t need to come into the conversation. You certainly can have them privately, but keep it professional.
Swinging from One Vine to the Next
Let’s speak briefly about revenue, particularly the lost revenue caused by firing a client. I used to be so afraid of this, as I said, that I’d stick with stressful clients. But since I shifted my mindset to one of abundance, I have seen, dozens of times, that whenever I lose revenue from one client, another steps in to exceed what I was previously making.
It does require an act of faith, swinging out into thin air, hoping there’s another vine to catch you, but trust me, there always is. As they say, when one door closes, another one opens. If you let one client go mindfully because you want to make room for another that is a delight to work with (and who pays you even more), you’ll make that happen with your intent.