Breaking Up with a (Likeable) Client

Many of us have clients who are annoying, penny pinching , high maintenance or some combination thereof.  As a new business owner, we are often stuck with these clients because we need them to get our businesses off the ground.  However, we look forward to the day when we will have the thriving business that we so deserve, and fantasize about the spectacular way in which are going to fire them.  This can be a productive fantasy assuming that it does not factor into your interactions with the client.  

The Likeable Client

There is the more complicated situation where you have clients whose work you enjoy, who pay on time, don't haggle over your fees and respect your work.  You actually like them and don't have a sense of dread when you see emails from them in your inbox, or avoid their calls. 

Nagging Sense of Discomfort

As much as you might like your client, sometimes you have a nagging sense of discomfort; You feel like you may be a little out of your depth.  It is possible that you were fully capable of meeting your clients' needs when you started out, but they have now morphed beyond your expertise.  Alternatively, you may just not have the time, and are neglecting them in favour of more pressing concerns. This is problematic as you are not providing them with optimal service, which may not be noticed immediately, but will usually come back and, as the saying goes, bite you in the ass. 

Be Honest:

Once you have identified that there is a problem, it is important to be honest with yourself.  Is there a way that you can develop your expertise? Can you rearrange your schedule? Should you just hire someone? Can you outsource? And most importantly, do you really want to have to give something up to continue to service the client?  If the answers to these questions is no, then you need to consider firing your client.

After you have reached the painful decision to break up with your client, you need to be honest with them, in the most tactful way possible.  You need to choose your method of communication (do NOT do this via text message).  An email followed up by a face to face meeting can be quite effective, as an email alllows you to eloquently and thoughtfully explain why you are "extremely reluctant. loved working for them, but find it necessary to make this decision, in the best interest of client".  Ideally this should be followed by a detailed analysis of their requirements and a recommendation on how to find a replacement. 

Hopefully They Understand:

Most clients will understand and appreciate your honesty.  If they respect you and your work, they will take your recommendations under advisement and faciliate implementation.  They will probably want to maintain a relationship to help with the transition, so that you can train and transfer knowledge to your replacement. 

This decision, while painful, can also be extremely liberating (personal experience bears this out.) as well as gratifying as you are also doing the right thing for your client.  As a startup, you are often compelled to take on business that is not ideal, but is necessary.  As the business continues to grow, you can start selecting what you truly enjoy and feel comfortable doing.  Businesses are (or should be) constantly evolving.  Unfortunately, this evolution often requires tough decisions.