How to Break Up With a Client With Grace

Going two separate ways.

Breaking up is hard to do, especially when it’s with a client.

There comes a point when your business either has to expand to accommodate your workload or you need to cull your client list. While they may leave you for various reasons, it’s less common for a vendor to dump a client, so many may take it personally.

There are several valid causes to re-evaluate your client list on a regular basis.

For example, if you’ve recently raised your rates and a client is unwilling (or unable) to meet the increase, that client might make the cut list.

Does the client demand too much of your time for too little reward? Again, they may be a candidate.

Has your business grown away from the services you provide a certain client? You get the idea.

Here are some tips on how to cut these clients with tact.

Give Two Weeks Notice

Just like a job, it’s classier to give someone standard notice instead of dropping the mic and walking out. Two weeks is a good standard, though the amount of notice you give should depend on the norms of your industry and the size and scope of work you’ve been doing for that client.

No matter what industry you’re in, you are more likely to get a good reference and end the relationship on a positive note if you give your client ample time to make alternative plans.

Give a Reason

Don’t just disappear. Whether you are up front with the client about money or behavior issues, or just cite “creative differences,” provide a solid reason why you are ending the relationship. Otherwise, the client will craft their own narrative as to why the relationship went sour, and their version always seems to assume the worst.

Also, try to make sure your excuse doesn’t have you pointing fingers at your client, putting them on the defensive.

If there is still an open door (ie. an increase in pay), let them know. If you want to dismiss the relationship entirely, give an ironclad excuse that’s hard for them to refute like, “I can no longer accommodate your needs.”

Avoid Lying

This may go without saying, but it’s important.

Most industries operate in small circles, and you never know for sure who knows who…or who might talk in the future. While it might be tempting to tell a client “it’s not you, it’s me” when ending your working relationship, don’t give reasons that aren’t true where you could be caught in that untruth.

For example, you can’t tell your client you’re leaving the business, moving, or changing direction if you aren’t.

Finish What You Started

While it may be tempting to drop burdensome projects, complete the work you have to do for a client before you terminate your affiliation. Pending the project, the client may release you of your responsibility, but go in with a plan on how to wrap up loose ends.

Keep Apologies to a Minimum

While you might apologize for the inconvenience, don’t go overboard with excuses. In fact, don’t feel the need to give any excuses at all.

Apologies could make you appear less professional, make the client feel worse about being “dumped,” or even give your client the ability to guilt you into continuing the relationship.

As an adult and a professional, you have every right to decide which working relationships make sense for you. There’s no reason to apologize for exercising that right, for setting boundaries, or for changing your mind.

Send References

If you want to earn a positive client reference, consider giving your client a list of vendors or other businesses that can fill the void you will leave when you stop working together.

There are a few ways to do this. You can tap your network and keep track of who is looking for work. You can also refer an up-and-coming company that would appreciate the new business as much as you did when you took on the client.

Remember that your references reflect on you, too. If you can  provide your ex-client with a fantastic reference who can jump in and pick up where you left off, your client will remember you more kindly.

Leave a little wiggle room to engage with the client in the future. You never know when your paths may cross again.

This article was updated January 2019.

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