No one likes to fire a client. However, when you are in business for yourself, sometimes it is necessary. A client might no longer be profitable for you. Or, worst yet, interactions with them may be toxic and having a negative effect on your mental health.
First, let’s start by how NOT to fire a client (even though in some scenarios it may be tempting).
How Not To Fire A Client
By email or text message
You know this isn’t a good idea, though it may be tempting if you’re exhausted or have anxiety about the encounter. As uncomfortable as a conversation might be, it’s better to call a client up and speak with them directly.
Using unfriendly language
Again. Depending on the situation, this might be tempting. Especially if they’ve used unfriendly language with you. But keep it classy. When they go low, we go high. Keep your tone calm and your words professional.
Never blame the client
I know, this one is hard. Especially if the client IS at fault. This awkward encounter will be over quicker with fewer chances of them leaving you a bad review or speaking negatively in the future if you place blame anywhere but on their shoulders.
Not giving them a reason for firing them
You have to be honest with them. Explain why it’s not working out, and what the next steps are moving forward. You should NOT sugar coat or justify your decision at all because that will just make things worse for everyone involved. Keep your explanation clear and concise. Keep in mind this might get emotional so try to stick to facts rather than opinions.
Not honoring your contract
Even though you are ending the relationship with this client, make sure to stick to your business protocol and continue providing them with excellent service until their contract expires if they have one in place with you! This will ensure that there is no bad blood between the two of you when it comes time for renewal or termination without any accusations or “he said she said” stuff.
Understand that you don’t owe them anything after you’ve fired them. And it’s okay to shut down any contact with this person immediately afterward, even if they try to get in touch (this is especially true for toxic clients). You might be thinking – “I can’t just ignore them!” And yes…you definitely can.
If you can’t carry out your contractual obligations for whatever reason, consider providing a full or partial refund (depending on the work done).
How To Fire A Client Properly
Now that we have the “how not to”s covered, let’s talk about how fire a client properly.
Make it clear and stay professional
Make sure you are as clear as possible with your reason for firing them and what happens next. As we mentioned earlier, stick to facts rather than opinions so there is no room for misinterpretation on either side.
Make sure to be professional throughout the process. This doesn’t need to be a long conversation. Keep it short, clear, and classy. Don’t drag it out.
Offer a substitute
If you can’t finish out the contract, offer some options for your clients of other service providers who can help them. Do a little research before making any recommendations, as you want your suggestion to be a good one.
Thank them for working with you
Even if it was short-lived or not the best experience, thank them for their time with you. You never know when you might need another referral from this person in the future!
Once you have said your peace, end the call or meeting as quickly as possible. Make sure that there is no further discussion needed and do not hold a grudge! Your client’s business may be important to them but it doesn’t need to be an integral part of your life. It’s time to move on to bigger and better things.
It’s never easy or fun to have a confrontation. But be proud of yourself. You took control of your business and your sanity. Go take yourself out to a nice lunch or pour yourself a glass of wine. You’re on to bigger and better things!
One Final Note
Ideally, you don’t want to be reading an article about how to fire a client. You want all of your client interactions to be positive for everyone involved – the client, yourself, and your business.
So how can you avoid toxic clients in the future? The best way is by being clear up front and having a good service contract in place that gives you an out.
Typical contract verbiage for this might sound something like this (in normal people/non-legal speak talk).
In the event that you (the service provider) cannot or will not perform your obligations in any or all parts of the contract agreement, you will immediately give notice to the client, and at your discretion, either attempt to find a reasonable substitute to fulfill the terms of the terms of the contract or issue a refund or credit based on a reasonably accurate percentage of the work you completed. In the case of a refund, and even if no substitute is found, the client shall excuse you of any further obligations.
It’s always best to consult with a lawyer when it comes to writing contracts (aka. we’re not lawyers, so seek the advice of a professional here in regards to your unique situation).
The most important thing to remember when firing a client is that you are doing it for the good of your business (and probably your mental health). It’s not easy, but there are some steps you can take to make this uncomfortable conversation go as smoothly as possible.
You want your client to have all their questions answered and feel respected by the way in which they were let go. This will, hopefully, make them less likely to leave bad reviews or speak negatively about your company online afterward.
Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.
Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site FanBolt.com