There comes a time for every freelancer (and small business owner) when a client relationship no longer works. Ending client relationships shouldn’t be taken lightly, because every bond we form with a customer has the potential to benefit us, and them, long-term. But when it comes down to constant tension or haggling, it may be time to rise above and end the relationship graciously.
Grace vs Grief
The temptation, when a client relationship hits a snag, may be to protect our own interests. As professionals, however, we know that working through the rough spots with grace and patience is the smarter route.
Forming the habit of giving clients grief is deadly. It changes how we feel about ourselves and our own abilities. It changes how clients, and the people they talk to, see us. It can kill a freelance career or a megabusiness. It’s simply bad business.
But what to do when the relationship with a client requires time and effort way beyond the potential return? We step back, take a breath, set aside the snarky response we’d like to unleash and graciously suggest our services are no longer a good fit.
This response allows the client to save face. And it’s true, isn’t it, that if they find it necessary to fuss and finagle each time we do business, we probably aren’t the best fit for them?
Lessons from Ending Client Relationships
When the dust has cleared, this type of client has lessons to teach. Lesson one is learning to recognize a problem client ahead of time. Clients who simply can’t be made happy aren’t that hard to spot, if we let go of the need to please everyone.
Think about it – when too many clients become a problem, the problem could be our own filters. We’re most likely opening our filters far too wide and letting in business we don’t have any business taking.
Here’s an example: I once contracted with a client who fussed about my rate for “an easy project” but agreed to my terms. From the first set of articles forward, his need to “get his money’s worth” by requiring endless rewrites dropped me down below minimum wage.
Had I not been in a dry spell, my filter would have picked up from the get-go that this was not a client with whom I needed to do business. I had to bite the bullet, suggest we were not a good fit and refrain from responding to the verbal abuse that came next. (And he never did pay for the last set of articles.)
Lesson learned, move on and recognize that someone who doesn’t recognize the value of my services at the beginning isn’t likely to change. And here’s the tie-in to our original topic – if I hadn’t chosen the gracious route and chosen instead to start an argument, it probably would still have ended with not being paid, just a lot more money and whole lot more grief later.
Rising above and graciously ending client relationships is always the better path. It allows us to maintain our dignity, allows them to move on to a better fit, and strengthens the control we have over the way we do business. Win, win, win. What could be better?
Have you had to let go of a problem client recently? What do you wish you’d done differently?