It is never easy ending a relationship, whether it is personal or business. The awkwardness of knowing the relationship is not working out anymore, not knowing how to sever ties without burning bridges, and deciding what your next steps to recovery will be. While it can be difficult at first, in the long run both parties will greatly benefit from parting ways if the relationship is no longer positive or healthy. The key is to notice the signs that a client relationship isn’t working before it negatively affects either business.
Even if you don’t want to acknowledge the creeping feelings, you will know when it’s time to start thinking about getting out of a client relationship. There are five simple questions that you should ask yourself to determine if the relationship has become unhealthy.
How do you feel when you’re interacting with the client?
Clear indications that it’s time to move on are if excitement has turned to anxiety when communicating with the client, if you aren’t motivated to go above and beyond, or if you dread meetings with them.
Are your services being abused?
This abuse can be any number of things such as absence of respect, lack of clear communication, unrealistic demands and even flat-out rudeness. These are all clear signs that your relationship has become toxic.
Do you feel drained after interacting with the client?
Don’t let one client monopolize your time, energy and creativity. If by the end of the day you feel completely drained from one client, you can’t properly serve your other clients.
Can you walk away from them at the end of the day?
In a healthy relationship you are able to work with the client for the agreed-upon amount of time and then move on to other things. With an unhealthy relationship it’s not simple to move on to other work. Instead you’re fixating on what occurred that day with the client and it can be difficult to escape the negative feelings that linger.
Do they make you doubt your ability to do your job?
The relationship needs to end if no matter how hard you try, the client is never happy. Your work is a reflection of how much effort you put forth. If the client is still a bottomless pit of demands and criticism even while you are pouring hours of over time into a project, getting them positive results, and delivering on your promises, that shouldn’t cause you to doubt the work you’ve done.
Have you tried to communicate and move past issues?
As with personal relationships, your client deserves your honesty and earnest attempts to smooth over any issues that may have arisen. They may not even be aware you feel this way, or may be looking for an opening to communicate their concerns to you. If you’ve tried working through issues before and the same difficulties continue to arise, then it’s best to move on.
If you relate to these five signs of an unhealthy client relationship, it is time for you to evaluate if you want to get out of the relationship or continue being unhappy.
The next question is how to keep the split swift and painless as possible. The main idea is to make it simple for you and the client.
You don’t want to come off as hostile or make the client feel like you’re attacking them.
Remember that it’s just as hard taking the news as it is giving it.
Be concise and polite.
You don’t need to ramble on about everything you disliked about them or rehash past problems.
You aren’t a romantic couple breaking up. You are business partners. Leave the past in the past, don’t point fingers and don’t place blame. If the client gets heated or sends aggressive emails, don’t retaliate. You want to avoid burning bridges, turning a situation ugly or tarnishing your reputation.
Avoid vague comments, like ‘maybe we can work together in the future.’ You are ending the relationship, so be clear that you’re saying goodbye for good. Sometimes the client may not even realize they were being difficult so be open for discussion to work out issues to bring about closure and understanding.
Don’t leave them high and dry.
Offer to finish the work you previously agreed to and that will be the end of that. Be reasonable and remember you were a part how their business functioned. Give them time to get their ducks in a row and give them next steps on how to proceed from there.
Even if it was difficult working with a client try not to dwell on the negative aspects of the relationship, as this won’t help you better your business or improve relationships with future clients. Instead think of the positive things you gained from the relationship or what you learned from the experience.
Take time for internal reflection as well. Were there aspects of your work or plan that you did not communicate well to the client? Did you listen to them and work with them? Did you keep them informed and remain transparent throughout the process? Were there early warning signs of miscommunication or difficulties with this client that could have been acknowledged and handled?
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of a business relationship running its course. In any case, use the experience as a lesson on how to best serve current and future clients, as well as how to protect yourself and your team from the negativity and drain of a client relationship that is no longer serving either party.
If you are polite and handle the breakup with grace you can avoid any negative impact on your business’s image and reputation to other potential clients. As with any business decision, remember to stay strong, find a way to grow from it and stand by your choice.