Abraham Lincoln was once quoted as saying, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Anyone who has been in business can probably attest to that.
There are a number of ways a client can make up their mind to be unhappy, and we have explored remedies to several of those over the course our series, The 5 Steps for Handling “Difficult” Clients. Still, it is never easy to close the door on any situation, be it business or personal.
No one starts a new business with the goal of being unable to work out minor difficulties with clients or vendors. We all take our business lives seriously and, no doubt, work hard to satisfy every client. That being said, there comes a time in the course of almost all businesses when a client makes demands that we just cannot meet, and we have to end a client relationship. Whether it is because we are professionally, morally, or economically unable, we cannot satisfy these particular needs. When this happens, the time has come to end the business relationship. Following these five points will help you bring any troublesome business relationship to an end.
1. Be Certain. The decision to end a business relationship is not one to be taken lightly, but you already know that. When you end a business partnership, you are not just ending your business dealings with one client. Rather, you are ending that business relationship and all the projects and relationships that partnership could have led to. So be certain and absolute when you make the decision to fire a client.
2. Be Prepared. It is never easy to have a conversation that ends a causal relationship, a friendly relationship, or a romantic relationship. So it should be no surprise that ending a business relationship is also difficult. Make the process easier on everyone involved by examining all the angles beforehand. Try to anticipate whatever objections you can, and think out your responses to them. “An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure,” to quote another famous figure from history.
3. Be Clear. When the time to speak to the client is at hand, it is important to be calm, but also clear. Let the client know that you regret this impasse, that you are sorry you are not able to resolve the matter or deliver on their expectations, but it would be best if they found another vendor. Above all, be courteous and listen to their comments after your statement. There is never a reason to part on a bad note if at all possible.
4. Be Absolute. It is very common for a client to ask for the name of someone who can fill the role your business is vacating. While it may be tempting to take this opportunity to send business to a friend, fight off this urge. Recommending another vendor to a client that you no longer wish to do business with only prolongs the very relationship you are trying to end. Always remember that recommendations bring responsibilities with them.
5. Be Optimistic. Once it is all over, and the client has gone on their way, there is one last thing to be done: remain optimistic. Keep a high spirit for all the work you are doing for other clients, for the next project to walk through the door, and the overall future of your business. Excising a problematic client fortifies the health of your business, not weakens it.
Ultimately, the process of dealing with a difficult client is much like dealing with a difficult romance. Each new relationship holds endless possibilities, and you both enter into it with the most positive of expectations. Bringing matters to an end may cause you to feel a pang of guilt. If so, try to remember that ending a bad client relationship is as much for the client’s benefit as your own. Were the situation allowed to continue, it could only lead to more incidents of unease and complication. Breaking the trend and moving on is the best possible thing for everyone involved.