11 Tips on How to End a Client Relationship

What do you do when a relationship just isn’t working out?

That’s a tough question to answer. Ask anyone who has lived through a difficult divorce, a painful breakup or a heart-wrenching separation. These emotional relationships wreak havoc on two people. Splitting up is never easy.

That’s why I was interested in a recent guest blog titled “How to End the Client Relationship” over at WritingWhitePapers written by Sharon Hurley Hall.

The only problem was that the post had a major fault with it: The content didn’t deliver on the title promise. I wanted to know how to end a client relationship, but what I read talked about a writer’s experience getting shafted for payment. Tsk, tsk, Sharon…

How to end a client relationship is an important social skill to learn. Breaking up affects your credibility, your reputation, and reflects on your business image.

Here are some tips on ending a client relationship:

  • Be calm. Never be hostile, attack a client, or write a flaming goodbye.
  • Be understanding. Yes, you’re splitting up for you. Be sympathetic that ending a relationship is no easier for the client.
  • Be concise. Don’t go on and on with explanations. Keep it short, simple, and polite.
  • Be professional. Don’t drag up past events, point the finger or lay blame. It isn’t necessary.
  • Be clear. Avoid vague comments. If you’re saying goodbye for good, say so.
  • Be open. Some people don’t realize they’re being difficult. Leave room for possible discussion to work out issues.
  • Be fair. Don’t leave a client stuck with an unfinished project. Offer to complete the work.
  • Be reasonable. Leaving a client scrambling to make up for your loss isn’t nice. Give notice, if you can.
  • Be mature. Don’t get into a back-and-forth email argument. If you’re quitting and there is no going back, don’t keep replying to emails that just drag out the situation.
  • Be thankful. Every situation teaches us something about ourselves and working with others. Thank your client for the experience and what you’ve learned working with him.
  • Be strong. Many people have a hard time speaking up for themselves and saying no. Gather your courage, and like Nike says, just do it.

It’s important that you be graceful and polite when you’re breaking up with a client. Your business image and reputation depend on it. Make no mistake that bad experiences travel fast – do you really want to be labeled as a difficult person to work with?

When ending a client relationship, with every word you write in your goodbye and with every move you make, ask yourself, “How will I be perceived when this is read?”

The answer should be, “As a professional.”

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Consider my wrists nicely slapped. Great tips, James

  2. Excellent post with some excellent tips!

  3. Don’t worry, Sharon, you’ll have the chance to slap mine some day! ;)

    And thank you, Hope! Glad to have you around.

  4. Another excellent post and one that I have had the experience of doing recently. I had been working with a client but it just wasn’t working out. I felt that I just wasn’t qualified to complete the work he was looking for. I am not a business writer and I had made this clear from the start but he liked my style and wanted to work with me anyway. The first project went fine but the second one just wasn’t for me. I explained this to him and even offered advice as to where he would find an appropriate writer. I also included a detailed description of what he needed to say in his project proposal. I am happy to report that we ended on great terms and he has promised me more work but this time when it is suitable to my expertise.

    Like you stated professionalism is everything when ending a client relationship, after all it is your credibility as a writer that is at stake.

  5. I just ended a relationship with a client who kept changing projects on me (I spent more time sorting out what he wanted than actually working). This was a big help. Thanks.

  6. Even a more easier way, do a job that is not worth paying. There is no fun in serving a client who has no compatibility with you.

  7. Hey! Thanks for the great tips. I’m struggling with the situation of letting go of some clients as I write this. Wish me luck! Great blog.

  8. AnonyGuy says:

    Thanks for this post. After 2 weeks of fretting I gathered the courage to terminate an agreement that we should have terminated months ago (all while still maintaining our professionalism). Now, we still have a business relationship with the client, minus the parts we badly needed to renegotiate. In fact our relationship is even better now that we’ve had the chance to work everything out.

  9. “Don’t a client stuck with an unfinished project” (presumably you meant to include ‘leave’).

    What about if the demands keep coming, the goalposts keep moving, and the project is never “finished” as far as the client is concerned? I’ve been working for several months, and what was originally on paper is vastly different to what the client has in their head. They are also perfectionist. We have tried to agree compromise, agreed it, and then it’s been rescinded. It is therefore nigh impossible to complete the project, as far as the client is concerned. Genuine question, your advice on this kind of situation?

    • An excellent question, Andy, and the answer can be found here: http://menwithpens.ca/scope-creep/

      In short, you should always set the boundaries and goalposts of the project before beginning any work. You need to know what you’re supposed to deliver; the client needs to know what to expect.

      Any changes along the way, or anything outside the scope of the project, allows you to stop and say, “I’m happy to do that extra revision, though it’s outside the 2 revisions we agreed on, so if you’d like me to go ahead, just let me know you’re okay with the X$ I’ll need to bill for my time.”

      Learning to tango with your client isn’t always easy, but it sounds like you have some nice experience on your plate right now that will help you know what to avoid down the road.

      And for some instant help, here’s what I’d do: write a nice, “I think we need to talk,” email and hop on the phone with your client. Explain where you’ve gone over and above the agreement, and see if you can compromise on payment or work moving forward. If you can’t… then you can gently say, “I think we’ll have to stop here.”

      You can search the site here for more great posts that could be helpful. “Learning to say no”, or “boundaries scope creep” or anything in that vein will turn up plenty of applicable advice you could try. Good luck!

    • Daniel Cardin says:

      I’ve been in the situation Andy is describing and I the way to handle it is to define what ‘done’ means to YOU and just understand that some clients will never ever agree with you that its done. Give up on satisfying them and use the energy to satisfy your clients who CAN be satisfied. You can and should retain your professionalism, but ‘client satisfaction’ may be beyond your reach by this point. So rather than saying, “I’ll complete this project” (which means whatever an unreasonable client wants it to mean), I would say, “I’ll transition the following accounts and do these 5 reports”. Then do those things and move on. Don’t try to get the client to agree with you that it’s complete because you’ll just waste resources that should be spent on better clients.

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