In my last blog post I shared some tips on how to decide whether or not you should say goodbye to a difficult client.
I shared the four key questions I ask myself to help me decide if it’s worth sticking with it and making it work or if I should give up and walk away.
Now let’s look at the next step. Say you have decided that it is, in fact, time to ‘break up’ with one of your clients. What is the right way to do it?
Many of us live and work in relatively small communities where lots of people know each other. We don’t want to end things on a bad note and risk the client talking badly about us with other potential clients.
I don’t know about you, but I get most of my work through word of mouth. So even if I don’t like working for a particular client, I still want to make sure they have a good experience.
The last thing I want is for them to talk badly about me afterwards.
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I did some research and talked to a few people to get some great tips on how to break up with clients without burning any bridges.
Build up to it – don’t surprise them
This actually happened to me once when I was on the client side. We were working with a freelance designer and all of the sudden, without any real warning, the person told me that they no longer wanted to work for us.
It was a very stressful time at the company and, to be honest, we might have been a slightly more difficult client at the time. But the designer never complained, never indicated the situation wasn’t working for them, or that they didn’t enjoy the work.
Them walking away was a real shock and left us hanging at an already stressful time.
Obviously, I would never recommend that person to someone else. From that experience I learned to always make sure to let the client know early on if the situation is not working. I would suggest saying something like; “If […..] doesn’t change/happen, I am not sure we can work together going forward.”
Think about the timing – ie: don’t walk away 5 minutes before a major deadline
Another important aspect. Make sure you don’t leave a client hanging right when they need you most. If you walk away, do it at a time where they can find someone else before the next big deadline.
This can be a bit tricky.
If they really are a difficult client, you don’t want to pass them on to your freelancer buddies. Think about why the relationship is not working. Maybe it’s because you don’t really buy into their ideas and goals and someone else would. Or, if you’re being honest, you need to admit that you might not have the right skills and someone else may be more suitable.
Another example could be that the client would be better off with a larger agency with more resources. Think about this and if you find there is someone better suited to help them, make a referral.
Make them feel like it’s in their best interest
When it’s time to actually tell the client, you might be tempted to just lay it all out for them and tell them how difficult they are to work with.
But will that help you in any way? It might make you feel better in the moment, but chances are that client won’t speak very highly of you afterwards.
Instead, explain the situation calmly and outline how someone else is likely better suited for them and ending the arrangement is in their best interest. Most likely the client has already noticed that things are not going well and they might be relieved that you suggest there is a better option for them.
Make the transition as easy as possible
Finally, when it’s time to make the transition, make it as easy as possible for the client. Don’t just walk away without doing a proper handover.
Ensure you leave all the ongoing work in a way that makes it easy for someone else to pick it up. That includes saving files in common formats, packaging design files to include all fonts and assets, leaving notes and explanations, and of course making sure you hand over everything you’ve done for them. Doing this will go a long way to making sure the client will remember you in a positive way.
I think what sums it all up is to always be fair! No matter how difficult the client has been, you are always better off leaving things on a good note.
That’s it. Those are my tips for breaking up with your client. I hope there is something in here that helps you next time you’re dealing with a difficult client.
I would love to hear what other tips you have and how you walk away from difficult clients. What has worked well for you and what hasn’t? Leave your comments below.
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