How-to: Kindly fire your client

Kindly fire your client - graphic: "This is the sign you've been looking for"

A year ago I fired one of my biggest clients. It was a hard decision (mainly financially) made easier by a severe misalignment in core values. I may share more on the story in the future but for now, I want to share some tips for you if you’re considering letting go of a client relationship.

What we don’t want is to end things in a big dramatic blow-up. This is not Bravo TV*, although I love me some trash reality shows. We want to preserve your reputation so you can continue to create spaces for clients you would love to work with that love working with you.

1. Communicate, honestly.

Ideally via email so that you have a record of it. Typically project termination requires some sort of written notification. I hope you have contracts for each project that you can refer to if needed. Ideally, you’ll end up with an email that is a balance between something that makes you feel comfortable while also being firm and does not ruin your reputation with them.

I wrote a full emotional draft in a word document first. A slip of your finger hitting send and all that would follow this embarrassing mistake is surely avoided this way. I said every terrible thing, the emotional things, the inappropriate things – then got up and took a walk for a cup of coffee to reset. I drafted another version that was professional, conscience and fair. SEND. Remember to be clear about what the next steps are going to be.

I also think having an attorney review your response before hand cannot hurt. If you cannot afford legal council, check out your local small business administration group. Often they provide free consulting for small businesses in their community. Ventura County has SBDC and Women’s Economic Ventures.

2. Send the client a refund if necessary.

If things aren’t going well, I will give a refund for all unused time. According to my contract, this is not necessary. However, I don’t want to be a jerk, and would rather not fight with my soon-to-be-ex about it. That being said, do not give refunds for work you have already completed.

3. Return any project files.

If you have any design files or other files that the client might need but doesn’t have access to, make sure you deliver those over. I use dropbox and create a folder they can access for 3-6 months, then move it off my server.

Revoke password access and/or instruct client to change their passwords.

If they’ve sent passwords over to you, you may want to send a quick note that you’ve destroyed any record of their passwords and if they want to, they can change them so that you will no longer have access.

4. Ask for a testimonial + save any portfolio-quality work.

This may not be appropriate in every situation, especially if you’re firing the client. But sometimes things have not ended on a bad note. In these cases, you’ll always want to ask for a testimonial. At the very least go through your files and make sure you save anything that could be a good addition to your portfolio.

5. Give them a referral for future work.

If the project is ending but they will still need more help, it’s a nice gesture to give them a referral for someone who might be able to better help them. If the issue was the type of work they needed, recommend someone whose skills are a better fit. Just because the client wasn’t the right fit for you doesn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t be a great client for someone else.

6. Offer to help ease the transition.

Depending on what type of work you were doing for them and why you are firing them, it might be a really good gesture on your part to offer to help them as they transition into working with someone else. Some types of service providers might have a lot of information that you don’t have access to or do things in a certain way. This is important information that you’ll need to convey to the client or the person who’s replacing you. Make sure you make yourself available to help during this process in any way possible. And remember – this should be paid time!

Now you’ve cleared room in your schedule for a client and work that you LOVE!

*like a Bravo TV show, my client firing referenced above included a dash of sexual harassment, an inappropriate racial stance, and a gross incident of support for a man in power accused of inappropriate behavior with a staff member. Yikes! 

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