Why Ditching Clients is Sometimes the Best Thing to Do

Have you ever had that feeling of utter dread when it comes to working on some tasks belonging to a specific client? You maybe push them to the bottom of your to-do list until those deadlines rapidly approach and when you do the work, you just feel that something isn’t right.

If these feelings are familiar to you, remember that it’s not your fault. We all have problematic clients from time to time and if you feel that you’re not able to be your authentic self around certain clients, it could very well be time to ditch them.Picture of the words time to say goodbye on a postit

Before I delve any further into the why’s and how’s of ditching a client, let me share a story with you of when I had to fire a client a few years ago.

Back when I was working as a virtual assistant, I was asked to support this client with social media but whatever I did never seemed to be a fit for what she wanted. She asked me to use images on social media that I believed had copyright protection on them which could not only lead to fines but is also unethical to do in my opinion.

This client had a very specific idea of what she wanted which didn’t fit with how I worked or my personal best practice for social media that I had learned and developed over the years.

I knew I needed to end this working relationship, but I was incredibly nervous about making the phone call to do so. I asked how she felt the work was going and she told me that she felt frustrated that I wouldn’t use the copyrighted images she was sending me even though I had explained the issues around using them. I suggested that perhaps we weren’t a good fit and she agreed, so we ended the contract and I refunded part of the upfront payment she’d made so I could make a clean break.

Reasons why you might need to ditch a client

In the experience I’ve outlined above, we both felt frustrated and that we weren’t a good fit, and there was the issue of doing things that I felt were unethical and potentially illegal. But there can be a wide range of reasons why it might be time to ditch your client, here are just a few:

“That’s not how to do things” – like the example above, if they’re trying to dictate how they want you to do your work, always seeming to find fault or trying to micromanage what you do.

“I’ll take care of that soon” – if you’re constantly having to chase the information you need to do a task, to get an invoice paid or to get something approved for publishing.

“Would be able to just do this task as well?” – when your client has agreed to set project/services/hours of work but seem to keep asking for more and more.

“Sorry I missed our call” – some people struggle with phone calls for a range of reasons which is ok, but if all your attempts at communication are going ignored and excuses constantly given it’s a red flag.

Sometimes though, it’s just about listening to your gut. If you don’t feel right working with this client, it’s perfectly acceptable to end the working relationship.

How to ditch a client and keep your reputation

I often hear from business owners that they know they should ditch a client for x, y or z reasons but they’re scared to do so because it might affect their reputation. The client attends the same networking group as other clients or might post on social media about them and so they’re scared of any potential backlash.

I think it’s important to consider what carrying on with this client might do. It might be costing you money if they’re expecting you to do more work, it might be affecting your mental health because you’re anxious around working with them, or maybe your reputation will be affected more if you continue working with them than if you don’t? With my example, if others had found out I’d been using copyrighted images for social media that could have seriously dented my reputation and potentially lost valuable clients and income.

So when you are ready to have that difficult conversation, follow this process to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible:

  1. Calmly communicate your why
  2. Explain any issues succinctly and in context (legal issues, contract broken, etc)
  3. Discuss any remaining work left to do and what your preferences are (work notice or refund)
  4. Given them the opportunity to give feedback but avoid taking it personally
  5. Follow everything up with an email

It can be an emotionally charged situation, but clear communication is vital. Consider what you’re going to say and what they might say in return – preparing a script in advance can be really helpful. Make sure you explain clearly what the problems are and stay rational and polite.

Decide if you want to continue working with them until notice has been worked or if you want to refund and break away now. Having your contract/terms of engagement in front of you so you can be clear on your “kill clause” or payment arrangements can be useful, remember that they signed this so calmly sticking to your terms can help.

And if things are getting emotionally charged, it’s ok to end the call and say you’ll follow up with an email. Your mental health comes over keeping your clients happy every time. However, you don’t need to engage with any emails that don’t directly relate to any outstanding work, the refund, etc. If they’re repeatedly emailing you about the situation itself, you can take further action such as refunding the remaining hours and blocking them.

I’ve only had to ditch a client once and I think it is quite a rare thing to have to do, when you market yourself authentically and attract like-minds you’ll find that the clients coming to you are easy to work with. But there are times when it’s necessary, and I hope by sharing my story and the why’s and how’s of ditching a client are helpful to you if you do find yourself in that situation.