We've all had that moment in our lives when we realize we're in a relationship that just isn't working anymore, and it's not for lack of trying. You and your partner just can't get the right connection down. But where did things go wrong? How do you let them know that it's them...not you?
The same thing can be true for the clients you take on, regardless of whether you're just starting out or if you've been in the business for years.
When you first take a new client on, I believe that everyone is on their best behavior for the first 3-4 weeks before true colors start to come out. After that, slowly but surely, the client you thought was "quirky" is suddenly the reason you dread logging onto your email or checking your messages.
If you suspect you may be in an ill-matched client relationship, ask yourself these questions:
- What initial feeling comes to mind with that client?
- Are you able to log off and let that client take a back-burner to your thoughts?
- Do you have anxiety over submitted tasks, not because you feel their quality is sub-par, but because their worth will be brushed off by your client?
If you have less than positive answers to these questions, odds are 98% in favor that you are in an unhealthy client relationship.
So, you've realized you're in an unhealthy client relationship. What now? It's like college all over again - how do you tell them it's them...not you, without tarnishing your reputation?
I am an endorser of finding a professional way to tell clients that the contract will be terminated with no room for negotiation without burning bridges along the way. I have come across too many Independent Contractors that feel the need to "lay it all out" on table when letting a client go. However, I've also noticed those Independent Contractors are the same ones that are always looking for new client referrals due to high turn over rates.
Here are your best practices for firmly letting a client go without leaving a trail of destruction behind you:
- Thank them for your time together.
"Thank you so much for all of your support and business over the last [amount of time]."
- Rather than writing a "Dear Darla" letter, let your client know you're focusing your efforts elsewhere.
"After doing a strategic analysis of my long term business goals, I’ve decided to move towards a different direction of service and shift my focus to only serve a specific subset of clients going forward."
- Give clearly defined deadlines and expectations for the rest of your time together.
"That said, I regret to inform you that I will no longer be able to work on your account any more as of [Date]. [If giving partial refund:]Due to service ending before your current billing cycle runs out, I will issue a partial refund of [$Amount] back to your [credit card type] on that date.
Thanks for your understanding. Below is a list of next action steps you can expect from me in the meantime:
- Continued dedicated service
- Assistance in scheduling, research and purchasing
- Proper transferring/purging of your sensitive information"
- Don't leave them hanging. Find referrals that your respect and have also given an objective "heads-up" to.
"As you move forward in looking for another virtual assistant, I’d recommend [personal reference] or [other organization] . [Personal reference] is in my personal coverage network and [Organization] are the "best of the best" - I'm a member there and can personally vet all of them. I am more than happy to do a full knowledge transfer with whomever you choose to help this transition go as smooth as possible."
- End on a light, friendly note.
"It's been a pleasure to do business with you, and I wish you the very best in all of your endeavors."
While breaking up with a client can leave you with an initial bout of anxiety, it can't make up for the freedom you feel from taking charge of your business again.
Please feel free to use any of the above wording to help guide you towards letting go of that unhealthy client and claiming your business back - if you find yourself in a more unique situation, please reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org and we can hash out a more customized message to send an especially difficult case.