Say these two words in a group of entrepreneurs and you’re guaranteed to hear stories.
Unreasonable requests. Fistfuls of hair. Sleepless nights.
Every entrepreneur knows what I’m talking about, yet most are reluctant to end these poisonous relationships:
“Oh, they’re not that bad.” or “They pay me better than my other clients.”
While rationalizing why you should keep these clients makes sense in the short term, not getting rid of them is cheating your business out of clients you love.
How to Fire a Problem Client
Letting go of your first “problem client” can be an emotionally charged experience, but honestly it’s one of the most important milestones in your businesses.
It’s important because with each problem client, you’re able to get clearer on what your “deal breakers” are and which customers are your ideal customers.
While you’ll never be able to filter out every “problem client” regardless of how good your client intake process is or how fine tuned your contact form is, letting them go does get easier with experience.
As you read the scripts below, remember the 4 main goals when ending the relationship:
- Politely explain the situation
- Focus on their interests
- Be professional, you never know where people will be 5, 10, or 15 years in the future.
- Set expectations of what to expect next
Remember the scripts below are just guidelines to frame your phone or in-person conversation. I’d never recommend ending a relationship via email (even though I did in my first as you’ll see below) always do it in person or at minimum over the phone.
Script 1: The Scapegoat
[Name] — After doing strategic analysis of our long term goals, we’ve decided to shift our focus to only serve a specific subset of customers going forward.
That said, our team regrets to inform you that we won’t be able be able to work on your account any more as of [date].
As you move forward in looking for other providers, we’d recommend [competition] or [competition].
Thanks for your understanding. Below is a list of next action steps you can expect from our team.
[list of action steps]
This script is my favorite for 3 reasons:
- It positions you as a business owner making a business decision.
- It sets clear expectations of the relationship going forward.
- It gives you the opportunity to send your competition your less than ideal clients.
Sending your competitors business: While recommending your competition may seem backwards at first glance, I’ve found it to be effective because most businesses will take ANY client and few have a systems in place to weed out problem clients.
By sending your competition the time wasters, the emotionally abusive, and scarcity minded, not only do you look like a “complete pro” to the client, but you let your competition handle the problem clients so you can get more of the ideal clients.
(I’ve even gotten legitimate thank you letters from former competition for sending them clients that weren’t a fit. lol.)
Providing a list of action steps: Since you’re goal is to sever the relationship cleanly and professionally, it’s your job to manage the client’s expectations.
By providing a simple list of next steps, you can often prevent huge misunderstandings and future headaches.
Trust me. Use a list, it will make your life easier.
Real life example:
Below is a screenshot of the first “problem client” I ever let go.
Today I’d never let a client go over email — be a pro pick up the phone or schedule a meeting — but I’ve included this so you can see how I used a form of this script below.
The only problem is that I didn’t include a list of expectations and the transition period dragged on and on — just prolonging the headaches.
Make sure you include a list of action steps.
Script 2: It’s not you it’s me
[Name] — It’s been great working together but due to personal reasons as of [date] I’m no longer going to be able to assist you with [what you do].
I know it’s short notice, but after thinking about how to approach this as professionally as possible, I decided some notice was better than no notice.
[Feel free to elaborate on your reason. You don’t have to]
To avoid an interruption in service please find another person who can meet your needs. I’ll do my best to make sure there aren’t any issues during the transition process.
Thanks for your understanding and support, below is a list what you can expect from me between now and [date].
[list of action steps]
This script works particularly well for small freelancers allowing you to be as vague or specific as you desire while still setting expectations.
Script 3: Direct and Polite
[Name] — Recently I’ve been noticing some problems with our working relationship.
Although it isn’t easy to say, I think that another company may be a better fit for you and your specific needs.
As of [date] my company won’t be able to assist you with [what you do] any further.
Thanks for your understanding, below is what you can expect from us between now and [date].
[list of action steps]
If they are aggressive or emotional:
Thank you for the feedback, but this decision is final.
As mentioned before here is a list of what to expect between now and [date].
This script sets clear expectations and finalizes the relationship in a professional but firm manner. I’ve only had to use a form of this script a handful of times but with particularly “bad” clients it can be justified.
TIP: Understand Your Deal Breakers to Get More Ideal Clients
While I’ve written a thorough guide on how to avoid problem clients and even created a free PDF on how to build a system to filter them out, before you can get more of your ideal clients, you need to know exactly who your ideal customer is and isn’t.
One of the easiest ways to do that is to make a list of your own “deal breakers” or things you just won’t stand for.
Over the years my list of deal breakers has grown pretty long but here are a few that I’d recommend you add to your list:
- Incessant haggling on price (you should be positioning yourself as a premium provider)
- Lack of integrity
- Scarcity mindset (this is contagious so keep it away)
- Abusive working relationship
- Bad emotional barriers (wants their consultant to be their friend.)
Now You’re the Expert:
In the comments below, share your list of “deal breakers” and any crazy stories that might have helped you develop that list.
Remember, thousands of people around the world read these posts, so you never know who your comment or insight will help.
Always on your team,