It’s Not You, It’s Me: When It’s Time To Break Up With A Client.
22 May 2015

It’s Not You, It’s Me: When It’s Time To Break Up With A Client.

The relationship started great: Everyone’s in love. Together, you’re gonna make magic. You love to be around each other. It’s all exciting. But then, over time, the shine fades. It’s not that you’re not both great people, you’re just looking for more. However, admitting it’s over is hard, and we stick in a toxic relationship far longer than we need to.

22 May 2015

The relationship started great: Everyone’s in love. Together, you’re gonna make magic. You love to be around each other. It’s all exciting. But then, over time, the shine fades. It’s not that you’re not both great people, you’re just looking for more. However, admitting it’s over is hard, and we stick in a toxic relationship far longer than we need to.

Eventually, you may need to have that talk. You know, that uncomfortable one where everyone’s dancing around the elephant in the room: That it is time for you and your client to break up and  go see other people.

Since I run the business, I realize I write this from a priveleged position. You may not be in a position where you can choose your own clients, or decide on the relationship with them. I certainly feel your pain, and I’ve been there. I also realize that for some of you, the idea of “breaking up” with a client can be terrifying. I get it. We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed, and to take a paying client and say “I no longer want you to pay me” can seem counter-intuitive.

However, I’ve found that it tends to work out best for everyone. The odds are if you’re not happy with your client, it’s likely that the feeling is entirely mutual. It’s a spiral that doesn’t end in a good place. If you’re frustrated with the client, it shows and it manifests itself. You’re not doing your best work. You may be doing GOOD work, but your heart isn’t in it. It shows. The client becomes frustrated, and thus begins a cycle of negativity that doesn’t end well for either of you.

There are signs you can observe in the process. Much of it is gut instinct. When your email chimes, do you hate to see their name? When the phone rings, do you have to take a deep breath and think about answering the phone?

If so, then it’s time.

I’m also willing to bet that if you have metrics in place to measure it, the client has become less profitable for you, and you’ve seen a decrease in your actual hourly rate. I don’t know if this is a cause of the stress, or a byproduct of it. It’s a “chicken or the egg” situation.

The important thing to remember is to let them down gently. Your client isn’t a bad person (usually). You’re both probably awesome, hard-working people who want what’s best for your respective businesses, but something has changed. It’s usually one of these things:

  •  The client has changed expectations, and the project you’re doing doesn’t match up to what you agreed to.
  • You’ve taken on a project you shouldn’t have done in the first place, as it’s outside your core competency.
  • The client has become busier and thus, less responsive.
  • You’ve become busier, and thus less responsive.
  • Your working styles are incompatible. They’re a micromanager and you can’t take being micromanaged, or you want more feedback than they have time to give.

The longer you deny the reality, the harder it is, and the more damage is done. The negative feelings get stronger, and it clouds everything. Let your client go, because you’re helping everyone.

They’ll be able to go find a partner that works for them and their needs. I usually do my best to help them find this partner. It’s like setting them up on a blind date on the way out the door.

And you? You’ve just gotten your energy and time back. A negative client relationship is draining personally, professionally, and financially. A good client relationship is exciting, profitable, and fun. You wake up in the morning and are excited to get to work. That alone is priceless. The money? It’s hard initially, but typically, you’ll find it again.

So in love and business, if it’s not working, and it can’t be fixed, it’s time to move on and go find your business soul mates.

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