Do You Need To Break Up With Your Client?

By Marissa Walter

You might find yourself at a time in your business wondering if your client is the right fit for you. Working with someone when the relationship is no longer fulfilling, productive or financially rewarding can feel like a drain on your energy and emotions.

As a therapist and coach, I have ethical guidelines which are important for me to follow if I’m considering that the client relationship is no longer beneficial. But in any business, there might come a point when you simply feel that it is best to end a tie because it no longer aligns with your work. Today I am sharing how you might recognise when the time is right to break up with your client and how to release yourself positively.

Reasons you might end a client partnership

Your reasons for wanting to break up with your client are valid and personal to you. They can often be similar to grounds for breaking ties in a personal relationship; consider if you are experiencing any of the following when deciding whether to break up with your client:

Blurred boundaries: Have the boundaries between you and your client become overstepped? Are you giving away more than was contractually agreed and is it making you feel burdened or resentful? If you find yourself unable to say no to a client who is demanding or needy ask yourself why and how long you are prepared to continue.

Unmet needs: Are both party’s needs being met? You may have started the relationship feeling like you were adequately compensated for your work, but perhaps costs have risen and you are no longer receiving the payment you require. Or it might be that the client has started to ask for more than your level of expertise and you are struggling to meet their expectations. It’s vital in any relationship that needs are being met on both sides.

Abusive dynamic: Are you dealing with a rude, aggressive or manipulative client? Have you had payments withheld unjustly or been threatened with unreasonable actions? Bullying is never acceptable, and clients are no exception.

How it makes you feel about yourself: It’s important to trust your intuitive feelings. Yes, practical considerations are important and ending a client relationship can feel risky. Perhaps you are afraid to turn down the work because it provides a significant proportion of income. But think about what you are saying about yourself and your business by continuing the relationship. Is there a belief that “I don’t deserve to feel happy in my work” or “I should be grateful for anyone I can get to pay me”. Dropping income takes a leap of faith, but sometimes releasing a client who is not the right fit opens up space physically and energetically for your ideal person to come along.

Having that conversation

As with all relationships, it’s worth exploring whether the dynamic can be repaired before you break up with your client altogether. Only you will know if it’s worth the work, or how far down the road of trying to repair things you have already gone. Be clear and fully own why the arrangement is no longer working for you and, of course, check that you have fulfilled any work that you are contractually obliged to do.

In business, we want to be liked and sadly we (especially women) will let issues drop to keep the peace and avoid coming across as difficult to work with.

If you are releasing a client because of their unreasonable behaviour (and it feels safe to do so), pointing out the issues might make them reconsider their approach to someone else in future. In some situations, however, it may be wiser and less emotionally engaging to simply cease renewing future projects or orders, and let the partnership come to a natural end.

Take time to reflect and learn

Ending a difficult client relationship can be challenging – it can bring up beliefs about failure, self-worth and make you question your business. This is not unlike the ending of personal relationships. But this breakup doesn’t have to be distressing, it can be a perfect opportunity for a little personal learning and self-awareness. For example, you might reflect on what has come to light about your over-giving tendencies or your need for more joy in your work.

This is a good time to work on what you might do differently in future. Could it mean a change in protocols in your business, creating better boundaries or getting a clearer picture of who your ideal client is before you work with someone?

Whether it’s love, family or business, we are never obliged to stay in a relationship that makes us feel unhappy, unfulfilled or unworthy. Female solo entrepreneurs often bring so much of their personal selves into their businesses, that client relationships can often take on deeper connection and meaning. This is great when the relationship is healthy and balanced but when the dynamic shifts to something less healthy, we must allow ourselves to say goodbye to it.

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