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Marketing / Business relationships

How (and how not) to dump your clients

There’s plenty of help for you if you need to get clients. But what about when you need to fire your clients? Here’s what I think.

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Situated, as we unbelievably are, on the cusp of next year, lots of soloists are in planning mode (or at least in something-has-to-change mode). The new year is a common time for businesses to head in a new direction. But what if this comes at the expense of existing, loyal clients?

Small, nimble and, yes, fickle as soloists are, this kind of thing happens all the time. For instance I’ve got a writer friend who specialised in newsletters, but longed to run a creative writing course. Another pal is a solo bookkeeper who’s just had an offer they couldn’t refuse from a corporate.

If you’re considering changing tack, here’s some advice to ensure you walk away from your current clients with your head held high.

Give them plenty of notice

For clients who rely on you, it’s alarming to be told you don’t intend to service them anymore. Give them a cut off date by all means, but reassure them that you’re not going to make any sudden moves in the meantime.

"If you’re considering changing tack, here’s some advice to ensure you walk away from your current clients with your head held high."

Hold their hand

Ideally recommend another trusted provider in the same industry to take over your role. There’s a win win right there. A great example of how collaborating with your ‘competition’ is beneficial over treating them warily. If you have a large client base, you could consider ‘selling’ them to this colleague, or if you can work out the methodology, taking a trailing commission.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business relationships section.

Give your client options

Don’t force your suggested resource on to them. They may have someone else in mind, or they may take the opportunity to attempt your work in house. If you think they’re ready for the latter, consider productising your service, perhaps creating a Ten steps to a brilliant newsletter download, for example.

Think carefully before trying to ‘do it all’

Cashflow is often an issue for soloists so it may be tempting to keep the regular work going while you pursue your new avenue. This can certainly work for a time, but if you’re serious about moving your focus elsewhere, something will give. As someone who’s been dumped a few times, I can attest that this is likely to manifest as poor response times and a general drop in quality.

Own up

You may be tempted to stay quiet about your plans and keep on servicing them. But if your heart isn’t in it, it’ll surely show in your work and the chances are you won’t feel crash hot about yourself. Own up and help your clients develop a proper B-plan.

What tips have you got for breaking up? Or have you been on the receiving end of the Dear John letter? Share your tales of heartbreak below.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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