difficult client, business relationships

I know that’s not how those words usually go.  But have you ever had to break up with someone (in a professional capacity, this isn’t a dating column!) because of them?  Tough to do, but sometimes it’s necessary.

It can happen with a variety of different people, an employee, a misguided partnership, a subcontractor or even a client.  The client one is a pretty difficult one to swallow.  Why would you ever break up with a client?  Are you crazy? Have you seen how quiet it is out there?!  But sometimes you just make a mistake and you need to cut your losses so to speak.  You start working with a client, even though you have a few niggling doubts that this might be a bit difficult.  Still, you push through.  They were a bit slow in getting you some information to kick off some work, even though they’ve engaged you.  They are a slow payer.  You still persevere, convinced you can make a difference to their business.   You deliver some great work, with some fantastic initiatives to implement that could really benefit their business.  You’ve over delivered in terms of what you said you would and feel proud of what you’ve done.  It might help their people and management issues.  It could save them a million dollars.  Yet, they don’t seem to do anything with what you’ve recommended.  They keep slipping, only calling on you when they’ve gotten themselves into a real hole and need a band-aid fix to get them through.  Then the cycle begins again. And again.  Pretty soon, you realise that things probably aren’t going to change.  It’s time to let them go.

The freedom that comes in giving up this draining client is that it opens you up to new opportunities.  Sure, the financial aspect might be a big shock to the system, but if you plan right and continue to foster the relationships with clients that you do love working with, you’ll be moving forward, not looking over your shoulder.  You’ll also be available should another opportunity come along that perhaps you may have overlooked whilst you were working with that draining client.

So if you do have to break up with a client, don’t drag it out.  End it quickly, honestly and be clear on your reasons why.  If it’s a personality clash, save yourself the experience of having an explosive meltdown and deliver those deliverables and be clear that you won’t be looking to work with them in the future due to other commitments and a misalignment in your approach. Remember that the world is a very small place, and you are bound to run into them again (hopefully at an industry event and not like in a bad romantic comedy when you’ve gone out to get milk in your pyjamas).

An even better approach?  Don’t get into the relationship in the first place.  Be clear on expectations up front (from both sides), be transparent with costs and payment timeframes, and make sure your values are aligned.  Ensure the clients you chose to work with are those that you want to work with and are assisting you in working towards your business goals as well.  After all, isn’t that the whole point of working with anyone?