We don’t like it, and it certainly isn’t easy, but sometimes it has to be done. Sometimes you just have to fire a client.
Maybe they’re demanding, or maybe you consistently have trouble getting them to pay you, or maybe they cut corners in such a way as to put your company in danger, or maybe (and this is a big one) they’re just downright not very nice to work with. No matter, once you’ve carefully thought through the situation – after all, it has a budget impact, so you are certainly going to think though things very carefully – but once you’ve done that, and decided to take that next step – then what do you do?
Well, first get in the right headspace. If things have gotten so bad that you have decided to call it, then there have probably been some difficult conversations or situations with this client, and you probably have feelings about all that. But, it’s critically important that you don’t take that into your communication with them.
Don’t try to be right. There’s no upside to it. If you waste valuable time re-litigating what happened when, and who was responsible for what, and who didn’t do what they were supposed to do – you’re only doing all that because deep down you want them to say “oh yeah, you’re right – I was completely wrong there. I didn’t give you any of the information you needed to do your job, and I was a bit of a brat about it. I’m so sorry, please say you’ll continue to work with us”.
Now, how likely do you think it is they will say that? Right, not likely at all. And so if you already know that, why would you even bring those things up? Because, you (me, and anyone else in this type of situation) wants to get their FACTS out there. I want to put the truth of what happened on the table – so there! Well, OK, you can do that – but you’re only doing it to make YOU feel better. It won’t change THEIR mind – and might in fact inflame the situation.
Nope, a graceful exit is the way to go.
First, draft your termination letter. Be sure to go back and look at your agreement, so you can be sure you are keeping within the terms of notice and termination. Is there a required notice period, are you just not renewing the agreement at the renewal date or are you terminating the agreement outside a renewal period.
This is also the perfect opportunity to re-familiarize yourself with the actions that have to happen once notice has been given. Do you have to turn over documents or materials within a certain timeframe. Or transfer application ownership etc. Just be sure you have at least thought about all this before you deliver the termination notice.
Start out by thanking them for the opportunity to be their xyz partner – something like “thank you for the opportunity to be your HR partner”. Then be crystal clear that your company (not you, but your company) is terminating the engagement. It could be something like, please be advised that My Company, Inc. has elected not to renew the engagement and will be terminating services effective whatever date. Or, please be advised that My Company, Inc. will be terminating services effective whatever date.
So, that’s the first paragraph. In the next paragraph talk about next steps – you’ll put together a transition plan in the next 10 days, or something similar.
And then the final paragraph – than them for the work you have done together, and wish them future success.
“…get in the right headspace. If things have gotten so bad that you have decided to call it, then there have probably been some difficult conversations or situations with this client, and you probably have feelings about all that. But, it’s critically important that you don’t take that into your communication with them.”
Listen, stop rolling your eyes. This is the appropriate, professional way to handle an exit. Even if you are furious at the client, try not to burn bridges.
So, why is it so important to take the high road and not burn bridges? Because, this is your business we are talking about. And everything you do, everything you say, reflects on your brand. No matter if it’s in good times or bad. In fact, how you behave during difficult times actually does more to build your brand than how you behave when things are going really well.
Be professional, and graceful at all times. Do not engage in emotional outbursts or mudslinging – it’s not a good look, for you or your brand.
Next, you’re going to eMail (for speed) as well as send US mail or FedEx (I recommend FedEx).
Now before you send the eMail (and yes, I know you’re probably going to hate this), I think you should have a call with the client so you can deliver the news personally.
I know, I know – who in their right mind wants to have THAT call. Well, again – it’s the professional thing to do. And yes, I understand that there may be circumstances where a call absolutely won’t happen. But make the effort. And if you don’t hear back, or you don’t connect in a timely fashion, then send the eMail and mail the letter. And don’t sweat the eMail, the body of the eMail can say exactly what’s in the letter.
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If or when you do connect, if the client asks you why just say ‘I don’t think we are the right solution for xyz company”. Memorize that statement – don’t say anything more or anything less – just say “I don’t think we are the right solution for xyz company”. Don’t try to defend yourself or your work, just let it rest and move on.
And if later, someone asks you about it all, remember – never, ever, talk negatively about them. It just makes you look small and petty. And, you have no idea who knows whom. At most, just say it wasn’t a fit – and in fact, it’s best if you just say – we are no longer working together.
Oh, and one last – really important thing. You are going to have to learn to be OK with someone, out there, who doesn’t think you walk on water. I know, you’re used to being the perfect snow flake – and I’m not saying you aren’t. But the reality is, as you continue to move through business, and grow the business and take on more and more clients – it’s inevitable that sooner or later someone isn’t going to be thrilled. You have to be OK with that, and let it be what it is.
Focus on the clients you enjoy – the ones you can actually help. And remember, you have to make room for the great clients – so get rid of the duds, they’re taking up valuable space.