From time to time and for myriad reasons, service providers need to let a client or class of clients go. As with any other difficult conversation, there’s a right way and a wrong way to make the decision and break the news.

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Step one:

Be methodical when making the decision. Snap judgments can feel good in real time. Later, however, many people come to regret actions they’ve taken in the heat of the moment. So, when the thought of leaving a client enters your mind, take a step back and ask yourself why. Does the client not fit with your business model anymore? Does the person bring you down in some way? Does helping the client take away from more important work?

If you answer “yes” to any of those questions, it’s time to think about what you will accept, what you won’t, and what types of clients make sense for where you are now and where you want to be in the next few years. Once you have clear criteria, you have something against which you can evaluate.

Step two:

Ask yourself if the relationship is truly finished. After you’re clear about what you want and the kind of client that fits the bill, you must decide if the relationship is finished or if it has rehab potential. For example, if a client is being making totally unreasonable demands about marketing their home and their selling price, a frank conversation may solve the problem. On the other hand, if the client doesn’t value you and your time, you may want to say goodbye.

Step three:

Determine whether you will make a clean break or recommend an alternative.

When a client’s behaviour is perfectly fine but the client is no longer a fit, sending them in another direction may make a lot of sense. When you do, however, you need to be clear that you are out of the picture and not a go-between for managing the new relationship. In other words, if something goes wrong, you’re not involved.

At the other end of the spectrum, if the person or people you need to break up with are abusive, it hardly makes sense to recommend a colleague. After all, would you want people sending toxic clients your way? Probably not.

Step four:

Choose the right time. When you make a split can be as important as how. When possible, provide ample warning.

Step five:

Keep your message short and direct. When you break the news, keep your explanation brief.

Step six:

Stand firm and stay calm. Some people take a split well and others don’t. No matter the reaction, you should stay calm and stick by your carefully reasoned decision.

No matter the reason, splits are rarely fun when they’re happening. Once they’re over, however, they can free you to tackle new challenges and do the work with people who make you happy.

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