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  • Hilary Young

How (And Why) To Break Up With Clients

Dealing with a difficult client? It might be time to part ways with them.

I've been running my business for 8 years now, and if there's one thing I love the most about the experience it's getting to be particular about the clients I work with. Of course, this wasn't always the case. When I first launched my business I was desperate for clients and willing to work with anyone. After a few years of being burned, however, I realized that it wasn't worth it.

As much as I love making money, money alone is not enough to make the most difficult of clients worth working with. Building an intentional business means prioritizing your convictions over money. It's not always easy, but it is so worth it. My own sanity and quality of life are major factors in how I make business decisions and the way I've chosen to brand my company.

Three Types of Clients Not Worthy of Working With

Although I've built up an intentional business and now work with the most amazing clients, I had to learn the hard way how to spot the ones who don't align with my values. With all these years of experience behind me, I can now easily identify the three types of clients I won't work with:

The Inappropriate (and Misogynist) Client

This is the client who makes inappropriate jokes, has an "old-school" mentality about how business is done and generally makes women uncomfortable. When an inappropriate client yelled at his wife (who was also the VP of his company) during one of our meetings, I felt remarkably uncomfortable. Not only was it inappropriate to talk to her the way that he did, but to do it in front of me was mortifying. I left the meeting that afternoon with a bad taste in my mouth and knew in my gut that I was going to have to break up with this client.

The Client With Unrealistic Expectations

I worked with another husband-wife team (I'm starting to see a pattern...) who had an immense sense of urgency when we would speak on the phone and then would disappear for a week (or more!) at a time. I would rush to complete what we had discussed only to have them go MIA for long stretches of time. When they finally would come back online, they were confused about why we weren't further along in the process, or why I couldn't hop on a Saturday afternoon call with them. I started to feel as though I was letting them down, but really, I was jumping through hoops to try to live up to their unrealistic expectations.

The Client Who Wants Things For Free

When I first launched my business I was so worried about retaining clients, that I would let a lot of things regarding money slip through the cracks. I would lower my rates for clients who claimed they couldn't afford what I was charging; I would throw in select services for free; I wouldn't charge for phone calls. As my business and confidence both grew, I realized this was toxic to my business and my reputation. I know my worth and it's not my fault if a client does not understand that.

How to Have Hard Conversations with Difficult Clients

Even though all of the above scenarios with clients made me super uncomfortable, it is not easy to learn how to break up with a client. In fact, it's downright nerve wracking, and hard to do without breaking a sweat. Luckily, the more you do hard things, the easier the seem to get.

Here's what I would recommend for those of you who are learning how to become more comfortable with having hard conversations with clients:

  1. Always vet them during discovery calls. You should never accept a job from a client without talking to them first. For me, I know I need at least 30 minutes on the phone with someone to determine whether or not it's a good fit. If they make a joke or off-color remark that makes me uncomfortable, if they take umbrage with my rates, or if they generally give off bad vibes on this initial call, I will tell them up front that it's not going to be a good fit. After all, why waste my time on a proposal if I know I don't want to work with them?

  2. Put together a Statement of Work when you agree to work together. The main benefit here is for everyone to be on the same page in terms of expectations and project timeline. By having them agree and sign their names to a SOW before you start working together, you can avoid having potentially difficult conversations about the process down the line.

  3. Know your worth and don't budge on your prices. Set your prices and don't look back. There's a real "if you build it they will come" aspect here, since if you don't set higher prices you won't attract those higher quality clients. In fact, early on in my career I pitched a dream client who ultimately passed on my services, admitting that they thought my rate was too low to deliver high quality work for them. So if you've been looking for a sign to raise your rates, this is it!

Bringing Clarity To Communication

Just as being clear about how you communicate in your marketing is essential to driving sales, the way in which you communicate with your clients once they've converted is just as essential to your bottom line.

In my opinion, anyone who costs you more negative energy than positive is not someone worth working with. But then again, money isn't my main goal; personal satisfaction and achieving work/life balance are.

What are your main goals for your growing business?

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