Ending a business relationship

Saying goodbye is never easy.

But we all have that ONE client – they’re late paying your invoices, they stuff you around with appointments, they take forever to respond to emails and basically drive you nuts.

On the other hand they really appreciate your services, you actually like them as a person, and over time a friendship is formed. Danger Will Robinson, danger!

As small business owners it’s something we collectively pride ourselves on; the ability to form a good relationship with our clients based on great service, immediate responsiveness and a genuine care for their business.

And since wrapped up in every small business is the people behind it, it’s logical that a relationship beyond business develops. We’re only human after all, and this stands us apart from the big guys. However there’s a difference between being in tune with your client’s needs and jumping in the front seat of their small business rollercoaster with them.

All too frequently the role of consultant mutates into psychologist, mate, confidant.

There’s no rhyme or reason to this. You’re not their mentor in the same industry with oodles of experience and in some cases you don’t even necessarily understand what they actually do. But you’re there for them for a chat or sometimes a shoulder to cry on – like a supplier with benefits.

But once that boundary is crossed however, there’s no going back. You still provide the same great service but over time find yourself becoming emotionally drawn into their business’ ups and downs as though their success is intrinsically linked to your advice, and so their failure would be yours.

So at some point when you’re actually doing some self reflecting as a business (kind of like mindfulness for sole traders), you realise that this once perfect client is taking up more than just your time but actually your precious emotional energy.

If you’re not careful this can spill over to time you should be spending with other clients who appreciate you just as much – but actually DO pay on time, respond to your questions and turn up to meetings!

It’s at this point you need to dump them.

There’s no easy way to break up with this client. There’s the “It’s not you… it’s me” tactic or the quick and painless “You’re fired!” email. But the best approach is to think of it as a business decision and as always, have a good process.

Everyone deals with clients differently so make sure the reason for firing them is in line with the conversations you’ve had previously. Then their attitude will be “Fair enough”, rather than “I didn’t see it coming.” Give ample warning and make it part of a conversation which naturally leads to that conclusion.

Be clear, concise and to the point when ending the business relationship. Indicate a specific date for closure, don’t lie, and ensure you’re solution focussed – offer them another alternative to you. And lastly make sure you thank them for the years when they were that great client.

And as always learn from this; set clear emotional boundaries and get out of that rollercoaster… not for them, but for yourself.

_____________________________________________________________________Alexi Boyd is a business owner and presenter of Small Biz Matters, Triple H 100.1FM, Tues 9AM. Check out www. smallbizmatters. com for podcasts and local networking opportunities. It’s the half hour radio program where you work ON your business rather than IN it.

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