How to Walk Away From a Trouble Client

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Sometimes clients are the worst, but you can't live without them...

You and your business are not always going to be for everyone or every client.

Maybe it’s mismatched personalities, a difference of opinion about how something should get done, or what you offer isn’t exactly right for what the client needs.

This may be readily apparent up front or you may come to realize it over time. However, no matter when it happens, you need to be able to recognize it and make a decision about what you’re going to do.

My personal pet-peeve: when a client is unable to communicate what they want...

My personal pet-peeve: when a client is unable to communicate what they want...

The Three Simple Options Are:

  1. Ignore what’s happening

  2. Work with your client and adjust your approach

  3. Walk away

Of the three options, the worst course of action is to do nothing at all. The problems will only get worse and you’ll come to resent the work.

Secondly, sometimes all you and your client needs to do is regain clarity of what you’re each trying to accomplish and reset expectations. If it works out this is the best possible outcome as you can move forward as stronger partners. There will always be challenges and this is typically how businesses work together.

Lastly, and the most dramatic is for you to walk away from a client or job. This is an extreme circumstance but one you will likely have to make many times over the course of your business.

Know Why

When it comes to walking away you must know why you’re doing it. While you may enjoy the money (if they’re paying you well) the cost of doing business with a particular client may outweigh the revenue benefits.

Some of the telltale signs it may be time to walk away from a client are:

  • Clients are no longer open to your ideas

  • Clients are no longer communicating effectively or clearly

  • Clients are treating your team poorly

  • The project is no longer progressing due to internal conflicts

  • The terms of the contract are not being honored

  • You’ve tried to work through problems but you’re not getting through

  • The client has no idea how to communicate what they want (see image above)

Email me if you want to share a story of a client relationship gone wrong.

Email me if you want to share a story of a client relationship gone wrong.

It’s Not Easy

Knowing these things doesn’t make walking away an easy decision.

For any relationship to work each side has to be an active participant. Which if the client stops collaborating you’ll have understandable and valid reason for walking away. However, you must also recognize that you are likely to be at fault too and you’ll need to determine where you’ve gone wrong as well before you make a final decision.

The Right and Wrong Way

In the event that it’s time to walk away there is a right and a wrong way to do it.

What you don’t want to do is leave your client hanging. Of course, you don’t want to lock yourself into a long-term transition period, but it’ll be your responsibility to wrap up the project appropriately. This means sharing all learnings and documentation so that whoever comes in next has the information they need to get up to speed quickly.

Now, if you you do this the right way, you may be able to walk away in a better position than when you started. If you leave while still adding value it’s possible you can increase the respect of your business and gain an advocate who may recommend your business to other companies better suited to utilizing your offering.

Of course, don’t expect a client you’re leaving to do that but if it’s your company’s mission to offer exceptional service by maintaining a bad relationship you are in turn offering a disservice to that client and they will appreciate your candid responsibility in handling the matter if you choose to walk away respectfully.

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