How to Call It Quits with a Regular Client

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Your first question might be why on earth would you want to get rid of a regular client? As an independent IT contractor, regular clients can mean the difference between lights and candles, on-time bill payments and kick-you-in-the-keister late fees. But sometimes, the money’s not worth the aggravation and stress a bad client can put you through. A bad client can suck up vast amounts of time and resources that might better be spent on more amenable clients. If you’ve weighed the pros and cons of maintaining or curtailing the relationship, there are a few steps you can take in order to avoid potentially expensive litigation and generally bow out gracefully.

First, never leave a client in the middle of a project. No matter how aggravating or nerve wracking, do the best work you can and fulfill all duties as promised verbally or preferably under contract. Tie up all loose ends and submit or return any and all materials that do not belong to you. Your name and professional reputation are at stake, and when you end a business relationship you should always try to end things as peaceably as you began them. No hard feelings means no bad mouthing to potential future clients from your soon to be ex-client. Hopefully it also means no delays on outstanding invoices. In fact, you might want to wait until you get that last check before you cut ties.

Second, establish a list of criteria to use in evaluating potential clients. Taking extra time in the beginning when choosing and retaining new clients can alleviate drama and negate the desire to quit them. It’s not hard to identify the rotten apples. Bad clients usually have a weak support or management team, might demonstrate a low commitment to technological innovations or productivity enhancing, solution-ready upgrades and usually have unreasonable expectations. It’s all now, now and why are you taking so long? They might call you what seems like a billion times a day or cut you off when you begin to talk about fees and your work schedule. They usually do not demonstrate good team work skills, might verbally abuse you, are poor money managers and record keepers, and might attempt to offload their problems and woes onto you. Because you’re probably not a therapist and/or a miracle worker in addition to being a trained, professional IT contractor, don’t even go there with them. When you’re approached to do work and the red flags fly high, let them know immediately that you are not the one they need.

Third, schedule a face-to-face meeting to severe ties. It’s not terribly appetizing, but this last contact with them is both a professional and a courteous move. Arrange the meeting for a neutral place or their office, not yours. That way you can get up and leave when you want. Withhold the truth: that you’re bailing because they’re nuts, etc. That’s too much information, and you’re opening yourself up for more conflict. The object is to quit the client and quit them fast. You’re a professional, thus are (mostly) immune to outbursts of temper (even if you have to pinch yourself silly to hold them back). When they start up the whining or whatever ghastly behavior led you to want to drop them in the first place, blame the split on increasing family or work commitments. Don’t offer any more details than you feel comfortable sharing. Tell the person you enjoyed working with them (It’s not a complete lie; you did enjoy their money, or you should have!) and that you wish them all the best. They might try to change your mind, but stand firm. Your sanity is more important than their business. If you can, offer them alternative solutions to fulfill their needs. Perhaps a larger company with more resources and patience to battle client neurosis might suit them better. If the reason you’re dropping them isn’t because they were wretched to work with, assist them in obtaining service from someone else. Then, shake hands and leave. Case closed. Save the happy dance for the elevator.

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