Breaking Up With a Client: What to Say If you need to end a business relationship, our experts have suggestions to make those difficult conversations go a little easier.

By Amy S. Choi

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Breakin' up is hard to do, particularly when it comes to ending a client relationship. These conversations can be awkward or even emotional, but it's important to approach to situation directly. Nobody likes to be evaded or have a relationship broken off without knowing why, say our experts. Providing a clear, reasoned argument for why the business relationship needs to end and offering contacts or referrals for companies that you recommend to replace your services can help avoid bruised egos and burnt bridges. These will still be difficult conversations, but here are a few tips to make it a bit easier.

1. The late payer
You're tempted to say: "We can't spend any more time chasing your checks and listening to your excuses."
Instead say this: "I've enjoyed our partnership but you've been consistently late on payments while we have continued to deliver on deadline. We can't operate on that financial model so unfortunately we can't continue our relationship."
It's important because: You have made the business relationship equal, rather than creating a hierarchy. You are also not criticizing their operational model or behavior, but simply stating the fact that their payments have been delayed or nonexistent, says Michael "Dr. Woody" Woodward, professional coach and founder of Human Capital Integrated.
What else to keep in mind: The client may respond with "The check is forthcoming." Great! Let them know that once the payments are caught up, you can revisit the possibility of future engagements. However, do not commit to anything, and know that you'll likely find yourself having this same conversation with this client down the line.

2. The diva
You're tempted to say: "You demand way too much of our time and we can't make any money off of you."
Instead say this: "Unfortunately, based on the amount of time you need for a project of this scale, we can't fit it into our workload."
It's important because: You make it about your bottom line, your availability, and your business — and not about their neediness. "Business is business," says Paul Hebert, human resources expert and vice president of solutions design at Symbolist. "Ultimately, if you can't be profitable with them as your client, you should be able to tell them that you've outgrown each other." Talk more about hours and business and less about their behavior.
What else to keep in mind: In the future, set boundaries with your clients, whether that is a total number of hours you will work in an engagement or specific times that you can be available to them. This can help stave off the Sunday evening work "emergency" from a needy client, or, at the minimum, give you a document to point to that says Sunday evenings are off limits.

3. The family friend
You're tempted to say: "I would have fired you months ago if I weren't so nervous about seeing you at Thanksgiving."
Instead say this: "I need to end our business relationship for these specific reasons but I hope this does not impact or damage our personal relationship. I know this might reflect on our personal lives so let's talk about it."
It's important because: While you typically don't want to invite long conversation when firing a client, firing a personal friend or family member requires a different etiquette. Since the relationship is not ending entirely, you want to give them the option of airing any grievances and arguments now, rather than at the next family party or other get together, says Jennifer McClure, president of Unbridled Talent.
What else to keep in mind: Establish some guidelines on your relationship going forward, whether it's agreeing not to talk to mutual friends about the situation or setting a time frame for seeing each other personally. While you are taking ownership of ending the relationship, let them take the lead on how to reconnect on a personal or family level.

4. The jerk
You're tempted to say: "My people just don't want to hear you scream anymore."
Instead say this: "It's my responsibility to provide you with the best service I can and unfortunately my team and I can't do that because of the difference in our working cultures."
It's important because: The end of the relationship is about your company culture, not theirs, says Woodward.
What else to keep in mind: If your client is a yeller or has a temper problem, be prepared for him to yell in this moment too. There's also a possibility that he may disparage you or your company publicly. Be ready to counter any arguments, but take the high road and don't get defensive, advises Woodward. Ultimately, you've done what's best for your and your employees.

Wavy Line

Amy S. Choi is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work has appeared in BusinessWeek, Women’s Wear Daily and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. She is currently working on a book about her travels through the developing world

Editor's Pick

A Father Decided to Change When He Was in Prison on His Son's Birthday. Now His Nonprofit Helps Formerly Incarcerated Applicants Land 6-Figure Jobs.
A Teen Turned His Roblox Side Hustle Into a Multimillion-Dollar Company — Now He's Working With Karlie Kloss and Elton John
3 Mundane Tasks You Should Automate to Save Your Brain for the Big Stuff
The Next Time Someone Intimidates You, Here's What You Should Do
5 Ways to Manage Your Mental Health and Regulate Your Nervous System for Sustainable Success

Related Topics

Business News

'Do You Hate Me?': High School Teacher Shares Wild Emails He Receives From Students

Jordan Baechler teaches high school students in Ontario, Canada.

Business News

After Being Told They Could Work From Home Forever, Employees Made Major Life Changes. Then, a New CEO Ordered Them Back to the Office.

Farmers Group CEO Raul Vargas is facing backlash for the change, but he says being in the office brings more "collaboration" and "innovation."

Growing a Business

Do You Say 'Like' Too Much? Don't Worry! I'm a Sociolinguist, and I Like 'Like.'

The modern use of the word is denigrated through and through. But it may be doing more communicative heavy lifting than we give it credit for.

Life Hacks

The Top 5 All-Time Best Productivity Hacks You've Never Heard Of

Want to combat chronic procrastination? Use these top five productivity hacks to put an end to this debilitating nuisance.