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How (and When) to Fire a Client [2021 Updated]

Whether you’re just striking it out on your own or have been a solo PR pro for a while, you understand how valuable each of your clients can be to your bottom line. Unfortunately, not every client relationship is going to be what you hoped for. 

Eventually you may find yourself in a situation where it’s time to let a client go.

It could be someone you’ve worked with for a long time or a new client that simply isn’t working out; regardless of the reason, you must prepare yourself for a difficult conversation and what this change means for your business. 

Signs it’s time to break up with a client

Here are some common signs it’s time to say goodbye to a client.

You’re doing too much outside the scope of work

Ever heard the phrase “yes man” before? If you constantly find yourself agreeing to new client work that completely falls outside of your contract (hello, scope creep!), it might be time to consider a breakup, especially if you aren’t being properly compensated for the add-ons. 

As a solo PR pro, it’s your job to define how you intend to do business with a client and firm up the scope of work in your contract. And while going above and beyond every once in a while might seem like it’s all part of the job, it’s not an easy habit to break. 

If you enjoy the work that’s being added to your plate, it may be worth it to open a dialogue with your client about increasing your fees to ensure you’re compensated fairly. If that seems like a no-go, it might be time to walk away.

The client is unprofessional

If a client is ever abusive, holds unrealistic expectations or consistently fails to hold up their end of the relationship, it’s time to reevaluate their value to your business. 

This can look like a client that isn’t providing the necessary information and resources you need to achieve your deliverables or can go as far as a client who consistently and unfairly berates you and the work you’re providing.

If you frequently find yourself asking if the struggles are worth it, it’s time to end things and find another client who is a better fit.

The scope of work doesn’t align with your business goals

When you’re just starting out as a solo PR pro, it can be easy to jump at any and every opportunity that slides across your desk. 

But just because you can do a job or project, doesn’t mean it aligns with what you want to do. In these instances, you may be able to continue working with this client in a different and more relevant capacity, or it might require a complete cutting of ties. 

Either way, you will want to ensure you’ve fulfilled any contractual obligations and commitments you’ve already signed on for before saying goodbye.

For tips on setting the course for the future of your business, check out our post 5 Questions to Ask As You Plan Your Business Launch.

How to effectively break up with a client

Once you’ve made the difficult decision to cut ties with a client, it’s time to set things in motion, which can often be a challenging process depending on your pre-existing relationship. 

A key way to set yourself up for success in advance is to make sure you’ve clearly documented all client/vendor expectations and deliverables in your contract or letter of agreement during your onboarding process

Follow these best practices to make the process as painless as possible.

1. Be human

Part of being human means being honest, and it’s important to tell your client the truth about why you need to make this change. Set up a time to speak one-on-one with your client, be it in-person or over the phone, and firmly explain where you’re coming from.

2. Give them notice

When breaking up with a client, especially one that has been unprofessional, you might be tempted to cut ties immediately. However, you must consider the future of your business and the importance of word-of-mouth before you go burning bridges. Give your client some time to transition the work to someone else or find a replacement, but be sure to negotiate and firm up exactly what that timeline looks like.

3. Offer a referral

If this is a client you’ve enjoyed working with, it may smooth things over during the breakup if you can recommend a peer or colleague from your network to help them out. Make sure this is someone you feel comfortable giving the work to, and is a client you feel good about referring to peers.

4. Complete all agreed upon work

Leaving a client hanging, no matter the tone of your relationship, is not a good look for your business. If you’ve agreed to a certain number of projects or deliverables in your contract, make good upon that agreement before saying goodbye.

5. Turn over files

Be sure to provide the client with files of the collateral material created during the relationship before letting them go. It might be easiest to upload everything to a shared drive in Google or DropBox and pass it along as you part ways.

Nothing lasts forever, including your relationships with clients. With a little preparation and the right mindset, you can exit just as professionally as you onboard new clients. 

For more great tips and resources on how to professionally break up with a client, join Solo PR Pro Premium and download our premium resource How to Exit a Client.

What are your tips for ending a relationship with a client? Let us know in the comments or on social media using #solopr!

This post was originally published on 4/9/2019 and has been updated for 2021.