How to know when is the right time to let go of a client

Client offboarding

Even the best TV shows reach a final season.

As a service provider, preparing for the end of a relationship is just as important as finding new opportunities and delivering top-notch services. It may feel risky or sad, and it is easy to fall into the trap of staying loyal. But while loyalty is a valuable trait, it can be detrimental in professional settings.

Here are four signs to recognize it is time to move on from a client — and four steps to do so without burning a bridge.

4 valid reasons for ending a client contract

The red flags are flying

This is more common in the early stages of a relationship. If you’re getting to know someone and sense that things will go badly — run, don’t walk away.

Common client red flags include:

  • Going MIA with no reasonable explanation.
  • Impulsive actions like sending over paperwork or offers without talking to you first.
  • A sense of urgency that reflects poor planning. For example, setting an unrealistic deadline because they were late in communicating the requirements.
  • Disregard you as a service provider. For example, not respecting your feedback processes or payment agreements.
  • They don’t know what they need. Sure, you’re the expert, but a successful relationship begins with clear goals. If your client is unsure of what they want to achieve by hiring you, it will be hard to deliver a satisfactory result. A classic example is, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

Your gut is a superpower. If you feel something isn’t right, dig in and make an informed decision.

There’s limited capacity

Clients often hire service providers in hopes of taking things off their plates. But they rarely realize there still needs to be a point of contact for sharing assets, providing feedback, and generally keeping things moving on the client’s side. That is unless they will give you free rein to implement the work on your own.

If you consistently struggle to get a response, it might not be a good time for them to engage in this project, no matter how badly they need it.

You’ve outgrown each other

Growth is a natural part of any organization’s processes, both on the provider’s and the client’s side.

One common sign it’s time to end a client relationship is when your work has evolved beyond their budget or needs, and you feel like the relationship is holding you back. In these cases, a new client could increase your earning potential or allow you to shift into work more aligned with your vision and long-term goals. Conversely, your client may find themself needing a bigger scope than you can deliver, and it is ok to accept this.

Things go south

Disrespect, late payments, an inability to deliver the agreed-upon scope, and ever-changing demands that aren’t being consulted are clear red flags that it’s time to take corrective measures.

This guide by Ignition outlines communication tips for dealing with difficult clients.

Lastly, if you or your client have raised concerns appropriately and can’t find a satisfying solution, you will be better off turning the page.

Best practices for offboarding a client

Develop an offboarding process

Just like onboarding, a positive offboarding experience must be replicable. Your offboarding can include the following:

  • Completing remaining deliverables.
  • Transferring ownership of files and accounts.
  • Removing your access from any company accounts.
  • Returning company devices.
  • Settling final invoices.
  • If applicable, create a final performance report.

Give notice

There is no set guideline for notice in client-provider relationships like in employee relationships. Still, it’s courteous to give your client enough time to prepare a transition and either fit the work into their plans or find someone to replace you.

Your relationship and agreement depend on how much time is enough to give notice. I’d recommend choosing a natural stop in the work. If you run on quarterly sprints, consider informing them early that you will complete the work outlined for this quarter before moving on. Although if the situation is negative or puts you at risk, you’ll want to run ASAP.

In any case, review your contract and find something that feels right without leaving your client hanging if you can avoid it.

Compile all the deliverables

As you prepare to wrap up, revisit your agreement and document everything you did throughout the project to share it with your point of contact so they can access anything they need. And tie any loose ends to leave in good standing.

This step is essential to ensure your client can back up the files, especially when you hold company accounts that will be removed.

Create thorough guides

Document your systems and processes for the next person to take over without a hitch.

Create templates in platforms like Asana or Google Drive, use Loom to record videos, and choose an SOP platform to create a resource library.

Final words

All relationships end, and people move on. Ending a client relationship is not always an indication that things went wrong. Sometimes, it’s the right time to move on to other projects. Perhaps your interests change, you need a new challenge, or the client’s needs have shifted.

How you handle your client offboarding is a big indication of your professional conduct and will help you keep doors open for the future. You never know when you need a reference or if you will meet again on a new project, so ending things on a good note is always a good idea.

If you’re expanding your horizons and looking for new, better-aligned opportunities, the first step is to assess how you show up. Book a marketing audit below, and together we will strategize an online strategy to help you reach your ideal audience.

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