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What to Have in Place When You Need to Let a Client Go

Sep 12, 2023

Is it time to part ways with a client? It can be a tough thing as a consultant or contractor, especially if you care deeply about your clients. But it’s something you’ll experience eventually, so it’s important to prepare early.

When you’ve got a system in place for offboarding a client, it makes the whole process go smoothly. And it also shows your client that you care about them and their success. 

So if you think it’s time to let a client go, make sure you have everything in place before you give your notice.

How to tell a client you’re leaving (professionally) 

You’ve decided it’s time to move on from a client. What’s the best way to tell them? In most cases, it’s completely fine to send an email letting them know about your decision. You can also choose to break the news over a meeting, but if your contract states notice must be given “in writing,” make sure you follow up after the meeting with an email to CYA. 

Make sure your notice is professional and polite. And don’t just cut and run! Make a clear, methodical plan for leaving and share it with the client. Your resignation letter should include these details:

  • A clear end date
  • Your reason for leaving (see below)
  • A detailed offboarding plan
  • A plan for outstanding payment arrangements 

Giving all these details to the client helps keep you on good terms and lessens the chance that they’ll start panicking once they know you’re leaving.

Know why you want to leave

I often hear contractors debating “acceptable” reasons for dropping a client. But the truth is that pretty much any reason is acceptable — even if it’s as simple as not wanting to work with them any longer. Sometimes your business (or theirs) changes enough that it doesn’t make sense to work together anymore. And sometimes you price yourself out of a client’s budget. And sometimes… life just happens.

Should you tell a client why you’re leaving? It really depends on the circumstances and what you feel comfortable sharing. No matter how much information you decide to share, though, do it in a professional way. “I can’t stand working with you anymore” isn’t the right call. Try “My goals have changed, and I think someone else would be a better fit for your business” instead.

Another thing to consider when you’re deciding how much to tell your client? Whether you want to leave any room for negotiation. For example, if you’d be willing to stay with a client if they accept your new pricing structure or adjusted responsibilities, go into the conversation with that in mind. 

If you know that nothing’s going to make you stay, however, don’t leave the possibility on the table. Be direct and firm — without giving in to the temptation to overexplain your reasons.

The #1 thing to have in place when letting a client go: SOPs

You’ve talked to your client and set an end date. What do you need to get done before your last day? Get the standard operating procedures in place. This might sound a little bit weird, but stick with me.

I’ve talked a lot about how important SOPs are to your business, especially in terms of preparing your business to grow and scale. But having a set of well-documented SOPs is just as important in your role as a service provider.

When you have detailed processes and procedures in place, your client knows exactly what you’re doing every day, week, and month. They can see exactly which tasks they’ll need to take over (or delegate to a new contractor) when you leave. 

Leaving your client with a complete set of SOPs can help keep your resignation amicable. You’re preparing your client to handle things after you’re gone. And it can also be helpful for you — especially if you tend to feel anxious or guilty about leaving a client. You’re giving them the tools they need to keep things running. So you can feel confident you’re not abandoning them.

SOPs facilitate better client “breakups”

I’ve experienced how just powerful SOPs can be in my own business. And I’ve also seen how they can help me be a better service provider to my clients. 

I had a client that I worked with for many years. During that partnership, we built up an entire library of written and video-based SOP documentation.

I recently parted ways with this client. And even though the split was amicable, I felt even more confident in my decision knowing that they had all of those SOPs to use after I left. It helped both of us feel prepared for the handoff.

Get everything in place before offboarding a client

SOPs are definitely one of the most important things to prepare before you leave. But what else should you have in place?

  • A step-by-step procedure to remove yourself from the client’s systems: documents, file folders, accounts, etc.
  • A list of passwords or private accounts for your client to update
  • A clear process for retiring your documents, emails, and other assets
  • A final list of things you can’t remove yourself from

Make sure your client knows exactly what they need to do after your last day to completely revoke your access to their systems.

Stick to your boundaries

As it gets closer to your end date, there’s a chance your client may get anxious and ask you to stay longer. They might even drag their feet on their offboarding tasks. 

If this happens, you might be tempted to stay “just a little longer” to help out. Just remember: It’s better for everyone to follow the offboarding plan you set in place. As long as you do your part, it’s up to the client to handle the rest.

Going above and beyond — even when you leave

Leaving your client with a complete set of SOPs isn’t necessarily a requirement of being a contractor. And you don’t need to share your proprietary systems or valuable IP with your clients. But leaving them with a library of SOPs is an excellent way to go above and beyond for them. It’s professional and kind, which is exactly the kind of reputation that stands out in any industry.

Ready to start building your SOPs? I’ve got an SOP template just for you. This template simplifies the process of creating clear, easy-to-read SOPs. Building these documents now means you (and your clients) will be well-prepared when it’s time for you to make like Elsa and let ‘em go.

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