Not every coach-client relationship is a walk in the park.
Throughout your career, you can expect to encounter all types of clients — some more challenging than others. While ideal clients are a joy to work with, not every person who seeks out your services can be a good fit. Some people may criticize your methods, cause disputes, or put undue pressure on your team.
While it’s important to navigate coach-client relationships with patience and grace, there comes a point when the negatives outweigh the positives. If a client causes too much trouble, it may be time to cut ties. Here's how to fire a client politely, professionally, and with poise.
Is there such a thing as a bad client?
Yes. But a "bad client" doesn’t equal a bad person — you may not be the right coach for them.
Still, you may encounter a few unkind folks who make coming to work difficult. Even if they don’t prefer your methods, you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Here are red flags signaling an impolite client to look out for:
- The impatient client: This person expects you to put them before others and demands immediate results. The impatient client fails to understand that you work with multiple people simultaneously and operate a business. Plus, progress takes time — not every session will yield significant results.
- The client who delays payments: There's nothing worse than working hard only to find yourself chasing the client for compensation. If a client consistently delays payments, it may be a tell-tale sign to part ways.
- The client who doesn’t understand boundaries: This client constantly makes last-minute requests, postpones deadlines, and attempts to reach you at all hours. You may find the added stress interferes with your schedule and makes it difficult to provide other deliverables. If you've repeatedly told them to respect your time and they prove incapable, it might be time to let them go.
- The client who doesn’t want to cooperate: This type of client is unresponsive, difficult to communicate with, and fails to follow through on assignments or readings. They may even have a no-show appointment or two. Not only does this hinder their progress, but it also impacts the other clients you serve.
- The “expert” client: At first, this client may seem ideal — communicative, eager to learn, and enthusiastic about your working relationship. However, they dismiss your ideas and are unwilling to acknowledge different opinions, assuming they have more expertise. Back-and-forth is a vital aspect of the coach-client relationship, but a client who acts as if they have nothing to gain from your services can be frustrating to work with.
- The overly critical client: Constructive feedback is valuable as you grow and develop your practice. But this client crosses a line when they approach you with hostility and malice. If a person makes you feel uncomfortable and tense, you may need to cut ties.
How to tell if the client relationship is salvageable
Before firing a client, it’s essential to make sure it’s the right decision and protect your company’s best interests. A turbulent relationship with a difficult client could be reparable — but this isn’t always the case.
Consider these factors when weighing whether or not to let a client go:
- The customer acquisition cost (CAC): Acquiring a new customer can be five times more expensive than retaining an existing one. It’s a potentially costly trade-off, so consider whether firing the client is worth the outlay.
- Regular communication: If a client doesn't respond, fails to provide necessary documents, or delays payments, it becomes challenging to deliver high-quality services. At this point, attempt to reach out, establish strict deadlines, and clarify that you can't move forward until they cooperate. You never know — they may be experiencing an extenuating circumstance and could use your support.
- The contract terms: Review your contract with the client to ensure you did everything possible to uphold the agreement. Make sure you’re up to date on any termination clauses or kill fees to smooth the off-boarding process.
6 steps for politely firing a client
You've explored every possible avenue to improve your relationship with a difficult client and determined there’s no way forward. In this case, you can confidently make the right decision for your business and team members.
If you decide to let go of a challenging client, here’s how to conduct yourself professionally and politely:
- Stick to the terms and conditions: Ensure you follow the clauses in your contract. These agreed-upon terms and conditions help both parties remain professional while avoiding arguments and legal disputes.
- Avoid the blame game: Don't point fingers at the client. Explain your decision rationally and respectfully, and remember to be calm, receptive to complaints or feedback, and professional. Focus on the reasons for the split rather than blaming the other party.
- Document everything: Documentation protects your practice in the event of future disputes. Write everything down, including the challenges and concerns that led to ending the agreement.
- Don’t burn bridges: Although things didn't work out the way both parties expected, it's crucial not to burn bridges by becoming argumentative. The client may provide referrals to new clients or return with a plan and mindset that suits your working style in the future.
- Part ways cordially: End the business relationship courteously. Try to meet face to face, thank the client for their time, and leave the door open for future projects. It's best to terminate the agreement amicably and maintain your professional reputation.
Level up your business with Practice
Firing a client isn’t the end of the world — there are plenty of others out there who would be a dream to work with. Of course, as new clients roll in, you’ll need the right tools to manage them.
At Practice, we understand what it takes to run a successful coaching business. Our customer relationship management (CRM) tool can help you securely store client information, organize documents, and draft contracts, all in one place.
Plus, our blog is a wonderful educational resource for all things coaching. Learn how to turn down a client, say no to unreasonable demands, and the basics of coaching ethics. From client management to tutorials, there’s something for every coach.