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How to Walk Away from a Client Who's Not A Fit

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I’ve been experimenting over the last few months with ending client relationships that simply aren’t working. In the past, I tended to wait things out too long until resentment and bad blood built up – to the point where the goodbye was more of a “Good Riddance!”

The first few years of running a business have also taught me just how valuable each and every client is, including the hard-earned revenue that comes from working with those clients. It’s not so much about “who do I want to serve” as “who is willing to pay me for my work”. These are two very different mindsets.

And so as my confidence as an entrepreneuer grows, and my belief in the magic I’m able to deliver to the right clients – I can see even more clearly which of those relationships truly help me grow in the direction I want to grow, and which ones are better left where they are.

Each and every client I have worked with has had an impact on me. I’ve learned something new about myself, about my work, my impact and the world within which most of us operate. Any relationship, whether it ends where it’s meant to, or even a bit earlier, gives me a great opportunity to learn and grow.

In recent months, I’ve started to get a much clearer picture of the kind of work that excites me and brings me energy. I created my own leadership program – Alchemy – so that I could serve exactly those people who I truly love to work with. And I’ve also learned what type of client work can drain me.

I’ve ended a couple of important relationships recently which got me thinking about just how much courage and self-trust it takes to walk away and say “no” to something that doesn’t work.

I have a very important B2B client that I’ve been working with for a while. We have a number of exciting projects together, and yet even with a great team of people and a lot of enthusiasm for building something new, I recognized that my energy just wasn’t in the same place as it used to be. I no longer felt the same excitement and enthusiasm to push the project forward in a way that I knew someone else with less of a history with the client would be able to.

I must admit that these kinds of conversations can be difficult – there are always egos and feelings at play. Though if you manage to truly take the emotions or hurt out of the discussion and focus purely on the facts of the situation – “This isn’t working” it makes it easier to transition out. While that particular client relationship felt like a huge release of tension for me – there were about two weeks of feeling overwhelmed and anxious, with a feeling of “did I do the right thing?”

But once the respectful conversations took place, and each party had the opportunity to express what it was that had or had not worked, we could agree to move forward professionally in other projects together. The problem, in fact, wasn’t in the direct relationship but circumstances surrounding the joint work together. By admitting this wasn’t really working, and I personally was feeling exhausted by the work, we could find the right person to bring on board who would have a different perspective and energy to bring into the project.

Fast forward a couple of months and I once again found myself in the position with a coaching client of mine to make a decision regarding whether or not this relationship is working. The truth is, as a coach I am fully committed to my clients’ success, even if success looks quite different from person-to-person. Actually, especially when success looks different.

It is hard for me to admit when a coaching relationship isn’t the right fit because I want to believe that I can truly serve whoever comes through – and believe me, I try. But the truth is that the way that I coach isn’t for everyone. I tend to dance in the moment, allowing the conversation to flow where it needs to with each consecutive session, always trusting the value that my clients are receiving in their own personal and professional development.

In coaching we are well-acquainted with “the dip” – that moment midway through the coaching where fear raises its hand and says, “is this working?” Because transformation can feel uncomfortable and uncertain. There is no straightforward path ahead to create the change you seek and that can feel like shaky ground to stand on (especially if your life already feels pretty shaky).

In the past, most of my clients have continued past the dip because they recognize how much their life has shifted in such a short period of time – however, for some it’s not the right approach. I had such a conversation with a client of mine in recent weeks.

He wasn’t getting the structure and accountability that he was seeking – and it felt like the relationship hit a point where it would not feel good from either side to move forward. I had a choice to make. I could try to convince him he would get a specific value and shapeshift myself to fit his needs, or I could admit that my coaching philosophy might not meet his needs and give him an easy out to walk away from the relationship.

I chose the latter. Without ego.

I explained that sometimes these relationships just don’t work – and if you don’t feel like you can show up in your full power and feel good in the relationship then it is better to walk away and find someone who can better serve your needs.

There is still a lot of learning to unravel in the process of stepping out of important client relationships – but from where I sit today, I feel proud that I held to my belief in my work, that I held my value, and that I recognized when things aren’t working and am more confident in myself and my business to amicably step out. I recognize the courage that it took me to make these decisions, and am grateful for the human spirit which allows all parties to exit without bad feelings.

Amanda Parker is the Founder of The Courage Factory. She is also the creator of the Alchemy Leadership Program.

Alchemy is an 8-week online leadership program for business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to access their inner wisdom and transform their leadership.

Want to transform your leadership?Join us in Alchemy — kicking off March 15th.