Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it just does. not. work. between you and a client. Or you and an employee.  As women, this can be especially frustrating. We’re born to be people-pleasing socializers who thrive on relationships and community. We want allllll relationships to work! But when your intuition is telling you to run the other direction, it’s super important to listen to it (especially as a business owner). But how, exactly, do you get out of a bad relationship with grace, dignity, and bridges (hopefully) intact? Here’s what my team does when it’s time to part ways with employees and clients who aren’t working out

First, Understand When It’s Time to Say Buh-Bye

You should never feel like you need to compromise your integrity or sanity for people who don’t treat you well.  If you have a gut feeling about an employee or client, don’t ignore it. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. In fact, if it doesn’t feel good for you, it’s likely not a good experience for the other person either.  Once you’ve identified that there might be a problem, you typically have two paths forward: 1️⃣ Something has to shift so you become better aligned, or 2️⃣ You have to exit the relationship For example, an initial miscommunication about expectations may be causing tension between you and an employee. But once the issue is addressed and everyone gets back on the same page, you jive again just fine. But sometimes, two people just do not work well together. And that’s OKAY!!! Not all people are going to be your people. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you’ll be at peace with the idea that you can’t be everything to everyone. Justine, are you saying I should drop a high-paying client because I can’t stand to work with them? Uh-huh. Money’s almost never worth it when it comes to working with bad clients. I know it’s hard to let go, but you WILL find a way to pay that bill or send your kid to summer camp. The industry is only growing, and you will absolutely snag another client — and one who will be a much, much better person to work with. Also some sort of weird financial alchemy happens when you let toxic people go (clients OR team members) – your revenue and/or profits grow! 

How to End a Client Relationship

No matter how the other person acts or what they say, it’s really important that you give your best attempt to exit all relationships gracefully.  I want you to walk out of there like the queen you are, with your head held high.

To kick off the conversation, you can say something to the tune of: I’ve tried to provide the best customer service possible to you and your business, but it’s apparent to me that I can’t provide the type of services you require. I will gladly facilitate a transition for you. Unless you’re in a hostile or abusive situation with a client, I do recommend making the offboarding process a slow and smooth transition. Give them plenty of notice, and do what you can to make sure they have everything they need to move forward with somebody else.  I wish this didn’t need to be said, but unfortunately, I’ve heard of it happening: If a client chooses to terminate services with you, don’t be a you-know-what about it. Let them go, and please please please do not hold their files hostage (seriously).  Whether you’re the one initiating the breakup or not, make sure you’re being paid for all services completed. This is easier to do if you have a credit card on file, which is something I definitely recommend. The last thing you want after an awkward exit is to be chasing after outstanding invoices.  And no matter what, be stately in your exit. Yes, even when it’s reeeeeally hard to do.  At my firm, we try to make the offboarding experience for a client just as smooth as the onboarding experience. Here’s why: We’ve had clients leave us not because they don’t like working together or are dissatisfied with the quality of work — it’s because they found somebody much, much cheaper overseas, on Craigslist, from a friend of a friend, you name it.  This often leads to what we’ve affectionately dubbed “the Boomerang effect.” They leave, somebody else messes up their books, and then they come back asking us to fix it. Because we treated them with respect and dignity during the offboarding process, they feel comfortable coming back and reengaging with our firm.

How to End an Employee Relationship

Before I get into the subject of letting go of an employee, I want to give a quick disclaimer.  Anytime you’re letting someone go, be sure you are doing so in a compliant and legal manner. Some states have certain requirements about compensation and how quickly wages must be paid after termination etc (rules, rules, rules – le sigh).  Okay so, before letting an employee go, it’s important to get all your ducks in a row. Make a plan or to-do list (terminating email, revoking access to software, etc.), let the person know what’s happening, and then execute the plan immediately. In some cases, you may prefer to complete your to-do list before having the conversation with your employee, but this is totally up to you. If your employee is client-facing, you’ll also need to create a transition plan for your clients. Let them know if someone is no longer working with your company, and who their new point of contact is.  Side note — It takes me quite a while before I feel comfortable enough putting a new employee in front of a client. If it’s apparent early on in the relationship that a new hire won’t work out, I don’t want it to look like my firm has high turnover or internal issues because I introduced someone too soon.  Most of all, just be honest and professional. Your employee may be upset, and that’s to be expected. But remember that you’re a business owner, and you have to do what’s best for your clients, your employees, and your business.


However you handle relationships, always try to trust your intuition. I’ve never regretted letting a bad client go. In fact, it’s opened me up to work with some incredible people I otherwise wouldn’t have had the capacity to take on. Remember, you got this! And if you find that you could use some extra training or mentorship when it comes to managing the ins and outs of your business relationships, feel free to join the waitlist for my Bookkeeper’s Business Incubator.  Rooting for you, Justine