How to Politely Disengage from Work with Misaligned Clients
Usually when scouring entrepreneurial Facebook groups or blogs, we come across all of the big wins made by our fellow business owners - so awesome! But...
Something we don’t see discussed a whole lot in the female entrepreneur world is what we should do if we find ourselves embroiled in a misaligned client relationship. The client could be amazing and wonderful as a person, but the two of you (client and business) are just not working out. “It’s not you…it’s…us together.”
Recently I had an interesting client experience. The client was completely wonderful as a person and we got on really well. There were just some things I should have noticed about the business relationship at the outset - which I turned a blind eye to because I was so excited about new business.
Note: I'm not saying this happens or should happen often in business. I think that everyone experiences this at one point or another in their business journeys. At the very least, I think it’s beneficial to have an experience like this in order to know how to handle it in the initial stages for the next time. It's our job as entrepreneurs to be able to inherently know if a potential client will work out or not. It all comes with these experiences!
Here are some tips I’d like to share about how to politely and respectfully disengage with a client if you’re finding that the business relationship is just too misaligned for it to result in a successful project:
1. Keep communication as open as ever.
For business relationships (or any relationships, for that matter) to grow and thrive, it’s absolutely imperative that there be an open channel of communication between all parties involved. If you have any reservations with a client from the outset, you need to get crystal clear on expectations, budgets, and anything else you feel you’re missing - because honestly, that sh*t’s not going to figure itself out on its own! Be proactive in getting as clear as you possibly can with your client so that you’re both on the exact same page.
2. If you reach a point down the road and it’s really not working out - it’s time to make moves.
Obviously, it’s NOT ideal to pull out of a project down the line, but sometimes you just need to cut your losses. If there’s too much of an exchange of energy between both parties (like, energies that repel each other), it’s better to cut those losses. It’s not exactly what either of you signed up for and it’s certainly not going to result in either of your best work.
And as my friend, Michele from The Artist Playbook told me: "It's not your job to convince someone that they should value what you're doing from the beginning ... any kind of stop up is telling you > What do I need to learn here? So I don't need to repeat it. Because when we try to people-please people that are not in line with our values, the lesson always comes back to us ...don't discount yourself if someone wants to try you out... know your worth and people will pay you for it."
3. Get some referrals to other businesses in place before leaving the project.
If you and your client have built a good rapport and you feel guilty for having to leave the project, make sure to do everything in your power to help them out by providing leads to others who might be better equipped at handling whatever you’re having your misgivings about. To do this, you can go into any Facebook group that you’re in where creative and freelance jobs are posted (I love The Bucketlist Bombshells and Female Digital Nomads) and give an overview of what the client is looking for. Then, once you have some business names, websites and emails - prepare a little digest for the client to peruse.
4. Be confident, be professional. Have the conversation.
Chances are if things aren’t working out ideally, both of you will be feelin’ it, so it most likely come as a huge shock to your client that you may have to move in different directions. Say something like “Although I want to do exactly x and y for you, I just don’t think that this is my specialty and I don’t want to not perform at my best for this project. That being said, however, I have a few referrals already in place for designers who specialize more in what you’re looking for!” More often than not, your client will be completely understanding - and may even be relieved that you made the first move as a professional to head in a different direction.
5. Re: money - do what feels best to you.
This is where contracts come in handy - for moments like this (if they ever arise!). If you’ve laid out in your contract that your initial deposit is non-refundable, then that’s the way it is - especially if you’ve done as much work as possible. If, however, you feel deep down that you should give a refund (or at least a partial refund) that is up to you - and I’d highly recommend doing whatever feels right for you, intuitively. More often than not, clients will be happy to pay you for the work you’ve done - even if it did not result in a finished product.
Alrighty, those are my insights into disengaging with any misaligned clients in your business. Obviously, it’s better to figure this kind of thing out before hopping into business with people, but - as I said before - sometimes we need these learning experiences to truly hammer down the lesson for us.
Just remember to use your intuition - especially from the outset. And also that you cannot try to change a client’s mind if they are set on a specific software, hosting platform, or budget (despite it being a bit out-of-date or having less functionality as others). Try as you may, it will only result in frustration!