Breaking up is hard to do, especially with a client or vendor of your small business

Neil Sedaka sang it out loud and clear; breaking up IS definitely hard to do. We’ve all been through it in our personal lives, and we’ll all go through it in our business lives. Building a client relationship is easy; ending one can have long-term effects on you and your business.

Sometimes, ending a business relationship is a matter of necessity. A case in point: I had a client who was busted by the cops. My continued professional affiliation with him, innocent or guilty, could have made me appear guilty by association. Every media question I got about our project concerned his arrest. I had to put my business reputation before that of this particular individual or client. The client understood.

But, most often, the end has something to do with money. The client pays late and your cash flow goes into a tailspin. The vendor comes in late and over-budget, and you have to deal with the loss. Maybe it’s a case of you and the client having irreconcilable differences over the goals or the progress of the.

Assuming you’d previously agreed on the scope of services, payment schedules and other arrangements, it’s easier to disengage when some of the terms aren’t met. Unfortunately, many relationships are solidified with a handshake, and little more.

Before the break-up, be sure you know why the relationship is going wrong, and try to exhaust all of the routes available to you to fix things up. Also, assess the “what happens after.” If the client was a major income source, how will you replace that income stream? Will the break-up impact other clients and/or your ability to do business?

If the break-up with with a vendor, be sure to pay your bill first. If you’re dumping a client who owes you money, try to collect as much as you can, because once the relationship is over, it will be twice as hard to collect.

Be civilized about terminating the relationship. Ending a relationship isn’t easy for either party. Hostility breeds contempt. If you can end things on good terms, both parties stand to gain. Be concise, or as they say, “short, simple, to the point,” and, above all, polite.”

If you’re in the middle of a project, finish the work (unless it’s a money issue). Remember that you and the client may be doing a project for a third party, who may innocently suffer from your break-up.

Be professional. How you end something may become fodder for discussion elsewhere, particularly these days as people vent without forethought on social media. Clear communication, good manners, and integrity go a long way towards maintaining your own reputation. Nasty finger pointing, harsh words, and tantrums seem to be repeated and spun in conversations with others, Facebook rants, and ugly afterthoughts. End on a good note, and there may be an opportunity to collaborate on something down the road in a better time and place.

Further reading

Some good recommendations for further reading.

5 Steps for Breaking Up With Your Worst Freelance Client from Brazen Careerist Blog:

How to Break Up With a Client, from

How to Fire a Bad Client by Maria Makidaki on


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.


  1. Angela says:

    Thanks, Mark. Good advice.

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