Is it time to break up with your customer?

photograph of woman on her computer

Not all business is good business. Just like in other parts of your life, you’ll eventually need to end relationships with some of your customers for the well-being of your business. You know the saying: A frog dropped into boiling water jumps out right away, but one dropped into warm water that’s heated up gradually will be boiled to death before it notices what’s happening.

Customer relationships can reach an unhealthy level slowly over time without you noticing the toll it’s taking. So, how do you know exactly when it’s time to break up with a customer? Here are five telltale signs:

1. They’re unprofessional

This one’s simple. A client who doesn’t conduct business with you in a respectful, professional way or treats you poorly isn’t a client worth keeping. This can be as simple as not keeping track of deadlines. If the behavior continues after you’ve made it clear that it’s inappropriate, it’s time to end that relationship.  

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2. You aren’t doing the work you want to be doing

Maybe you’re a graphic designer and you want to be known for designing and illustrating book covers. You’ll probably take on your fair share of projects that aren’t related to your goal, because let’s face it—work is work. Too many unrelated projects, however, can distract you from your goal and send the wrong message to potential clients. It’ll be much tougher to get contracts designing book covers if you’re known for something completely different.

Your time and effort are valuable and should, to whatever extent is possible, be dedicated to the type of work you set out to do in the first place. This might mean ending relationships with clients in order to make more time for those better suited to your goals.

3. They aren’t paying what you’re worth

This issue is shared by writers, designers, artists, or other creative types: The client that doesn’t understand your pricing. It’s important to know exactly what your work is worth and to stick to it—a client who tries to pay you less than that isn’t worth your time.

Offering your service for free or at a discounted rate makes sense when you’re starting out and trying to gain exposure and establish a reputation. Unfortunately, clients can quickly become accustomed to this and take advantage. Clients you’ve had for a long period of time might be used to paying a certain amount, but it’s useful to assess your pricing structure from time to time. Has the quality of your service improved since your relationship formed? Does the price they’re currently paying reflect that?

4. The client expects you to focus on them alone

When someone seeks out the services of a small business or freelancer, it’s usually because they’re unable or unwilling to do the work themselves. Because it’s not their line of work, they might not know exactly the time, effort, and resources required to do what you’ve asked of them. A client that fails to understand the nature of your work might expect you to accommodate their needs to an unreasonable extent. Constantly exceeding your boundaries can set a standard you can’t maintain, and could harm your relationships with other clients.

5. There’s an ethical disconnect

Increasingly, people are choosing to support companies whose values and ideologies align with their own, but this idea goes both ways. While you might be tempted to take any and every customer that comes your way, you shouldn’t feel any obligation to work with people whose values differ vastly from your own. This isn’t to say you should refuse to work with anyone who doesn’t share your exact values—going that route might leave you out of customers entirely. Interacting with people who are different from you helps you learn and broadens your worldview both in business and in everyday life. However, if you learn anything about a customer that you wouldn’t want potentially associated with your own business, they’re probably not a customer you want to keep.     


Jamie Lowary is the Channel Relations Manager for PATLive, a 24/7 live answering service. PATLive utilizes top-notch agents and proprietary scripting software to take calls for thousands of businesses nationwide. For more customer experience focused content, follow @JamieNLowary on Twitter.

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The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.