The salesperson’s mantra is “ABC: Always be Closing.” But author and speaker Maura Schreier-Fleming thinks that’s not always the best strategy. She says, instead of always closing, why not always opening?
Find out how to develop your opening skills in on Maura’s Best@Selling blog. And notice the quote from the expert at the end!
The beauty of being an entrepreneur and working for yourself is that you’re in control of your own destiny. You get to choose who you work with and for how long. Sometimes you love your clients and you want to continue the relationship forever. Other times, you love your clients, but you know it’s time to go.
I have a personal success statement that defines where I work, with whom and how I work. This success statement provides me the clarity to determine IF I am a good fit for their needs and if the client is congruent with my leadership and workplace beliefs.
Recently, I found myself on a consulting job (for a company we’ll call Client X) that paid well but was no longer personally fulfilling. As a Gen Xer, I want to work in an environment where I can be effective. I want to make a positive impact on the world and achieve something that adds up to more than just numbers on a paycheck. Unfortunately, I recently reached a point where I had maxed out my value to Client X and I knew it was time to move on.
Now, when you’re working for someone as their employee, you give your two weeks’ notice of separation, and if you’re lucky, they let you stay and say your good byes—otherwise you get walked out the door with a box. But when you’ve got a client / consulting relationship, the termination process is totally different. You assumed responsibility for your client, and you have to find a way to transition out of that relationship responsibly. You don’t just get the luxury of quitting a job, walking away, and moving on to greener pastures.
Keeping all this in mind, I sat down and placed together a successful exit strategy for an “entrepreneur” who finds him or herself in the place of firing a client and transitioning them on to other more congruent sources. Here’s what I learned from that process.
Remain Emotionally In Control
It’s important to remain emotionally in control, even though you might want to run kicking and screaming out the door. This is especially true if you’re working in an industry that is small or tight-knit like mine. In this circumstance, your name is your brand. If you act hastily or allow your emotions to put you in a situation that reflects badly on yourself, you will irreparably damage your brand. And if that happens, it’s a long road back to the top.
In my case, I was working with a company whose C.E.O. approached situations emotionally, so staying calm and collected as I prepared to terminate my relationship was paramount. I knew I couldn’t allow myself to lose it if my client reacted emotionally to my decision to terminate the relationship.
Be Transparent–Dot your I’s and Cross your T’s
It’s extremely important to be completely transparent about the process. All the appropriate documents have to be in place. For me, being transparent also included clearly communicating why I was leaving. My value is going in, fixing a problem, and then leaving. That’s where my strength is. I like to keep things fresh, and it has never been a professional goal to sign on again with an employer permanently or become a “fixture”. I tried to be very transparent while explaining this to my client, and in the end, the client understood.
Prepare for Your Client’s Emotions as You Break the News
Again, in this particular instance, I knew my client operated from an emotional base, so I had to create a process that would allow me to effectively manage those emotions. First, I put everything in writing and submitted it, which gave my client time to look it over, emotionally react, and cool down before we discussed it in person. Then, I gave the client a specific time period for winding up—I set the schedule, so to speak. And I was very firm in adhering to that schedule, even though the client resisted. There’s a sign in my office that says “Change is hard. You go first.” In this instance, I went first. I decided I’d put the elephant on the table, stay accountable to the schedule, and see how it turned out. This can be a hard thing to do, especially if you like your client and the people who are there.
Put the Client First
The bottom line, really, is that you have to put the client’s needs first. You’re firing the client. You’re recognizing that it’s time to go. But you took this client on as a responsibility, and therefore you have to transition responsibly. You have to ensure that whatever you’re doing works for them. If you don’t, you damage your personal brand. Your name is your market. That’s the brand “YOU.” So it’s important to walk away with everyone feeling as good as possible about the process.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to fire a client, my best advice is to focus on what you really want so that when you have to explain it, you can sit in front of your client or the business owner and explain why you’re leaving. And when you do that, make sure to use “I” statements. You don’t say, “I’m leaving because you make me mad,” or “you drive me crazy.” You say, “I have further aspirations,” or “I am more valuable in other capacities. You have done a great job. You have given me a great opportunity here. Thank you. It’s time to move on.”
People understand honesty. As long as you’re honest and have integrity, that’s going to come through. If you stay honest and stay true to yourself, people will respect that, and you can move on without damaging your brand or making any enemies.