Small Business Owner: Firing Your Boss –

One of the best things about being a small business owner is the lack of a boss. It’s your business; you call the shots. But instead of a singular “real” boss, business owners have many, many more bosses to deal with: clients.

Most clients offer business that any owner would be happy to have, but sometimes, it makes more sense to avoid them completely. Difficult clients, unfavorable contract terms, a lack of time, or mismatched goals might seem like something that’s possible to overcome (and sometimes, they are), but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and when you do, it’s important that you let your would-be clients down easy. No one likes to be dumped.

First, remember that turning down clients might feel a little backwards, especially in lean times, but it’s essential to good business. Clients that drain your resources might represent dollar signs, but is it worth it? Sometimes, all the money in the world isn’t worth the time and effort that you might put in to satisfying a difficult client. Don’t be afraid to turn down clients, even if you’re hard up for work: each bad client dumped makes room for one that makes more sense for your business.

So, how do you tactfully tell a client that you’re not willing or able to accept their business? Here are a few tips for keeping things smooth:

  • Be professional. Your reasons for dumping a client may be emotionally charged. Maybe they’re asking for a laughably low price, or they have insulted your work. This is your business, it’s hard not to take it personally. But remember that even though they’re not your client (anymore), you must still treat them with respect.
  • Tell the truth. Avoid beating around the bush; politely but truthfully explain to your client why you don’t think things are going to work out. Chances are, they already know about the problem, and representing your decision any other way may come off as evasive. Be careful not to take on a tone that’s whiny or complaining, just state facts. They may even be willing to change the issue and stick around.
  • Keep it short and sweet. There’s no need to drag things out. Be prompt and to the point when dumping your client. Wait longer than necessary, and you may be doing them a disservice: the longer they remain as your client, the less time they have to find someone new to take care of them.
  • Offer an alternative. If you’re not the one to take care of them, who can? If price is an issue, you might point them to lower-priced colleagues, or a resource where they can find others to do the work at their price point. Always offer a way for your would-be client to take a step forward, away from you.
  • Feel good about it. Be faithful in your decision to turn away a client that’s not right for you. It might hurt in the moment, but in the long run, you’ll be happy to not have to work on a project that doesn’t work for you.