How to Gracefully Turn Away a Mismatched Client

Bonus: Preserve Your Sanity too!

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Emily Ann Peterson

Jun 28, 2017

There will come a time in any small business owner’s career when they find themselves in one (or probably both) of the following situations:

  • a current client has outgrown your services
  • a potential client has characteristics that might not mesh with you or your business

Turning money away at the door doesn’t seem like great business advice, BUT IT IS! Growing pains within a client relationship are natural, but when that client starts to groan with those pains, it’s time to let them go. Not only will you make room in your client’s life for appropriate growth, but you’ll do the same for yourself! Win-win!

Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say Client A has been with your business for five years. They’ve done their homework diligently, turned in their work way before deadlines, and generally been a supremely angelic client. A is for angel after all! But they’ve done so well that your expertise is now feeling stretched. Deep down, you know they would be better off in someone else’s expert, caring embrace. This kind of “goodbye” is always a good one, albeit never easy (for me at least).

Now let’s say Client B has been with you for six months, long enough to feel the pains of their totally inappropriate demands. (For example: emailing you at all hours of the day, not respecting boundaries, late payments, complaining about pricing, showing up late every single time, etc.) It’s almost as if you woke up one day to realize this client had the word “NO NO NO” written across their forehead, only somehow you missed it and are just now seeing it.

Now, let’s take Client C, maybe they just sent you an email with their first question about your services being “How much do you charge for…?” even when that information is clearly right there on your website. Umm… Maybe they show up to their initial client consult 30 minutes late and don’t apologize for it. Rude. Maybe they show up without pants and try to give you a bear hug. Yikes. Whatever it is, Client C is figuratively (or let’s face it, possibly literally) rubbing you the wrong way. You know that if you accept this certain individual into your life and business, you might as well invite the Tasmanian Devil over to have tea with your frail grandmother. Ain’t gonna happen.

So What Do You Do With a Mismatched Client?

For Client A types, I sit down with them (usually at a quarterly planning session) and we talk about all the wonderful things they’ve accomplished. We list out all the things they’ll need to meet their goals. Usually after making that list, it’s pretty clear to all parties involved that it’s time. It’s for this reason that I always have on hand a list of peers (aka niche-mates) who I can “pass the baton” to with my full trust. Depending upon the situation, I’ll allow the client to “go shopping” on that list or I might have a perfect person in mind.

For Client B types, I follow my 7 Steps to Setting Difficult Boundaries. Sometimes a frank conversation is required, but most of the time these situations resolve themselves by me just standing firm in my policies and personal boundaries. (For example: Morning after the 2am crisis, “Thanks for your text, I’ll respond via email when I’m at my computer next.”) I have found that if they can’t work with those kind of boundaries, they will find an alternate solution without your help.

For Client C types, I’m super honest (but kind). For my one-on-one clients, I build in some sort of application into their initial consult scheduling process. I include questions that will show me any obvious red flags right away. For me, these are questions like “What will you be doing in five years?” or “How would your life be different with my services?” or “What are you looking for in a teacher?” This way I can choose to either deny them an initial consult or have a further conversation. Either way, if a client is a mismatch for my services, then I tell them quite honestly…

  • If for whatever reason, I wouldn’t pass the client on to a peer, I respond via email “I’m so sorry! Based on my availability this season, I’m unable to work with you.” (Optional: “Keep in touch! If you don’t find someone else in six months, reach out to me again.”)
  • If I think the client might be a good match for another peer’s expertise, I respond with “You know what? I’ve got a friend who I think would be a perfect match for you, even better than me! Let me introduce you! I’m pretty sure you two will hit it off swimmingly!”

Usually one of the above solutions will fit any mismatched student who comes my way. My motto with my business is to run it like a well-oiled machine: automate and smile as much as possible!

Being joyful and helpful wins every day.

How do YOU turn away a mismatched client? I’m curious! Leave your magical methods in the comments below!

Emily Ann Peterson is a singer-songwriter, teaching artist, marketing consultant, and creative entrepreneur. Her podcast, Bare Naked Bravery, features conversations with everyday heroes about the quiet successes and loud failures required to do the brave things for which we know and love them.

Peterson’s mission is inspire a global resonance and magnanimous community through the marriage of art and whole-person development.

She is available here: www.emilyannpeterson.com