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Corporate and Commercial calendar    Nov 08, 2023

Thursday Thoughts for SMEs - Client & Referrer Breakups. Why it should be done well.

Why breaking up with clients or referrers should be done well.

A breakup sucks.

Looking at the breakups in my youth and the breakups that my friends, colleagues and clients have been through they all have been terrible. 

All breakups involve a relationship. It might be a romantic relationship, business relationship, friendship or professional relationship. The common thread is that they all involve people. 

We have all heard the term “breakup well”. In romantic settings this almost never happens but how does this concept work in a business or professional setting? 

I want to suggest that there is an art to breaking up well in a business or professional setting. 

In our business we have had a number of occasions where we have broken up with clients or referrers for a variety of reasons. Maybe we couldn't serve them properly, or they didn't understand the engagement or they wanted something we couldn't give them. 

The old man always instilled in me the concept of integrity. It is a pillar of our business and something that has influenced how we break up with clients or referrers. 

To illustrate, when we launched our @Work Subscription service offering in 2020 I approached a particular client and secured them. At the time it appeared all rosy! They saw the value and we saw how we could help them. Unfortunately it didn't all go to plan!

They wanted certain things included in the subscription. Services that we didn’t clearly exclude but services that were not necessarily in the core reasons of the subscription. Neither of us were wrong; we had not been clear enough as to what was and was not included and they wanted and believed items should be included. 

At this point we realised that this was not going to work. So we had a choice: we could be pig-headed and advise that they had signed up for a 12 month contract and push them to pay it out or we could agree that the subscription is not working and part ways amicably. 

We of course chose option 2. The short term pain was that we lost a subscriber. The long term gain was unknown. It felt at the time like a sucker punch! 

Fast forward 6 months and that same client came back with some more work. 

Fast forward 12 months and that same client came back with even more work. 

Fast forward another 12 months and our @Work subscription has fully embraced the concept of no-lock in contracts. 

Fast forward again 6 months and that client has signed up to our Growth@Work Subscription and we are helping them rapidly grow. 

In every case, breaking up with a client or referrer is hard and we have choices. I am the first to admit I have not always got it right but I am constantly challenged to break up well. You never know what may happen. 

I had adopted 3 key things to break up well. 

  1. Honesty. Be clear and honest. Honesty is the foundation of trust.
  2. Transparent. Be as clear and transparent as possible. There is no point hiding things. Put it all on the table and usually there is a meeting of the mind. 
  3. Humility. Saying you were wrong or saying sorry doesn’t show weakness, it shows deep strength. Be humble. 

Breaking up with clients and referrers is something that happens to all business owners. It is a reality that not everyone gets along or is a good fit. That is ok. The key question is how will we respond and move forward when we realise that. 

In business you can breakup well and you never know what can happen in the future.

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