How To Perform An End-Of-Year Client List Cleansing

by Terri Scott 6 Minutes

firing a bad client Google SearchAbout a year ago, I wrote a post that advised you on how you should handle clients who suddenly disappear on you.

Now that the end of the year is upon us again, I thought it would be a great idea for you to think about how your business goals have unfolded this year, and how you’d like to see them unfold in the upcoming year.

Specifically, it might be a great idea for you to examine your current client list, and determine if everyone on your list is still a good fit.

I know, it’s almost considered sacrilege in our world to say “no” to a client, let alone end your relationship with a client!

It’s one thing to learn how to deal with the end of a client relationship when they end it, but imagine evolving to the point where you actually take control of your business by making a list of client relationships that are better off severed?

Yep, it might be time for you to determine if your client list invokes the following phrases in your mind:

        • Dead weight
        • Anxiety-producing
        • Power struggles
        • Creative differences
        • Politics
        • Entitlement issues
        • Slow paying
        • Not paying
        • Scope-creepers
        • Freebie-seekers
        • Painful
        • Poor communicator

Seriously, if you wanted to deal with many of these phrases, then you might as well close shop and look for an employee position, right? You didn’t start freelancing (or open an agency) to experience these! Yet, you might be subjecting yourself to poor client relationships that:

      • Kill your ambitions
      • Make you question your career decisions
      • Make you second-guess your capabilities
      • Tear away at your self-respect
      • Don’t allow you to pay yourself a decent salary
      • Cause you to struggle with guilt or inferiority
      • Make you seethe with jealousy when you hear your colleagues’s success stories

Here’s some advice from a fitness entrepreneur who encourages you to fire clients who make you feel crappy!

Making Room For Desirable Clients

Here’s a secret that you probably know in the back of your mind, but it needs to be brought to the forefront:

As a private business owner, you get to decide who you do business with! 

You don’t need to people please and keep a client on your roster just to make others happy (which is also a reason not to do business with family members or close friends, but that’s a topic for another post).

There’s no Grand Puba who determines who you’ll do business with. The only person you’ll need to check in with on the matter is the same person you look at in the mirror when you’re brushing your teeth!

But, here’s the bottom line on the matter:

When you clear your client list of accounts that aren’t working for you, you’ll immediately make room for the clients you’ve been desiring to work with!

But, mind you, there’s a right and a wrong way to go about everything, and that includes firing a client. With this in mind, let’s explore some tips and actionable tactics that will give you the courage to properly fire your clients, preparing you for a prosperous new year!

Nick Reese Offers You Client-Firing Scripts

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to string the words together in your mind, you’ll find yourself in nerve-wracking situations that leave you tongue-tied. Say the wrong thing, or utter the wrong turn of phrase, and you can find yourself looking very foolish, or burning a relationship bridge!

This is when a script comes in handy!

Think of a script as part template, part life-hack. It’s a grouping of words that you (or someone else) has pre-conceived that help you to get through sticky situations. The script allows you to save face and handle the sticky situation with as much grace and tact as possible.

With this in mind, Nick Reese has created a series of scripts that are very useful for helping you to cleave client relationships that are either toxic or on life-support.

Let’s look at the first script that Nick calls The Scapegoat script:

[Name] — After doing strategic analysis of our long term goals, we’ve decided to shift our focus to only serve a specific subset of customers going forward.

That said, our team regrets to inform you that we won’t be able be able to work on your account any more as of [date].

As you move forward in looking for other providers, we’d recommend [competition] or [competition].

Thanks for your understanding. Below is a list of next action steps you can expect from our team.

[list of action steps]

Nick likes this one the best because it positions you as a business owner making a business decision. It’s crucial for you to remember that you’re not always going to be the newbie begging for work! At some point, you’re going to operate a full-fledged freelance business, or agency.

You’ve got to carry yourself like a business professional, even if the client refuses to.

Let’s look at Nicks’s second script which takes the It’s Not You, It’s Me approach:

[Name] — It’s been great working together but due to personal reasons as of [date] I’m no longer going to be able to assist you with [what you do].

I know it’s short notice, but after thinking about how to approach this as professionally as possible, I decided some notice was better than no notice.

[Feel free to elaborate on your reason. You don’t have to]

To avoid an interruption in service please find another person who can meet your needs. I’ll do my best to make sure there aren’t any issues during the transition process.

Thanks for your understanding and support, below is a list what you can expect from me between now and [date].

[list of action steps]

We’re all familiar with this approach in our romantic lives. It’s the choice of relationship dumpers who want to allow the dumpees to save face, while hopefully defusing any wild emotional outbursts!

We’re all emotional on some level, and your clients are no different. You don’t want to make anyone feel that you can’t wait to get rid of them! And, if you’re dealing with a particularly touchy, emotional, or (seemingly) personality-disordered client, then the last thing you want is for them to unleash an emotional (or vindictive) outburst in your direction.

Giving clients the impression that the blame lies at your feet is a great strategy to use in ending your relationship with them.

But, if beating around the bush isn’t your style, then maybe you’d like to take a more direct approach:

Okay, maybe not this direct, but instead, you can use the Nick recommended Direct and Politescript:

[Name] — Recently I’ve been noticing some problems with our working relationship.

Although it isn’t easy to say, I think that another company may be a better fit for you and your specific needs.

As of [date] my company won’t be able to assist you with [what you do] any further.

Thanks for your understanding, below is what you can expect from us between now and [date].

[list of action steps]

Warning: Don’t use this approach on clients who have made you question their emotional stability, or their sanity!

Here’s a video that Nick produced that further drives home the point of when and why it might be time for you to end a client relationship:

But It’s Not Me, It’s You!

No matter what your motivations are for helping a client to save face when you fire them, you’ll always know that you fired them because they weren’t a good fit, or they were flat-out making you miserable!

If you’ve tried to do everything in your power (as in, emails, phone calls, letters, etc.) and you find that nothing has changed, or if you find that the relationship has deteriorated, then it’s time for you to feel confident in the knowledge that the death of the relationship isn’t your fault.

In fact, you can create a learning experience from the firing, especially if you’re an agency manager. Joe Apfelbaum recommends that you create a case study around the failed client relationship and use it as a learning tool for your marketing team.

He says,

Together, discuss what this case can teach your business about the kind of leads and potentials to avoid, and to more effectively target leads and potentials who are better fits for your company. This is also a good time to make sure everyone is aware of current company goals and policies.

And, in case you’re still feeling guilty or scared, an Entrepreneur Magazine columnist reassures you with this:

You may think you need the business, but the reality is as soon as you give a nightmare client the heave-ho, you’ll probably find twice as much work elsewhere. The negativity a bad client puts into your life tends to keep you from finding quality clients.

Do you know another thing you can do in order to give your client list an end of the year clearing? You can start sending proposals to new clients!

After all, part of the reason why you’re holding on to bad clients is so that you can hold on to your current income level. But, wouldn’t it be great to generate the same level of revenue with clients who you actually want to work with?

And, here’s something else to consider:

The happier you are with working with a client, the more efficiently and effectively you’ll produce, helping you to generate even more income!

Your turn: It’s almost the end of the year. What are some new year business goals that you can start making room for, now?

*Photo source

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by Terri Scott
Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time. You can view her work at, and she'd love to hear from you: