When ending a customer relationship is the best option Thoughts about toxic relations

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    Starting and growing a company can be a long and cumbersome process. Not only do you need to find and attract clients, but once that important and complex step is taken you need to maintain the relationship with them. While having won clients does not necessarily mean that you have enough work to keep you busy for a whole week, sometimes losing a client is worth more than winning one. When is ending a customer relationship the best option? And how can you end a relationship politely?

    Why you might quit a (good) relationship

    Anybody who ever started a business can tell how important it is to attract customers and how great the feeling is when you sign the first contract. From a business continuation perspective, ending a customer relationship can be the worst choice you ever make. There are nevertheless situations in which ending a relationship can prove better for you and your client than continuing it, no matter how good it might be.

    One of the reasons why you might terminate a good relationship is when you feel that it has become a burden. A relationship that started out positively can, in the short or long term, place a heavy burden on your shoulders. That might happen when you feel incapable of satisfying a certain client anymore, when you experience troubles with the workload or other aspects of the business or when emails from a client drain all your energy. Despite the workload a client could offer, you can easily feel exhausted by the amount of emails you need to reply to every day, the new requirements you need to fulfill on a regular basis or the tone of voice the client uses to you. It must be said, when you have plenty of room to take on new jobs you won’t easily be drained by clients but the more your day is filled with work, the more difficult it might be to find the energy you need to help a certain client.

    The second reason for terminating a (good) relation ship is related to this first one. There may come times in your business life that you can’t fulfill your client’s desires anymore. Sometimes a client is flooding you with smaller or bigger jobs, that have extremely short deadlines or jobs that urge you to go beyond your limits. Having a steady and continuous amount of work is great, but you can only translate a certain amount of text each day before you need to satisfy your other clients as well. From my experience I can say that it can be particularly challenging to work for bigger translation agencies: when you are among the favorite translators for different internal teams you can sometimes receive five different requests to translate 2,000 word projects for the next day. While that is great to some extent, it also makes it impossible to satisfy all project managers. The positive side however, is that you can give up some for a certain team and use your time and energy to satisfy another.

    In our work time zones also come into play. Clients requiring an ‘overnight translation’ might want you to work over the night (but most of the time they don’t stay up for that themselves). In some instances, such a challenge is great to overcome, but when health, age and family play a role, you simply cannot keep up that lifestyle. In that case it might be the best choice to sacrifice a client for your personal well-being.

    A third reason for ending a relationship with a client can be the rates. Translation is a business, no matter what the industry trends and client’s perceptions. Winning your first job – even for a low rate – can certainly give a feeling of excitement but working hard for too low rates will certainly not. So if you can afford to lose a client to make room for one with better rates you could consider doing so. For clients however, it can be hard to lose a trusted translator that perhaps grew with them and that has now mastered all the terminology and relevant business aspects. You might therefore try to renegotiate with the client to see whether you can improve the rates.

    Love in business is not monogamous, but you can certainly love one customer more than others. It might be that client that is offering a steady flow of work, pays higher rates or offers much better deadlines. In that case it can happen that you’re going to love that client more than any other. If business allows, you can choose to deepen your relationship with that client and let one go that you can afford to lose.
    It might even give you more energy when you say goodbye to a client that is treating you in an unprofessional or even rude manner so you can breathe freely and regain your feeling of equality in the relationship. You will certainly experience what that positive feeling will do to your self-esteem.

    When you might quit a relationship

    Terminating a relationship is usually not something you will do Often it is preceded by a feeling of discomfort and a time of consideration. Saying goodbye to a client will mean that you will not receive work from them anymore, and you need to cover that. Unless there is an acute need to end a customer relationship you might well wait for a better moment than now. On the other hand, you shouldn’t assume that there will ever be a best moment, because that thought can make you postpone the moment indefinitely.

    A good moment to quit a relationship is around a pivotal moment. That moment can be in the relationship itself, when a client is upset or when a situation becomes so emotional that you feel it’s better to end it. The moment can also be at a certain time of the year, like around a holiday or at the end of the year. And sometimes it is simply when the client comes with a new job: you can tell then that it will be your last one or that you consider it better to say goodbye to one another.

    It is certainly not the best plan to quit a relationship in an emotional fashion – however natural that might seem. When a client is upset or makes you angry, it is tempting to shout that you will never work for them again. If that is what’s on the tip of your tongue you would do better to shout it to your computer screen (turn Dragon off then). Take some time to take a deep breath, enjoy a night of relaxation and sleep, and tell/write the client that you think it is better not to cooperate after this. See how it works out, and don’t be afraid.

    A whole different moment to end a relationship is before it even starts. Sometimes you get a client referred to you or you apply for a job and in the end feel repelled by the client. In business as in personal relations there should be a connection. If you don’t experience cooperation or if you expect the relation to be unequal, you are better quitting it before you really get on board. It can certainly prevent even greater exhaustion.

    Sometimes a business relationship is a personal relationship as well. You can grow close to a client or you are working for a friend’s business. In that case business troubles can put pressure on your personal relationship as well. It can be better then to mutually agree to end the business side of the relationship to save the personal side. No matter how great a business relationship is, the personal relationship is of more value. And there is a great chance that with the end of a personal relationship the business relationship also ends. In that case you will lose both.

    When you are in doubt about whether or not to quit that business relationship you can give it some time to see what happens. Sometimes you might also let it bleed to death. Do your best to deliver high quality, decline jobs you can’t take on and see whether a client comes back after time. Sometimes it can take months to see a client coming back. If you feel your energy drained when that moment comes, that will be an indication as well that you will not miss that client.

    When ending a customer relationship is not a great idea

    We Dutch have a proverb that says ‘To rule is to look into the future’. It basically means that you need to look ahead to prepare for the future. In business this can mean that you would keep a client because of the changes they could offer in the future. While this attitude is quite opportunistic, no one is able to predict the future. It might therefore turn out well or be equally wrong. However, if you expect that a slumbering relationship now can offer better chances in the future you might at least want to postpone its end.

    Neither is ending a customer relationship a great idea when it brings in a significant part of your living. As said, translation is business so you should certainly make sure that you can pay for your home and food. No matter how deeply you want to quit a relationship, it is senseless when it will make you homeless.

    If you feel that a mutual relation is becoming a mutual burden you can try to save it. However, if that does not turn out to be the best option you might well take the chance to be the first to speak up. It can be a great idea to be the first to show your autonomy. That way you avoid a slumbering discontent or even a cold war. It can even improve your personal relationship and can make the client come back after a shorter or longer period of time.

    Ending a customer relationship: do’s and don’ts

    So you have a relationship you feel uncomfortable with and want to end it. How can you do that?

    First of all, be polite. As relationships can have emotional ups and downs you should make sure you’re not replying out of an emotional mind. Sometimes you only want to end a relationship because it does not fit into your schedule, but you want to leave an option for the client to come back at a later moment. Embarrassing the client by being rude certainly does not help you, while it also has an impact on your professional image. So set any negative emotions aside and leave them out of your communication.

    Having said that, you should nonetheless be clear. Ending a relationship can be a kind of hot potato you don’t want to touch directly because you don’t want to embarrass your client. However, being unclear can even be more confusing. Saying ‘well, ehm, how to put it, yes I like our cooperation and I wouldn’t want to lose you as my client but it is quite difficult to keep up to your requirements’ does not make any sense to your client. Make sure that the client understands that you would want to end your business relationship, why you want that and whether it is final or only for a limited time. Everybody deserves fair treatment and your client should have a chance to find his next best translator.

    Next be factual. Of course you can bully a client because of repeatedly making mistakes, not paying on time, or requesting unreasonable things but that will not improve your relationship. Tell him that you’re about to end the business relationship because s/he did this on that date, went wrong there or gave you a sense of discomfort. Keep it to yourself and tell them what bothers you and why. Using abstracts of conversations or other facts might help.

    Be timely. A client deserves a chance to find a successor to you. It might help him when you give advance notice that you’re planning to end the relationship in about two months, so he can find another translator. It also enables you to end the translation in a professional and satisfying way while the client can even use your linguistic qualities to judge whether the proposed new translator is as good as you are.

    It might help to refer a colleague. Sometimes you know somebody who is a better fit for the client. Referring them can increase your credits for both the client and your colleague, and even pay you back at a later moment.

    Finally, losing a client is losing a real relationship. Fortunately, business is a different love story than your personal relationship, but you may still feel the pain. I did when I decided to end a client relationship last year. After having written two or three blogs each week over the last three years I felt exhausted. I seemed to lack inspiration, which in the end would impact his website and our relationship. After having told him in November that I was to quit the relationship from January 1st for the reasons mentioned we agreed that it was better for us both. We still meet each other and know that we can use our mutual qualities in other projects but for this particular one, it’s over. He, in particular, appreciated that I gave him almost two months to look for a successor. While I lack a client who provided a regular flow of work and am sorry for the fact that I can’t contribute to the growth of his website anymore I feel relieved that I finally took the step. At least we have a chance to start over now.


    Pieter Beens

    About Pieter Beens

    Freelance translator English-Dutch. Works for high-profile clients worldwide. Professional. Punctual. Passionate.

    One thought on “When ending a customer relationship is the best option

    1. As usual, you provided an all-round perspective on the matter. Thank you, Pieter!
      Of course it is never easy to make such a final decision when it comes to business relationships, but, as the saying goes, “when a door closes, another door opens” – or, as we Italians like to say in our own way, “a larger door opens” hopefully! 🙂

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