When Is It Better To Just Say “Goodbye” Than Hanging On (to the income)?

This has always been a tough question for me. As a “one man band” I am loathe to give up anything that looks like real revenue because I never know where the next check could be coming from on. On the other hand, my best work-and the kind that clients are willing to pay for-comes when I am engaged, interested, and on my game. Not things that usually happen when I’m just slogging through the job waiting for it to mercifully end.

One thing’s for certain in this business-all client relationships change. Some change faster than others but a client’s needs change with the changes in their business, changes in their personnel, changes in the economic conditions. Those changes ultimately effect my relationship with them. There are times, frankly, where I and the things I bring to the table, just aren’t a good fit anymore. The net result of this misalignment is mediocre work and stressful client relationships while we both try and figure out how to say goodbye to each other. In a lot of ways, client relationships that have outlived their productivity are a lot like why some couples stay married-it’s simply easier to deal with what you know than what you don’t.

I’m writing this after having just gone through a messy ‘divorce’ with a client I had for three years. In the beginning (truly the honeymoon phase), things were great. Lot’s of creative latitude, the work was steady, and people seemed to appreciate both the efforts and the results. It wasn’t all roses. There were one one or two folks that i just couldn’t seem to get on the same wave length with. Happens nearly everywhere you have to deal with many people in a large organization. Still it was a productive and mostly pleasant relationship for the first two years. Then things began to change.

At first it was just little stuff-a question about a charge on an invoice here, a request for an extra meeting there. Nothing to get in a big yank about. Just little, niggling things that, by themselves, I really didn’t pay much attention to. At some point though, these exceptions became the norm and with each new exception I found it harder to keep my interest up…and the work suffered. I told myself, things would be come around then reminded myself of a phrase a good friend of mine had given to me, “When faith becomes hope, you’re in trouble”. Boy, was I in trouble.

In the end, the whole thing just came apart and we went our separate ways. All wasn’t for naught though. I figured I took some valuable lessons away on how to be better at managing my client relationships…especially how to say “goodbye” with grace and dignity before things crumble.