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Cutting ties

  • SIMA
- Posted: May 9, 2018
By Garrett Smith

If you’re fortunate to be in business long enough, the time will come when you have to let go of someone. More often than not it’s an employee or subcontractor who isn’t living up to their end of the agreement. Sometimes though, it’s a customer, whether it’s consistent failure to pay, poor communications that impact service delivery, consistent requests for work outside of the scope, etc., that make moving on the best option, even if it’s hard to do. 

It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to let go of a few customers, but I’m happy to say it’s been for the better. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way for how to say goodbye to a customer when it turns out they are the problem.

Review your agreement
If you sense that there are issues, review your contract. You may use a standard agreement, but it always helps to start by understanding exactly what was originally agreed upon specific to the customer in question.

Review your documentation

You want to enter any discussion or meeting with as much information as possible. Reviewing your documentation gives you the ability to directly point out how you have delivered and often how they have not. This is an effective way to get a customer to recognize they’re in the wrong.

Address your issues directly
If you’ve reviewed your agreement and documentation, and feel strongly that things need to change, it’s best to reach out and discuss the issue with the customer. Preferably discuss it with the main decision maker, since I’ve often found that they may be unaware of any issues and would be willing to work to rectify them. 

Suggest ways to improve
During your discussion or meeting with the decision maker, focus on improvements that can be made. Focusing solely on past issues or mistakes will lead to more frustration. Customers love problem solvers, even if they caused the problem.

Deliver a formal notice
If your discussion or meeting doesn’t go as planned, it’s time to take formal action. Draft a notice of service termination based on your agreement terms. Check with your attorney to make sure your notice is legally compliant. 

Carry out the work
While no one likes to work for someone they have issues with, unless you’re released from the agreement, you’re obligated to continue to perform services until the last day of termination notice. It’s best during this period to do the best job possible, in case the situation escalates legally. It also reflects well on your organization.

No owner ever wants to let go of a customer. Hopefully these tips prevent a few from leaving or make it easier to get rid of the ones who will never be happy. Better them than you. 

Garrett Smith is co-owner of WNY Snow Removal and founder of Pitch + Pivot, LLC. Email him at
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