All of us at some point or another become friends with our best clients. Spending time with clients on the phone, in person, in meetings, conference calls, out to lunch, dinner, conferences, or wherever our jobs take us, offers us time to get personal with our clients. We find out about their families, their kids, grandkids, about their vacations, trips and personal interests, likes and dislikes. We often start to think of our client as a friend. So what happens when our client is no longer a client?

It can be really difficult. It can feel like a great relationship is over and never to return. There might be a sense of grieving for a time and a period where there is no communication in place of where there had been constant contact.

Ending the client relationship needs to be well thought out in advance because its bound to happen here and there for one or many reasons. Maybe the individual you were friends with will get a new job. Maybe the predecessor has a different relationship already in tact. Maybe the owner has a company he or she wants to try. Perhaps your prices went up or your vendors made a mistake. Perhaps there were problems in the invoicing, billing or paperwork that got too confusing or perhaps there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the way that you didn’t even know about before it was too late.

Relationships come to a close for many different reasons. And it’s best to have a planned out system to deal with these, just as you would for the beginning of a relationship.

1. It’s natural to want to save an account that you’ve come to rely on as a regular source of income. Try to get to the bottom of the problem to see where things went awry and to see if there is any way to salvage the relationship. Offer to give a service for free or at a deep discount. But when it is clear that the relationship is over, then face it like a champ.

2. Just as in any relationship, human emotions often change with the tide, so it’s best when a relationship has ended that the relationship is given space. After all is said and done, it’s best not to beat a dead horse. It’s best to let some time slip away so you can regain your composure before writing a letter to your former client and it can sound gracious instead of whiney or angry.
3. Write a letter that apologizes for the confusion or the mistake. Be sympathetic and understand their frustration. Reiterate the offer to make amends or offer a discount or something free if they ever come back. Then continue the letter and outline several wonderful things that occurred over the course of the relationship. Outline the successes, the money saved, earned or made based on the relationship. Then share how much the relationship has meant to you personally as well as professionally and that you will look forward to staying in touch.

4. At the end of the letter, start to treat the client as a potential new client. Offer to be of service to them, to be available to answer any questions, or concerns they may have. Offer to be utilized as a resource to them if they need it.

5. Put them in the potential client file. They are no longer a client. But who is to say that they won’t be a client in the future? Keep them on your mailing list. Keep them up on savings or specials or opportunities that your company is offering. Touch base every so often by phone and by email and speak with them personally as well as professionally.

The key is to always maintain your composure and don’t let your emotions get the best of you when the relationship sours. Maintain your dignity even if you made mistakes and had to apologize for a misunderstanding.

The old saying goes, “time heals all wounds.” This saying can be used in business too. Perhaps over time, after working with other vendors, they’ll realize what they’ve missed. Perhaps if the relationship is still in tact and well oiled, they’ll feel that coming back won’t be uncomfortable at all, and that they’d be able to pick up right where they left off before.

When we show dignity in losing, we prove what a winner that we are. Over time, our last impression can become a good impression. And no matter what ever happens with the client, we can always feel good about it for the mature way we handled it!