Do you have a client that’s just not working out? Are they taking up too much of your time and energy and not putting in the effort to allow your coaching agreement to succeed? It might be time to fire them. But how do you do it without burning bridges?
We asked eight coaches how they’ve successfully ended relationships with clients. They shared real stories about what situations tend to lead to letting go of a client and exactly what they did to handle the situation.
Although it’s never easy to fire a client, these coaches remind us that it’s sometimes necessary in order to protect our own well-being and businesses.
Want to hear what they have to say? Make sure you have the popcorn ready. Let’s dive right in.
How To Fire A Client Gracefully, According to 8 Top Coaches
Here are 8 key lessons to remember when it’s time to let go of a coaching client.
1. Consider where they are at and respond with empathy.
“As coaches, we are driven by a deep desire to help others. So, firing a client can feel uncomfortable. But, do it with heart, and you can still be of value.
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There are two parts to firing a client. The first lies in your earliest communications and onboarding. When you are clear about your approach and expectations upfront, you can use these to facilitate a discussion around what isn’t working and why and agree on the next steps (or an exit).
The second is in understanding why your client is no longer a good fit. It may be that you ignored some red flags early on – it happens to us all!
However, it could also be that something has changed for your client. Helping them understand this and gain the clarity they need to find a better solution will be valuable for them and give you a graceful way out of the relationship.”
– Melitta Campbell, Business Coach for Coaches and Consultants
2. Take your ego out of the equation and act in their best interest.
“The ideal way of “firing” a client is to navigate toward a milestone. For some, I’m a long-term partner, helping them with issues that span multiple jobs and careers. Most often, however, I provide just-in-time coaching for specific, challenging, or urgent career issues.
In these cases, I’m often taking the reins from other professionals be they resume writers, placement consultants, or even other coaches that were a poor fit for the client’s needs. In those situations, it’s logical to simply “hand off” a client at the next step.
For the rare times, when you need to part before a milestone, it’s best to be direct and own the issue. A coach’s work is done in service of the client. Keeping that perspective in mind will help you take ego out of the equation and act in their best interest. And believe me, if you’re not 100% invested in their success, you’re not what is best.”
– Tim Toterhi, Plotline Leadership
3. Set clear expectations and boundaries from the beginning.
“As a coach, it is important to have clear communication and expectations from the beginning of the partnership. I do a Discovery Call (and it is listed on the FAQ of my website) with all of my clients to ensure they understand what coaching is, what it is not and what they can expect from me, and what I expect from them.
Then throughout our time together I check in to ensure expectations are still being met – on both sides. Setting clear expectations in the beginning and through the process provides for a framework when a review is needed.
I’ve had one instance where I felt it was time to end the coaching partnership. I scheduled a call for us to review where we had started and our expectations and where we were currently. This provided my client with an opportunity to reflect on where she was in her goals and in her own life and determine that it was best to end our coaching time together.
We still have a good relationship and recently I referred her to a graphic designer for her new business. Setting clear expectations and boundaries from the beginning and opportunities for review provide for a healthy framework if a partnership comes to an end.”
– Lindsay Stephenson, RoseBird Coaching
4. Before you bounce, provide them with helpful resources to support their needs.
“As a relationship coach, my goal is to help women fix their relationship when it feels like it’s falling apart. I have been there personally and understand the tournament when you feel alone and unloved. That doesn’t
mean I am a good fit for everyone.
In order for someone to get help, they must be ok with accepting help first. That being said, I have found the most tactful way to part ways with an individual that isn’t ready is to give them helpful resources that will give them some control of their current situation.
Coaching may not be what they need now. A book, series of articles, or even an online course may be the baby steps they need. If it is a matter of conflicting personalities, I refer the client to someone I feel will match her expectations better. My goal is to give them some form of a solution, even if I’m not it.”
– Laura Doyle, Laura Doyle Connect
5. Support your decision with documentation and proof.
“I am known as “The Addictions Coach” And I am fairly well known in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. I fire clients all the time for not only using drugs and alcohol but also missing sessions, and other assorted shenanigans. Here is my advice below on how to fire a client.
When I first started coaching a client I give them what I call a “get out of jail free” card. This allows them a hall pass for one bad behavior. This can include missing a session, coming late to a session, or abusing drugs
and alcohol when they’re supposed to be getting sober. If the behavior repeats itself past this get out of jail free card we talk about why we need to terminate the relationship.
This is key before you actually do it in the sense that you have clients that are coming to you for behavioral modification. Whether you’re a life coach, relationship coach, or even a career coach your clients are coming to you to learn how to change something in their life. So you want to make sure that you teach them a lesson and give them a large window for opportunity to make mistakes. If they continue to violate the boundary you have set, you will need to fire them. But the most important piece is that you set this boundary at the beginning of the first session.
You must make it clear what those boundaries are because when you fire the client you’re going to use that piece of paper that has the boundaries on it as your termination validation. So for example in my first session, I let them know that if they miss a session they’re billed for it, if they’re late they lose the time. Let’s say for example they’ve missed three sessions and I’m now going to terminate the relationship. I start with an email explaining why I’m terminating the relationship along with a copy of the contract which is considered proof of termination. It’s key that you have a proof for the client to understand why you were asking them to find a different coach.
The second thing is I also offered them a referral to someone else that they can work with. That way they don’t feel like I’m abandoning them in their time of need. It’s important to offer the evidence of the contract followed by the referral.”
– Dr. Cali Estes, The Addictions Coach
6. Don’t compromise your standards and pay close attention to integrity lapses.
“Early in my coaching career, I had to fire a few clients and these experiences were so valuable and taught me a lot. First, don’t compromise on your standards. Second, if something happens multiple times it’s not an accident, it’s a pattern. Pay close attention to integrity lapses. Third, firing a client can actually be the best thing that happens to them because it can wake them up.
When you have to fire a client, one of three things has happened:
1. The price of your coaching services is far too low. This means you attract a certain type of client that will never be fully invested in doing the work. It will feel like you’re regularly trying to convince them to do the work and the value you provide.
2. Clear expectations were not set when onboarding the client. All of my clients sign a coaching agreement when we begin our work. This sets the tone of what to expect and my expectations of them during our work.
3. Consistent breaches of integrity including missed appointments, lack of follow-through on assignments, and disrespectful communication.
The best way to fire a client is with clear, direct communication. When possible, do this over the phone or video call. Share exactly why you’re making the decision and provide examples of what led to this outcome. Make it clear that this decision is not negotiable. Refund the client any outstanding money owed to them for future services and wish them the best.”
– Antonio Neves, Success Coach
7. If you’re dreading their sessions, it’s probably time to cut ties.
I’ve found that clients need to be fired when they start to create an energy drain. When I see the client on my calendar and all I can think is Oh no… – that means I’m not getting results for them (I’m very results-oriented, so I start to get discouraged when I’m not getting results) and that can mean either I’m not showing up fully for some reason, or THEY aren’t doing the work. Either way, at that point, it’s better to cut ties.
Examples of what to say:
‘I don’t know that we’re the best fit to help you achieve your long-term goals. I’d recommend finding a coach that focuses more on ____’
‘You’ve come such a long way since we first started and I know we go through phases in our life and I think that our phase here has come to an end. I’ve loved working with you and wish you the best from here!’”
– Stephanie Scheller, Grow Disrupt
8. Leave emotions out of it and have a good legal contract in place.
“Having fired a small handful of coaching clients, I’ve learned a lot. I have made sure that I had good contracts in place that allow me to back out if the client is refusing to do the work, and I am not required to issue a
refund for services already rendered.
When it’s time for me to let a client go, I inform them via written email, and without emotion communicate why services are being terminated. If they should attempt to escalate, having an attorney back up the termination and boundaries has been necessary in some cases. Usually, we are able to just go separate ways without legal support.”
– Beth Griffith, The Magnetic Entrepreneur Alliance
Final Thoughts – Firing a Coaching Client
We hope these 8 powerful lessons resonate with you and help you create healthy, successful relationships with your coaching clients – both new and old.
It’s never easy to fire a client, but the most important thing to remember is that it can be the best thing for both parties involved.
The consistent message we got from these 8 amazing coaches, is that when you set clear expectations and boundaries from the beginning, it helps eliminates any confusion or misunderstandings down the road.
And if things don’t work out as planned, it’s okay. Remember that it’s always better to maintain professionalism and end the relationship on as good terms as possible.
When you do have to let someone go, remember these eight lessons to help make the process easier and less painful for everyone involved.
Before you go, which lesson above resonated with you the most? Let us know in the comments below!