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Resigning a Client: Four Years Later, It Was the Right Decision

No matter what type of business you’re in, it’s never easy to resign a client. Yet, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

We resign clients based on a number of reasons. Perhaps the scope of engagement changed and you don’t provide that kind of service … or the client may not be paying their bills. Then again, you could have a very personal reason for resigning based on something uncomfortable that happened or something that might compromise your own integrity and practice.

I was recently reminded why I resigned a client 4 years ago. Yes, it’s been that long. Here’s the story.

I had been working with a financial planning firm for about 10 years, providing PR and marketing services. The firm is substantial in size, and to give you an idea of the firm’s revenue, the owner who I primarily worked with would not accept any clients who had less than $2 million in assets.

Over the 10 years, I tried to resign the client 3 times, yes – 3 – and every time, the owner would call apologizing for his and his firm’s behavior. Every time, he offered me more money. I took it, but also gave him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he was one of the nicest people I ever worked with. You know the term, “he would give you the shirt off his back if you asked him for it?” Well, he would have if I had asked him.

His behavior wasn’t unethical or suspicious. It all boiled down to the fact that he lacked a sense of direction in business and could not make a decision. He was very successful helping his clients invest their money, but could not come to terms with moving his company forward. I would propose activity after activity to do, and each time he would hem and haw without realizing any benefit.

Here’s a great example of his lack of business savvy. One time, I arranged an interview with Fortune magazine. Yes, THAT Fortune. The writer had arranged through me to call my client at 1 pm on a Wednesday. Of course, I was beside myself with pride. After all, this was going to give him a huge amount of publicity.

That afternoon around 3:30 or so, I called my client and asked him how it went. The response? “Oh, I got really busy and decided I didn’t have time to talk to him when he called.” Needless to say, the writer did not call back.

So, I resigned him, telling him we had a great run of 10 years and suggesting he seek PR services elsewhere. We ended things on a good note.

Fast forward to October 2013. I ran across his metal logo for letterpress printing in a file drawer, put it in an envelope along with a handwritten note, and sent it to him. In the note, I wrote that I hoped he was doing well and said I knew he could use this much more than I could. Six weeks later on a Friday afternoon, the phone rang and it was his administration assistant – the same one who was there 4 years ago. She said, “Mr. __ got your note and said ‘we ought to get together with Scott.’”

I said, “Great – what does he want to talk about?” There was a stunned silence and she finally said, “I’m not sure – he didn’t say.” My response? “Find out what he wants and you’re welcome to call me back.”

It’s been more than 2 weeks and I haven’t heard from her or my former client.

My point in telling this rambling story? When you resign a client, you have a really good reason for doing so, and as professionals, we have to go with our gut feel for taking an action like this, regardless of the consequences or the potential of lost income.

Based on the fact that his assistant had no idea what was going on, I absolutely made the right decision. Does this scenario sound similar to you? I’d be curious to know.

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