5 Signs It’s Time to End a Business Relationship

Is a client slow to pay? Quick to micromanage? Might be time to wave goodbye.

Published on Jul. 17, 2023
5 Signs It’s Time to End a Business Relationship
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Relationships are at the core of what I do. They’re crucial to my long-term success as CEO of a PR and communications company. 

5 Tips for Ending a Business Relationship

  1. Set a specific meeting to discuss the separation.
  2. Abide by the terms of your contract.
  3. Give yourself and your team time to wrap up whatever commitments you have to the client.
  4. Make sure you are paid for work you’ve done before cutting the cord.
  5. Be polite and professional throughout the process.

However, I learned early on in my career that not all relationships are good. Some actually do more harm by preventing your company from reaching its full potential now and in the future. 

Part of running a business is having to make difficult decisions such as when it’s time to move on from a client. Knowing when to do so can be tricky because relationships always ebb and flow. But when clients causes you to feel constantly drained, they keep you from doing your best work. Even worse, they make you hate your job. You know what you have to do, and here are five signs it’s time to do it.

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They Are Late With Payment 

Money matters. A client who is either always late, missing and/or inconsistent with payments is not worth keeping on your roster. The situation will only cause financial problems and add stress to your day. You need business partners who are reliable and, more importantly, can afford your services over a long duration of time. 

We all are hired to do a job and I actually state in my contracts that I do not start any work until I am paid. Time is money. I’ve heard and witnessed firsthand while working for corporate America that a lot of clients are late with payments and are carrying balances for months at a time and still expecting work to be done. 

That’s unacceptable. If you find yourself in this situation often, then you should probably start off with a warning. If it persists, then pause your work for them (if you can) or fire the client. 


They Have Unrealistic Expectations

Clients who go outside of the scope of work stated in the contract continue to add more tasks to your and your team’s plate and don’t respect boundaries have got to go. They aren’t worth the headache, even if they’re paying you a lot of money.  

That’s because their unreasonable behavior will only get worse over time. This can come in the shape of them expecting your team to be online and accessible 24/7, and that you’ll turn around work in little or no time with very few materials or resources to do so.  

When this does happen, I immediately address the issue by pushing back and setting the record straight on unreasonable demands. The same goes for clients who take forever to make decisions, yet still expect results and work to be completed ahead of schedule. These are huge red flags that should get you thinking about how to part ways. By doing so, you cut your losses and free up time to court more clients.  


They Don’t Know What They Want

Be wary of a client who is always changing their mind. It’s normal and relatively a good thing for a business partner to be flexible and open to new ways of working together. However, lack of  clear direction or clarity on a project can result in a massive time suck of you producing the same work over and over again.

Aimlessness is the name of the game here. With no real goals, it’s impossible to deliver the right result to someone who doesn’t even know what that is. An uncertain client is tough but you can try to establish concrete objectives together. If that no longer is working or they still can’t vocalize what they need, then ending the relationship is unfortunate, yet reasonable. 


They Don’t Ever Listen

You’re the expert. That needs to be established before you start any new business relationship. Of course your client is going to know his or her brand more than you do, but they definitely don’t have your knowledge, experience or resources on the work involved to deliver the impactful results they’re looking for. Otherwise, why did they hire you? 

I’ve even asked this of clients in the past who were guilty of believing they could do what I do. Avoid a micromanager and a partner who constantly rejects your recommendations and suggestions. It’s not worth pursuing this relationship any further for a number of reasons. Whether it’s a sign of disrespect or a simple misunderstanding, a know-it-all client who really knows nothing at all is unprofessional and inefficient for your business.

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They Show Lack of Respect 

Like most relationships that are healthy, beneficial and can sustain hardships, a good client relationship is built on mutual respect. Don’t put up with a bad client who falls under this category and treats you poorly, speaks to you in a way that undermines your work or is borderline abusive. 

I’ve worked at companies where I was verbally abused by clients and treated in a way that affected not only my morale but the entire team I managed. Yet the company still chose to work with these clients. Talk about a bad decision that ultimately resulted in a domino effect of nearly everyone either quitting or being fired. 

When something like this occurs while working for myself, I never hesitate to go my separate way. A lot comes down to trust. When your relationship lacks trust, then chances are your work won’t be respected and you’ll never be able to create innovative ideas or achieve great things together.

When it gets to the point that you just can’t stand working with a client, and it’s starting to harm your integrity, why drag this out into a long painful process? End it. If you find yourself doing things like avoiding meetings whenever you can or you’re dreading your next call or check in, trust your instincts and let them go. 

At the end of the day, you are in charge of your business. Who you wish to work with and how is your choice. Just do so respectfully and in the confinements of your contract to avoid burning any bridges and continuing to produce meaningful work for current and future clients.

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