Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. Even the best relationships can eventually – and unforeseeably – turn sour. Maybe it’s not hostile, maybe you just grow apart from one another. Perhaps your priorities change, or they just can’t give you enough attention anymore. Like the final stages of a romance, sometimes relationships with clients just have to come to an end. Break-ups are never easy, but here are a few tips on how to survive them with your heart and career intact.

Be honest

Whatever the reason for having to break up with a client, being honest is the best way to go about it. Present the basic facts as to why you’re moving on. For example, a client may no longer be worth the amount of time you spend on their work. Perhaps they don’t pay as well as other clients, or perhaps the amount of work they provide is no longer sustainable. Either way, simply explain the situation to them. It may lead them to offer a higher rate, or at the very least will help inform their future hiring decisions. Sometimes it can be difficult to be honest, especially when the break-up have been made necessary by the client’s awkward behaviour. It may seem easier to make a polite excuse and leave the relationship without fuss. But some clients may not even realise that their behaviour is unacceptable. Enterprises without prior experience of hiring freelancers may not realise that they cannot treat you in the same way as they would an employee. Whatever the problem is – tell them.

Recommendations work both ways

Typically a good client relationship ends with a recommendation of your services. This can work both ways, and by offering to write a recommendation of the client you may be helping them improve their recruitment in future. Personal relationships also come into play here. For example, offer to write recommendations for the individual employees you worked with. Websites like LinkedIn make this particularly easy to do, and a great opportunity to build a professional network.

Don’t burn your bridges

While both parties in a broken love affair need to move on eventually, the professional client relationship could not be more different. Leaving a client doesn’t have to mean leaving them forever. Right now, you may have to reduce your workload by getting rid of a client, but in the future you may find yourself in need of work. Keep a line of communication open if possible. Social media offers a great way to do this, but if you have a good personal relationship with the client, an occasional email or even a phone call is better.

Be reasonable

Choose your timing carefully when breaking up with a client. Quitting in the middle of a project or a particularly busy period won’t go down well. Neither will an unreasonably short notice period. Freelance relationships are often ambiguous, undefined or flexible when it comes to notice periods, but that is no reason to leave a client in the lurch. Offer a reasonable period of notice, and assist with any handover of work that be necessary. However you manage a client relationship break-up, remember that as a virtual assistant your professional reputation is at stake – especially if you are self-employed.

Have you had to break up with a client recently? Share your experience in a comment below