How to Break Up With Your Difficult Clients (You Know The Ones I’m Talking About)

I’ve had a few of my pet business coaching clients want to start their year off with the healthy business activity of letting some difficult clients go.

It’s a delicate topic and one that has to be handled gently and carefully. I’m sorry to say that letting challenging clients go is is not for the faint of heart! But letting difficult clients go that have sapped your energy is always worth it.

Letting challenging clients go frees up your time, your energy and creates space in your business to take on an Ideal Client who you love working with. It’s worth it.

Because here’s the thing: your difficult client might be costing you more money than they are bringing to the business.

When we have a difficult client we often spend a lot on self care activities to try to manage the stress the challenging clients are causing.

Money from that client gets spent on massages, therapy sessions, ice cream and any number of things that we may give ourselves to ease the pain that the difficult client brings us. And yes, these things may numb the pain (for awhile) but they don’t create permanent help. And often the difficult clients can become even more challenging the longer we work with them. Dealing with a difficult client on an ongoing basis can create less hair (from all the hair-pulling!) and more neck tension. Not good…

But don’t worry. There is hope.

You don’t have to keep a difficult client.

But you do need to do it ever-so-gently.

It’s important to think of your client as an egg when you are getting ready to let them go. (Yes, think of that pain-in-the-butt client as a breakable egg.) If you had an egg in your hand you wouldn’t just throw that egg down. You would place it gently down so it doesn’t break. Same with your challenging clients.

When you break up with a client, it can bring up feelings of rejection for them. And that hurt feeling can cause them to write nasty reviews about your company. And we don’t want that. So let them go ever so gently (like an egg) if you want a peaceful and drama-free breakup.

Here’s How to Break Up With a Difficult Client:

1) It’s always best to ‘break up’ over the phone than email or text and you want to start the conversation with honest appreciation. Dive deep within and find something that you’ve enjoyed when you’ve worked with them or their pet (Fluffy is such a great dog, you’ve been so generous with me, I really appreciate ____).

2) Be firm, but compassionate. Do not use wishy-washy language (don’t say ‘I think maybe, perhaps, it’s not a good fit’) and don’t leave wiggle room for them to think you’ll work with them again. Saying that you don’t think it’s quite the right fit will give you the least amount of push back from your difficult clients because it makes it less about them and more about it not being quite the right match.

3) Try to sound breezy and light when you are talking, even if you’re not feeling that. I get it. The frustration with this difficult client has probably been there for awhile but don’t let that affect your delivery when you are letting them go. If you are snarky with them it could ruin your reputation and you don’t want that. Be understanding and sympathetic because here’s the reality: they are probably going to miss working with you and it’s a loss for them. You may not miss them (not at all!) but they (and their pets) will most likely miss you.

4) Don’t blame. Playing the blame game isn’t necessary and it will only hurt you in the end. Be mature and adult about the situation and keep your cool. Again, light and breezy. Ahhhh…

5) Keep your conversation with them brief. Do not go into a long-winded explanation about why you are letting them go. Be honest and clear and keep the conversation short.

6) Be professional. If you’re already partway through caring for their pets it’s important to complete the job. If you haven’t yet worked together offer to refund them their full deposit and help them find someone else who will meet their needs. If they’re going to have to scramble to get care for their pets, try to give them as much notice as possible.

7) An “Affirmation Sandwich” is always the way to go when breaking up with a client. End the conversation with another positive authentic and honest affirmation about your experience in working with them. Something like “I really enjoyed working with your pets” can be a truthful, simple way to end the call (leave out the part about the humans being challenging!) It’s important to leave people better than when you found them.

Good luck! And be sure to reward yourself with something really special after you’ve let a challenging client go. You deserve it.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pam Leary January 3, 2018, 1:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing this great information. I’ve had to stop working with several clients. The majority of the clients were not paying me on time – or not paying at all. After producing multiple invoices, (some with late payment fees) and constant reminders it became way too much work to chase them for payment and I felt this was very disrespectful of me and my time. I had one client who tried very hard to bait me into a heated discussion, but I ended it with thanking him for allowing me to enjoy and care for his dog and wished him good luck with finding a replacement. Another client accused me of providing her dog with the wrong medication and stated I caused her dog to go blind. She left me a horrid VM and wouldn’t return my calls for 3 days. I lost sleep and became very depressed that I may have harmed her dog. When I showed her the instructions and medications she set out for me, it was very clear she had made the error and it was her fault the dog had problems with her eyes. Despite the fact that she blamed me and wouldn’t discuss for 3 days, if she had apologized and had been sincere I might have continued to work for her. Her response was, “I just don’t know how those wrong instructions were left for you.” Ba-Bye!

    • Rose Connolly August 10, 2019, 6:02 pm

      Pam don’t let them get your down. You’re probably a really nice lady.
      I just cancelled someone that signed my pet contract and I got $ too.
      My intuition told me not to take it and I returned the $ the next day.
      feel really good about this decision..Rose Connolly

  • Pat Blaney January 5, 2018, 2:35 pm

    Just did this today with a client with email. I’ve spent so much time stressing over this client and her passive aggressive behavior. She is not very good at communicating in person or over the phone so thought it best to be able to send my thoughts to her. Just reaffirmed my company’s desire to provide the best possible service and that as I review her feedback, I feel that we are not meeting her expectations. I told her we love her dogs but want her to be happy and that I would totally understand if we are not the best fit for her.

  • June January 8, 2018, 6:31 am

    I had an emotional vampire of a client and did not realize it until much later on. I ended up sending her a letter of termination of service. She treated me like an employee. Was very invasive in her questioning, etc and was very underhanded in a lot of ways. Believe me, if you have a client that is no good, let them go. Then write out gratitude of the assignment and highlight the good in the job and move on.

  • Kathleen December 18, 2018, 1:05 pm

    I think this is important too, even with clients who you love, but for reasons unrelated to them, you need to let them go. I’m going through this with one of my long time clients. I love them and their pup, but I’m tightening my service area and it’s just too far. I don’t want to let them go, but the stress of driving and crunch time getting to other walks is too much. I know I’m doing the right thing, but dang it’s rough!! I need to get a template/outline for how I want it handle this!

  • Rose April 26, 2019, 10:32 am

    I just did a client with several pets for the first time and she started complaining a week after service. I did everything she asked down to the detail. I just sent her
    a termination e mail and I feel so good. the people who complain are women,
    rarely a male client . fyi.

    • Carla Louise July 1, 2019, 7:34 am

      So far I have had passive-aggressive male clients who are not communicative at all, but then leave me bad feedback wayyyyy later about my service. He held a grudge about something I thought was okay. He’s the type of person who acts nice when you meet him then stirs up trouble via text/call. If an owner is two-faced & doesn’t communicate – male or female – we don’t do business.

    • Carla Louise July 1, 2019, 7:35 am

      Sorry, you said rarely* not only. For me it has been a bit of both, but lately guys are the culprits!

  • Rose April 26, 2019, 10:35 am

    Thank you for all the wonderful and honest comments from pet sitters..yes, we
    are all in the same boat, aren’t we? Good to know I am not alone in
    what I deal with. I never have $ issues with clients. All payments are paid
    2 weeks in advance with no refund. (Written in the contract.)

  • Cat July 13, 2020, 9:23 am

    Thanks for helpful information. My goal is never to upset my clients. Even the ones I find challenging. To be fair, they are far and few in between as just as my clients screen me…I screen them. One thing I find has helped me as see a lot of notes here and elsewhere – many have issues with billing. I never did. First I wanted to make it easy for me-I didn’t want to have to remember who needs to pay/who is really late in paying/who isn’t responding to requests for payment…I collect payment on 1st day of service or before for overnight pet sitting/pet visits and for dog walks I break it down for monthly or weekly and I have all clients pay me on the 1st of the month or if they pay weekly I have them pay me on Monday of each week. Occasionally with clients it just has worked out Friday is best due to schedule/timing. But that is rare. Christmas -when I first started out-I got many cancellations and several people didn’t want to pay due to my cancellation policy/timing they still owed. So I collect 50% upfront to book major holiday (I give them a bit of time to book once they call me to see if I am available.). Closer to the date that timeframe becomes less. And just before the major holiday I have all clients pay me the remaining balance. Now I am 1 person so my time is very short and valueless and I can’t get that time back if someone cancels last minute. My clients understand. And as an added bonus I give them a discount on their next visit just soften the blow. I dont want to chase down clients. I can but I dont want to.

  • Amanda Lynch August 30, 2020, 2:51 pm

    I just had a client accuse me of not staying over at the house because she says she came home to dried dog pee everywhere. When I tried to call to discuss, she refused to answer only telling me she couldn’t talk right then. I havent heard back about it either. Im really upset because I was there but I have no way of proving that I was unless one of the neighbors saw my car. She’s one of the few clients who won’t pay me half upfront but rather by PayPal after. Im thinking of firing her as a client because this is the second time she’s accused me of not taking good care of her dogs. It really upsets me because I do my absolute best by all of my clients.

    • Jenny V September 12, 2021, 8:39 pm

      Amanda, wow that is horrible! I am sorry you are dealing with that. Thanks would definitely lose her as a client, I currently am thinking of losing a client of mine. She is just an unhappy difficult person and she actually seems jealous that her dogs like me so much, it’s quite sad actually. Anyway, do right by you, only you know how you truly treat her dogs so just cut her loose and move on to someone who appreciates your service!

  • Lynn April 29, 2021, 2:32 pm

    Wow!!! I can not believe I found this article of yours! My goodness it is such good info! This is happening to me today. I texted because this client unfortunately is very manipulative and I can’t handle that professionally. The saga continues and I will be using your advice !