I’ve just survived my first month as an empty nester. My daughters are fully entrenched in their respective freshman and sophomore years at college and my husband, the dog and I are getting used to our home without their clutter, their nocturnal lifestyle and their energy.
There are things we like – more time, more space, more control over our schedules, less food to buy, less sleep to lose when waiting up for them, and less stuff lying on counters, tables and stairs.
Overall, though, it stinks. People tell me it gets easier so I trust that it will, and the reality is that I would not have it any other way. They are where they need to be – Siena College and Boston University, by the way (love to sneak in a proud mama reference wherever I can).
The goodbyes were necessary. They were healthy. They were important.
While there is a clarity to the college goodbye – there is a date and time and drop-off location so you can prepare and execute it, even if you don’t feel fully ready. Many other goodbyes, however, can be significantly more complicated.
How do you know, for example, if you should say goodbye to a client of yours?
Here are three things that a college goodbye shares with a client goodbye. Seeing the similarities may just help you take the action you need.
1. Your relationship has run its natural course, and things need to change.
Parent-child relationships are forever bonds but there comes a time when the child needs to separate for his own good. Staying at home would stifle her growth and is no longer the best option for the relationship. In your organization, you may find that there comes a time when a client separating from your firm is the best step because you have done all you can for them under the current arrangement.
Even when you have performed flawlessly, a goodbye may be necessary for the clients to achieve their goals. As an agency providing outsourced marketing services for clients, we have often said goodbye to wonderful clients because they were in a place where hiring an in-house marketing team was the next natural step for them.
2. Staying together would create more negative experiences than positive ones.
Once your child reaches an adult age, it can be stressful to live together as you have in earlier years. I have heard many parents say, “I was very sad to see them go, but it was time for them to go.” And the children agree. After a certain point, the relationship is healthier with some space and separation. With a client relationship, when you reach a stage where there are more times of disconnect than there are times of synergy, it may be time to think about separating.
Are you finding that a client is resisting your ideas, pushing the boundaries of the engagement, or making unrealistic demands? Taking note of these situations is important as they may be signs that a split could be a good option.
3. A milestone has been achieved.
Your child applies to college, gets accepted and graduates from high school. These are very clear signs that the goodbye is imminent. Your family has achieved the goal of preparing for college. While emotions are mixed and the experience is bittersweet, there is no doubt that it’s time for the goodbye. Your client engagements may have similarly defined milestones. A project is completed successfully. A merger is finalized. A business is launched. The goals you were working toward with your client have been reached.
While it may not mean that a full goodbye to your client is necessary, achieving a milestone means the engagement should be reviewed and renegotiated as needed. This can be a great opportunity to create a new project or engagement together. It’s a good time to evaluate whether you want to continue working with a client, and if so, what that looks like.
Making a Graceful Exit
Once you know a client goodbye is imminent, think about how to create a smooth successful transition. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- One party in the relationship may not be ready for the separation. Being sensitive to a client who may be apprehensive or even angry about the goodbye will help you communicate and plan in a way that makes everyone more comfortable.
- Choose a live conversation over a written notice as the first communication. If you ever watched Sex in the City, you know that it is not cool to break up with someone in a Post-It. It’s also not cool to let a customer know in an email that you are ending an engagement. Have the conversation as early as possible and of course follow up in writing.
- Tie your engagement up in a bow so that there is a clean, positive ending. Transition all information and work in a generous, transparent way so your client has everything they need to move on successfully. If things are ending well, ask for a testimonial or if the person would be willing to be a reference. Thank them for their business, maybe even consider a farewell gift of appreciation.
- Take any lessons from the goodbye into your future engagements. When I said goodbye to both of my daughters on the same day last month, I was reminded once again how fast time flies and to cherish the moments I have with family and friends. When you are separating from a client, you may realize ways you can onboard, serve or manage client relationships that will help with future retention.
Businesses spend a lot of time planning for more “hellos” to new clients. Investing in a strong “goodbye” process can pay off as well.