There are so many reasons why a client may decide they wish to terminate a working agreement with you – these can range from financial, to a change in their business needs, or simply that your businesses have evolved in different ways and you are no longer such a good fit for one another anymore. Losing a client is a realistic part of being in business and needn’t be awkward, so long as things are done professionally and courteously.
I’ve recently seen some great advice shared around good onboarding processes (which is of course important to do well) but notice I’ve seen a lot less about offboarding. I consider offboarding to be just as important a part of good client relationship management. In the same way that good project management will always include a good exit strategy, so should the processes around our agreements with clients.
So, what should be included in an offboarding process for your clients?
Clarification of any final deliverables and the contract end date
At the point at which notice is given by your client, get back to them as soon as possible with a professional (and gracious) response to the reason for the agreement termination. Set out what your understanding is in terms of expectations for the remainder of the contract, and what you commit to deliver before the period is up. Check in with your client that this works for them and negotiate what is possible as appropriate if it doesn’t. Clarify the final date of work (refer back to the notice period within your agreement), and let your client know when to expect your final invoice.
A decent final update and 'handover'
Pass over any key documentation (or links to where this is stored securely) and provide an update on how things are left for each area of the business you’ve been supporting on the contract end date. If there’s anything that needs further attention, ensure this is flagged up.
Clarify the state of play regarding passwords and access to any systems – in most cases, your access to client systems will need to be removed and it’s best done at the end of the agreement.
Relay to your client you will be retaining some of their personal information for the statutory period (in line with GDPR), and be clear about when you have scheduled it to be removed. NB. You can use this date to legitimately check in with your past client.
In terms of the Virtual Assistant work I carry out, I have had clients who’ve asked me to retain access to their social media accounts, website and email as part of their business continuity plans, in case of emergency (so I can go in on their behalf if needed at some future point, when no one else can). This is worth consideration.
Issue final invoice
As per agreed date in exit planning.
Thank your client for their business
It’s only polite to thank your client for their business. You might go into more detail here about what you’ve enjoyed most about working with them.
Request a testimonial
Take the opportunity to ask for a testimonial that you can share within your marketing materials, website and social media accounts (and if you need a particular slant on something, don't be afraid to ask them to comment on something specific). Provide direct links to where you’d most like these testimonials to appear, to a) save your clients time (they’re more likely to do it if they can click and provide there and then), and b) ensure the testimonials are hitting where you need them to be. If you’re after a Google Review, a LinkedIn recommendation and/or a Facebook Review, you’ll need to provide each of the links and state that a cut and paste job across all platforms would be amazing (but of course to any of them would be gratefully received!).
Leave the door open for future projects or referrals
You’ve already established a (hopefully) good working relationship with your client, and this counts for a lot. Remind your client that should they have any future business needs, you would welcome the opportunity to work with them again, and that you also welcome referrals. In the case of my retainer clients, I remind them that I can also work on a project or ad-hoc basis (i.e. short-term), and to get in touch if there’s anything more I can do to support them in the future. Wish them well with next steps and look to keep in touch.
This is what we incorporate into our offboarding processes at Spillane Consulting, but do you have anything to add to the above? Do let us know!