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What Happens When a Client Wants to Cancel?

What Happens When a Client Wants to Cancel?

It’s every small biz owner’s dream: To have a roster of clients who you love to work with — and hopefully, who love working with you, too. Working with awesome people makes your job so much easier and more enjoyable, amirite?

No matter how great your clients are, the reality is, you’ll have to cut ties with a few of them eventually. Maybe something huge and unexpected comes up. (Lookin’ at you, COVID-19.) Maybe they have cash flow issues. Or maybe it’s a cliché breakup reason: you’re both looking for different things, they need space, it’s not you it’s them, etc.

Whatever the reason, you’ll likely have at least one client who wants to break their contract with you at some point. It helps to be prepared for that situation before it happens...which is why we’re sharing some tips on how to handle client contract cancellations below.

Hold up: What if you don’t have a contract?

What happens if you don’t have a contract and a client wants to cancel? Not to be Debbie Downers, but you may be SOL, my friend.

We can’t say often enough how important it is to use contracts in your business. Contracts protect both you and your clients, set boundaries, and lay out all your ground rules for your working relationship. Without a contract in place, you can be terminated instantly or even miss out on pay.

Check the terms of your contract

If you do have a contract, breathe a sigh of relief. You got this. Then, check the terms of your contract that affect client cancellation, like:

  • Giving notice.  Does your client want to bail two days before a deadline? Or are they giving you the required two weeks notice for canceling?
  • Pay.  Is there a clause that says they have to pay up for any work you’ve already provided?
  • Final deliverables.  What does your client receive in the event of cancellation?

Brush up on the terms of your contract so you’re prepared to discuss everything with your client before you part ways.

Because you don’t have a contract that explains how cancellation will go beforehand, it’s up to you and your client to hash things out on the fly.

Try to fix the issue before canceling

Ending a professional relationship is no fun, especially if a request to cancel comes out of nowhere. However, it may help to think of it as working with your client rather than butting heads against them. 

Try to understand your client’s reasons for wanting to cancel. Who knows, maybe you can come up with a plan together for solving an issue instead of canceling outright. You may be able to reschedule your services to a different date, change up payment terms, or restructure your agreement so you can continue to work together.

Don’t burn any bridges

How you handle a cancellation is just as important as what you do. Be firm but still friendly when discussing your contract or negotiating a different agreement. Keep things professional and check your emotions at the door. Your client may want to come back to you in the future!

One exception? If your client treated you with disrespect, tried to get out of paying you, or made unreasonable demands of your time or services, you have no obligation to salvage the relationship. Sometimes you just have to walk away and move on.

Be like Elsa… and let it goooo

Ending professional relationships on good terms takes work, but your contracts should do some of the heavy lifting for you. Your contracts should remind your client of their obligations, and if anything, can be used as a jumping off point for restructuring or changing your agreement.

Remember not to take cancellations personally. Sometimes you have to channel your inner Elsa from Frozen: let it go so you and your business can continue to grow and thrive.  

Handling cancellations with a cool head is part of good client management. (Just one of the many hats you probably wear as a small biz owner.) For more tips on managing your client relationships, particularly when business slows down, head over to this blog


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