Skip to main content

Ask the Experts: How to Break Up With a Client

Image by cookie-studio on Freepik

by Veronica Boutelle

Dear dogbiz,

I pride myself on being able to work effectively with my clients, even when it’s tough. And generally, that’s what happens. Recently, however, I’ve been working with a new client and it’s become increasingly challenging. 

There have been some scheduling issues, which I’m happy to accommodate (within reason). But after canceling the last three sessions, they’ve also decided to return to punitive measures and equipment I don’t use or recommend. Despite recurring conversations, I just don’t feel they are able to get on board with my approach. I also think it’s confusing for the dog with all this chopping and changing (I’m the third trainer they’ve seen this year).

My client list is packed at the moment and while I feel guilty about it, I don’t think I’m the right fit for them. Is it ever OK to say goodbye to clients? And how do I approach this conversation?


Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Hi Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,

We hear you—breakups can be tough! And while all our clients present us with opportunities to grow and problem solve, this can be easier said than done. Regardless of what you decide to do, it may be a perfect time to consider ways to prevent these “wrong fit” situations from the beginning. When we design our websites, marketing materials and services, it’s helpful to keep our ideal clients in mind and focus on messaging that will be attractive to them. Similarly, setting clear expectations about how we work and the methods we use makes conversations about these areas easier later on.

And yet … we may still end up in situations such as the one you’re describing, despite good intentions from both sides. First and foremost, keep your own well-being in mind. If you’re losing sleep and finding interactions with a client stressful and upsetting, this is an important red flag to attend to. Sometimes a series of these more challenging situations can make us feel overwhelmed and burnt out. Which is why it’s generally best to handle any tricky conversations after a good night of sleep. Talking it out with a friend or colleague may also help to clarify your thinking.

It’s common that dog trainers want to help everyone they can, and care deeply about their human and canine clients. The reality is that there will always be people and dogs you can’t quite reach. Your time will likely be better spent focusing on what you can change, as well as working on cases that bring you and your clients satisfaction and joy. So, yes, it is OK to say goodbye! If you still feel there is a glimpse of potential, however, it may be beneficial to outline a plan for going forward, reiterating the methods you will use and what you expect from them in terms of input, schedules and goals. It may also be an opportunity to explore any barriers with them. What motivated them to return to the old methods? Did something happen that scared them, such as being pulled to the ground on a recent walk?

When it comes to final farewells, avoid making up excuses or dragging things on for too long. If you say you no longer have time, for example, but then a friend of theirs books you next week, this won’t look very professional. Instead, aim for transparent, polite but clear communication. You don’t need to go into a huge amount of detail or be critical of their efforts. If you’re speaking to them on the phone, writing down a few bullet points in advance can help keep you on track. Bringing things back to the original training plan or agreement (if you have one) can be helpful, as this may help illustrate why the fit isn’t the right one. Reiterate that you want them and their dog to be successful in the long term. Where possible, provide some alternative options for them. This may include an online course, list of resources and/or another trainer in your area.

Stick to your guns and good luck!

The dogbiz team

Learn how dogbiz can help your business succeed:

Have a question for the business experts at dogbiz?

Submit your question for consideration to [email protected]

Veronica Boutelle MA Ed CTC is founder and co-president of dog*biz, and author of How to Run Your Dog Business and co-author of Minding Your Dog Business. dog*biz offers professionally designed positive reinforcement dog training class curricula, including Open-Enrollment Puppy, Open-Enrollment Basic Manners, and short Topics classes built for retention.

Spread the love