How to Deal With Clients When They Want to Cancel

It’s every independent business 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 ideal clients makes your job so much easier and more enjoyable, am I right?

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 you’re both looking for different things.

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. Here are some tips on how to handle client contract cancellations: 

Are Contracts Really That Big Of a Deal? 

What happens if you don’t have a contract and a client wants to cancel? Not to be a Debbie Downer, but you may be SOL (simply outta luck), my friend. I 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 layout all your ground rules for your working relationship. Without a contract in place, you can be terminated instantly or even miss out on pay.

Contracts establish the boundaries, expectations and obligations between two or more people (parties). In a business relationship, your contract:

  • Removes fear from the equation. Your clients are not afraid of a contract, they understand that it’s a basic part of a working relationship. In fact, they’ll be afraid if you don’t have a contract and might think they’re taking a huge risk by working with you and won’t be protected.

 

  • Establishes expectations for your relationship. This might be your client’s first time working with someone like you. Clients often have no experience with a service provider’s work or process and they might feel left in the dark without a contract that explicitly states what to expect of you and how they can get the most out of their investment.

 

  • Sets clear boundaries when it comes to numbers. This includes the time you put into each project, the number of sessions or meetings included, money owed, when deliverables and payment are due, etc. Get clear on all of it in your online contract

 

  • Safeguards your resources as a business owner. Contracts help you prevent scope creep. Also known as, clients who try to get more from you than you may be willing to give. They want increased access to your time and put you at risk of spending more of your money on team support, product, etc. that you hadn’t initially factored into the price of the project. 

 

  • Establishes liability ahead of time. Think about the pandemic. Events were canceled and it was nobody’s fault. Luckily, our contracts had clauses to protect against cancellation and refunds, which helped both parties be released from the agreement without a huge fight or legal drama. It removed emotion from the equation and made it very clear-cut. With a contract in place, no one can claim they didn’t know what would happen. 

 

  • Acts as a legally enforceable “scapegoat.” Have you ever had to fight with a client or customer over deliverables or payment? With a contract, it’s not a ‘he-said-she-said’ thing. It’s what the contract said: it protects both you and the other party.

Pro Tip: Anyone who works with clients needs a contract. 

Check The Terms Of Your Contract

Okay now let’s say a client wants to cancel on you. Whomp whomp. But if you do have a contract, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Why? Because you’re clearly laid out terms on things 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?

Instead of panicking because a cancellation means you lose out on money or have to deliver assets on a ridiculously tight deadline, you can calmly point to the contract and say, “You’ll still owe $XYZ and I’ll have ABC deliverables to you by LMNOP date.” 

Of course, we always hope it doesn’t come to fight over the details of a contract. Instead, if a client wishes to cancel, there are a few other things you can do before sending the final cancellation notice or deliverables: 

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!

The only exception: your client treated you with disrespect, tried to get out of paying you or made unreasonable demands of your time or services. If that’s the case, you have no obligation to salvage the relationship. Sometimes you just have to walk away and move on.

Be Like Elsa and Let It Go

Ending professional relationships on good terms takes work, but your contracts should do some of the heavy lifting for you. Your online 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 and let it go. That way 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 an Independent business owner. For more tips on managing your client relationships, particularly when business slows down, head over to The Contract Shop® blog, where we share even more resources on growing your client base, navigating sticky situations and thriving as a business owner! 


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Christina Scalera

Christina Scalera is a HoneyBook educator, attorney and founder of The Contract Shop, a contract template store for creative entrepreneurs, wedding professionals, and coaches. She believes every creative deserves not only a dream, but a thriving business too. When she takes off her attorney hat she can be found in random places around the world, designing graphics for her blogs or horsing around in the woods with her neigh-babies.