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How to Know When It’s Time to End a Client Relationship…And Do It the Right Way

One of the toughest crossroads you’ll ever face in your career as a beauty professional is the decision to end a relationship with a client. Whether you call it “breaking up with a client” or “firing a client” or simply call it “going your own separate ways,” it’s a difficult decision that never feels good. It’s a tough conversation to have face-to-face, and even more challenging to phrase correctly when ending the relationship via email. Breaking up is hard to do, but there’s a right way to do it. In this post, we’ll give you the tools to help evaluate your client relationships to decide if it’s time to throw in the towel, and if so—how to do it gracefully and tactfully.


Identifying Client Relationships That Don’t Serve You

With some clients, it’s easy to know that it’s time to end the relationship, such as clients who are verbally abusive, arrive for appointments under the influence, or physically endanger you or your co-workers. Thankfully, most service professionals only encounter this type of client a few times throughout the course of their career. With most others, it can be more difficult to know when it’s time to end a client relationship. For these, it’s often easier to identify patterns of behavior, and the consequences of those patterns.

Sample Scenario: The Retail Returner

For example, you may have a client who is a revolving door of purchased/returned products. With this kind of client, the pattern is buying retail products from you, products for which you may earn a commission, or that contribute directly to your income. The consequence of the pattern is that the retail products are used and returned, sometimes many weeks or months after their purchase. Depending on how you’re paid, this means that a returned retail item may be deducted from your paycheck later, if you’re paid by commission. If you’re an independent professional, you absorb the cost of the returned product, and have essentially “paid” for the client to “try it” without buying it. Either way you look at this sample scenario: The Retail Returner costs you money with their pattern, and consistently affects your ability to earn a living.

Sample Scenario: The Ghost Client

The Ghost Client consistently cancels their appointment last minute, or simply doesn’t show up, despite all the appointment confirmations and reminders you send. The Ghost Client may also be angry when they’re charged cancellation or no-show fees, despite your salon’s stated policies on late cancellations and no-shows. In this example, the pattern is consistently disrespecting your time as a professional by failing to provide adequate notice of a cancellation. The consequence of this pattern is that for these cancelled or no-show appointments, you are unable to earn income you’d anticipated, and in some cases, you may even lose money on the incomplete service.

Sample Scenario: The Unhappy Camper

The Unhappy Camper is consistently dissatisfied with the services they’ve received. Their dissatisfaction may manifest in a variety of ways: they may complain and try to lowball your prices, to try and get you to give them free products to soothe their disappointment, or to “come in again to fix it” (at no cost.) In this example, the pattern is that no matter what services you perform or the details you collect to “do it better than last time,” The Unhappy Camper consistently complains about your services … but keeps re-scheduling with you. The consequence of this pattern is that their dissatisfaction costs you money. Whether you lose money by charging less for your services to soothe troubled waters, lose money by providing retail products for free, or lose money by providing a second service appointment at no cost, the underlying consequence is that The Unhappy Camper impacts your ability to earn a living.

The 80/20 Rule

 The main reason service professionals cite for keeping a client that they should “break up with” is that they’re afraid to lose the income from that client. Here’s some food for thought: if a client actively costs you money in the form of returned retail products, cancelled appointments, or “freebies” to keep them happy—are you really losing money by losing that client? There’s a business theory called the 80/20 Rule (also called the Pareto Principle). This theory estimates that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients. That 20% clientele is made up of your ideal clients. By letting go of client relationships that don’t serve you—or worse, actively cost you money—you’ll free up time to devote to better serving your 20% – and to make space on your calendar for more of your ideal clients.


Stay Committed to Your Decision

Once you’ve decided to end a client relationship, stay committed to your decision. This may be challenging for you, because with the end in sight, many clients may resolve to change, to avoid ending your relationship. Here, you’ll need to use your intuition to decide whether it’s worth giving the relationship another chance. There are cases where your client may truly not understand how much extra stress and labor they are causing, and an “end of relationship” conversation can put things back on the right track. However, there are also problem clients (every service professional has at least one!) who will see you giving them another chance as an opportunity to “push the envelope” further. Only you can decide which category your problem client falls under, so let your industry experience be your guide, and trust your instincts.


The 5 Questions to Ask Before Ending Client Relationships

Before you agree to give your client relationship another try, ask yourself these 5 key questions:

  • Are they an ideal client who re-books regularly, refers new clients to me, purchases retail products, or provides 5-star reviews for my services?
  • Do I spend more time trying to make this client happy (for free) than I do servicing other paying clients?
  • Does this client complain every time my prices increase, or protest being charged accordingly for extra services they request?
  • Do negative interactions with this client linger in my mind, long after the appointment is over?
  • Am I happy when I see this client’s name on my calendar?

If the answer to one or more of the above questions is “No,” then your instinct to let this client relationship go is probably the right decision. If you’ve been wondering after every appointment whether it’s time to let this client go—your instincts are probably right. Remember, every client relationship is made up of give-and-take for both parties. On one hand, yes, you’re providing services in exchange for money. On the other hand, there are other clients who would also pay you for your services without causing you extra stress, extra labor, or lowballing the value of the services you provide. You know the old saying: Clients are like buses—when one leaves, another one is on their way to arrive. After all, you can’t make room on your busy schedule for more of your ideal clients while you’re hanging on to client relationships that you’ve both outgrown.


Parting Ways, Professionally & Gracefully

It’s important to remember that even if you do everything in your power to end a working relationship with grace and professionalism, some clients may respond with anger. In such situations, have an action plan to prevent drawing negative attention to your business, and respond with diplomacy. By following the checklist below, whether face-to-face, on the phone, or by email, you’ll be able to end most client relationships on the right note.



Checklist for the Ending a Client Relationship


  • Provide enough notice for the client to make other arrangements.
  • Always stay calm and professional.
  • Don’t burn bridges or place blame.
  • Be honest, but neutral. (“I don’t think I can deliver on your expectations.”)
  • Give recommendations and referrals to other service professionals.
  • Provide any formulas or client history requested.
  • Sincerely thank them for what you’ve learned during your professional relationship.


Template Script for Ending a Client Relationship

Below, we’ve provided a template script for ending a client relationship the right way. Feel free to cut-and-paste and adjust to use this script as an email template, or to refer to when ending a client relationship in person or by phone.

I’ve been giving our relationship some thought. After reviewing my notes for the time we’ve worked together, I noticed a pattern of you not being happy with your services. It’s important to me that my clients are pleased with my services, and it’s clear that isn’t happening in our relationship.

After giving this a lot of thought, I’ve decided to retire myself as your stylist. I’d be happy to pair you up with someone else here at Acme Studios, make the introduction, and forward your client files to make the transition as easy as possible. If you decide you’d rather visit another salon, I can provide some recommendations, as well as your formula and client history for your next stylist to refer to.

I appreciate the time we’ve had together, and all that I’ve learned from our relationship. I wish you well in the future and hope that you’ll understand that this decision is intended to benefit us both in the long run.

Vagaro logo Ending a professional relationship with a client is never easy—but it doesn’t have to be intimidating, either. Vagaro makes it easy to keep detailed client notes, collect client information with forms, review customer purchase records, and client histories to help you determine if it’s time to let a client go—as well as effective ways to promote your services and attract new clients.

Header Image: @gomobilephotography via Twenty20

Icons: Mia Montemayor via Vagaro