You're coaching relationship has ended. You've cut the ties. But for some reason your ex-client is still leaving messages on your Facebook wall, emailing with questions and finding little ways to stay connected.
Is this a good thing?
Of course, it's quite natural, after spending six, nine, or even 12 months together starting up a business, for your former client to want—and maybe need—to stay connected with you. After all, you've been the one she has trusted with her business dream, personal fears and joyous celebration. Therefore a short transitional period is to be expected.
But what if this doesn't feel like a normal transition period?
If you completed your coaching contract a month or two ago, the final payment has been received, and your ex is still unwilling to leave the picture, something needs to be done.
When an ex-client refuses to exit, it means one of two things:
- They legitimately need more time with you, or
- They need help moving on.
When a Transition Needs to Be Made
If your former client simply needs more coaching time with you, that's easy enough to build in to your existing business coaching services.
Some coaches I know design into the back-end of their coaching relationship an obligatory transitional business coaching package. This is usually a three-month coaching package that clients know they will sign up for as soon as the traditional coaching package has been completed. It is not an extended coaching package (offered if your client needs an additional month or two to complete the original coaching project). Instead, its emphasis is on weaning your client off regular meetings and involvement with you toward greater independence and self-reliance.
If your client is used to meeting with you four times a month, then for the first month have her meet with you two times. After that, meet twice again at three-week intervals. Then, your client will have a final meeting with you one month later, for a total of five transitional coaching sessions.
One of the things I like to do after I've completed a coaching package with my clients is to offer a six-month unlimited email coaching support package for $75/month. If, during this time, my clients want any additional coaching sessions, then they are billed for each session as they occur. During this time, no new projects are started or ideas floated. The email coaching support package is only to be used for residual questions they may have related to the coaching package they've just completed.
When Boundaries Need to Be Set
If the transitional business coaching package doesn't do the trick, consider that your ex may need help moving on. If this is the case, boundaries must be set. Not only for your sanity but also for your ex-client's personal independence and business success. Check to make sure that:
1. Your ex knows it's over.
Sometimes we, as business coaches, think we’ve clearly delivered a message when, in fact, we haven’t. So if your ex keeps hanging around, refusing to exit, make sure you’ve presented the message that the coaching relationship is now complete.
If necessary, schedule a short coaching call (15-20 minutes) and have a “sit-down” that leaves nothing open to interpretation. The point is: you need to confirm that the business coaching relationship is over and make sure there’s no ambiguity about that.
2. Your ex doesn't think you're friends.
Because of the close relationship business coaches share with their clients, a client may come to see your business relationship as a personal friendship. While it is possible to become friends with your ex after the coaching relationship has ended, the coaching relationship must come to an end first.
That means that a period of time must elapse between when your role as business coach has ended and a new relationship as a friend can be entertained. How long? Long enough for your client to fully become an ex. Long enough that you don't feel compelled to inquire, "How's your business going?" and she's not tempted to ask, "Can I just ask you a question about my business?"
Being a business coach is a fabulously rewarding profession. You get to help people take their dream of becoming a small business owner and make it a reality. Yet, there are times when ambiguity and insecurity arise, especially at the ending of a coaching relationship. When that happens, make sure you help your client become a happy, satisfied ex by providing a transitional business coaching package that ends the coaching relationship and fosters independence and success.
Dr. Susan L. Reid is a business coach and consultant for entrepreneurial women starting businesses. She is the award-winning author of “Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Journey to Business Success,” and has a free chapter PDF of her most popular chapter: “Doing What You Love: Multiple Streams of Passion” for those who want see how persistence, patience and practice can really pay off.