Breaking up is never easy, especially when it means cutting ties with a freelance client. That being said, sometimes it just has to be done…as in, finally making the choice to fire a freelance client.
After all, difficult clients are inevitable when you’re a full-time freelance writer. From the overly clingy client to the ones that dodge your calls and emails like it’s their full-time job, freelancers just don’t have the time to waste on a bad freelance client.
Whether you’re currently dealing with a bad client or just want to be proactive, knowing how to end the relationship the right way is important. Taking the right steps to fire a freelance client will ensure the relationship comes to a close without burning any bridges.
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When Should You Fire a Client?
I personally had to fire a client because they were awful at communication and project timelines. The kind of communication where they ghosted me for a solid three weeks. This particular client also had no respect for my time or schedule and was always behind on getting me the information needed to complete their work. At one point, we were three months behind schedule on one of their projects. Terrible, right?
The truth is, there are a lot of reasons you feel like it’s time to fire a client. Whether you’re no longer get excited to work on their projects, you just don’t click, or they’re an all-around bad freelance client.
You may want to fire a freelance client if they…
- Repeatedly refusing to pay an invoice on time.
- Frequently ask for a discount or are unwilling to pay your rates.
- Push the limits of your professional relationship.
- Don’t respect your working process or schedule.
- Try to scope creep.
- Are rude to you or your team.
- Micromanages the projects they hire you to do.
- Can’t explain what they want and get frustrated when you don’t meet their expectations.
- Become too clingy (calling outside of your normal business hours).
- Become demanding or difficult to work with.
- Ask for work to be done outside of your niche/area of expertise.
Maybe your client is guilty of one of these things, maybe it’s a combination of two or three. While you may be eager to wash your hands of them, there are a couple of things to do before finalizing your break up.
1. Evaluate the Problem
Dealing with a bad freelance client can be extremely frustrating. It may be tempting to just call it quits, but I recommend taking time to really evaluate the issue first.
- Why are you frustrated? It’s completely understandable to be upset with a client who makes your job more difficult. But, you don’t want to let your emotions take over and cause you to do something rash.
- Was this a one-time issue or has it happened repeatedly? If it was a one-time hiccup, it may be worth trying to resolve the issue before ending the relationship.
- Would you still want to work with the client if the issue was resolved? If you said no, there may be an underlying issue at play. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with work. Before you fire the freelance client, consider outsourcing some work. Other things to try include taking a break for some self-care or journaling to work through the problem. If you said yes, try to fix the problem by addressing it with your client.
- Can you afford to lose the income from the client? If not, you may need to hold on until you can replace the income you’d lose. This is also a good time to start making a plan for the future so you don’t have to worry about your finances if you have to fire another client. A good rule of thumb is to set aside enough money to cover you for three months.
2. Try to Fix It
Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. If your client starts exhibiting the warning signs of a bad freelance client, they may not even be aware they’re doing it. This is especially true if they’ve never worked with a freelancer before or are completely new to running their own business.
Sometimes all it takes to fix the problem is to address it. Before ending the relationship schedule a call with the client. Let them know your concerns and suggest some solutions to make things run a little smoother. The phone call is bound to be a little uncomfortable but if the relationship (and the income) can be salvaged, it’s worth it!
How to Fire a Freelance Client
Once you’ve made the decision to fire a client, here’s what to do.
Make a Plan
Choosing to fire a freelance client also means losing income. That being said, it’s a good idea to plan how you’re going to make up for the loss. Take some time to evaluate how much of your income is from the client, as well as how much time is devoted to completing their work. This will give you a starting place when planning how you’ll replace that income.
- How many packages/individual services you will need to sell
- How many hours you will need to fill
You’ll also feel much more prepared to let the client go, which can make the process a lot less daunting.
Now that you know what you need to do, don’t wait. You should start pitching potential clients now so you can reduce the time you’re between clients.
Review Your Contract
Always have a copy of the client contract on hand. Not only is it helpful to review the terms of the contract, but you also won’t have to search for it if your client has questions related to the contract.
One term to be extra cautious about is the termination clause. (Don’t have a termination clause yet? Add one!)
The termination clause should include:
- Who can terminate the contract
- Reasons termination may take place
- The notice required + how it should be given (example: 30-day notice in writing)
- Payment requirements for work already completed
- Termination fees
Some of these elements may change depending on the client, scope of the project, or cost. For that reason, it’s helpful to review that client’s contract to ensure you’re following the agreed-upon terms.
Practice What You’ll Say
Most of the time, a client will have an inkling that the relationship isn’t going well. Other times, the client may feel blindsided or angry. Either way, it’s important to be prepared for any questions the client may have. Take a few moments to think about what you would like to know if you were in their shoes. It may even help to type up a list so that you have the answers ready to go.
Pro Tip: Pay attention to what the client asks during the call and consider adding those questions to the FAQ page of your website or welcome packet.
Schedule a Call with the Client
Look, I get it.
No one wants to have hard conversations, especially when it comes time to fire a freelance client.
Sure, it may be easier to send a quick break up email but I don’t recommend it. First, a phone call or video conference is much more professional than an email. Second, it’s easy to misread the tone or intention of an email. The last thing you want to do is burn a bridge because the client thought you came across totally different than you intended.
So, suck it up and schedule a call or video conference. While it may feel uncomfortable, you won’t have to worry about something being taken out of context or something you wrote coming back to haunt you.
Give Them Plenty of Notice
If you’re excusing yourself because you don’t think you’re the right fit for the project and/or the client, a lengthy notice probably isn’t necessary (depending on the contract’s termination clause). In that case, turn over any of the work you’ve completed and only bill for the work that was done. If possible, recommend them to another freelancer (only if you feel like they’re a good fit). They’ll likely appreciate the suggestion.
Send a Follow-Up Email
The very last step to firing a bad freelance client is to put it in writing. This is on par with having a contract and will put your business in a good place if the client causes trouble. Once you’ve spoken over the phone, send your client a follow-up email outlining what you discussed and the terms of your break up.
- The reason(s) you’re terminating the contract
- Work you’ve already finished or will finish before the notice period ends
- Payments due + when they’re owed
- The date of termination
When drafting your email, make sure to keep it professional. Don’t point fingers or go into excessive detail about what you feel the client did wrong. However, make sure to keep any documentation of the client’s wrongdoings in case you need them later.
Pro Tip: Draft a client termination letter template to streamline the process. All you have to do is fill in the blanks and you’re good to go.
Feeling a little overwhelmed? I don’t blame you! That’s a lot of information to process on top of being nervous about firing a bad freelance client. The good news is, I’ve created a FREE roadmap to guide you through the steps of breaking up with a client.
Firing a freelance client is never easy. Just remember, when you cut ties with difficult or hard to please clients, you free yourself up to work with clients that are a better fit. So, grab your freebie here and feel free to comment below if you have questions about how to fire a freelance client.
Katie Jenison is a freelance writer offering copywriting, blogging, and ghostwriting services. She works closely with home builders, remodelers, interior designers, real estate and property management professionals to help them create content marketing strategies, improve their digital presence, generate leads, and engage with their target audience. Katie also helps freelance writers and creative entrepreneurs pursue their dreams of working from home by providing tips and advice, business strategies, and writing tips on her blog, The Quiet Type. Download her free workbook, A Freelancer’s Guide to Setting Rates, here.