Sooner or later, every freelancer will encounter a difficult working relationship or stumble upon scope creep, and you may soon find yourself wondering how to fire a client and terminate that contract template.
Even the most challenging projects can turn out great when you are working with a good client, but a challenging client has the potential to transform the simplest of jobs into a time-wasting, soul-sucking nightmare.
In this article, we’ll see how to know when you have a bad client on your hands. More importantly, we’ll show you how and when to fire a client.
The thought of giving anyone the ax can be pretty daunting, especially in the early days of your freelance career. That begs the question:
How do you know when to fire a client?
Here are six signs of a bad client that you shouldn’t ignore.
1. Your client makes unreasonable demands
The average freelancer has about 17 clients per year, many of which are in different time zones. That throws up some challenges with unusual working hours.
However, whereas good clients are often accommodating to liberal time schedules, other clients may be very demanding. They may expect you to be at their beck-and-call, taking midnight calls and jumping on work with last-gasp deadlines.
Constantly dealing with freelance invoice queries, and facing resistance on your pricing is something you can do without. It will exhaust you in the short-term and stop your business growing in the long-term.
Jorden Roper of The Creative Revolt explains, “No matter how much you like your low-paying clients, you can’t hang onto them when it’s time for you to raise your rates. It’s not worth it.”
If a client understands the value of your work and is keen to invest in their own business, then there should be no issues. However, if they are pushy about prices, it may be time to let them go.
3. Your client always pays late
Forbes reports that more than 70% of freelancers face difficulties getting paid. Slow-paying clients may be honestly forgetful, or simply disorganized, but either way, they are a real disruption to your cash flow.
There will always be a client who thinks they know better, even if it is in your field of expertise. From second-guessing your work to editing it beyond recognition, and then expecting you to fix it when their butchered version goes wrong – it can make you want to pull your hair out!
5. Your client doesn’t respond
Some clients can do a vanishing act after they hire you, leaving you in limbo just when you need some input or approval on a critical element of the project. Stuck, you can’t move forward, and the days tick by closer to the deadline as all your emails go unanswered.
Is your client constantly letting you down by missing meetings or canceling last minute? Have they been rude towards you or one of your collaborators?
People with a basic lack of respect are very hard to like and even harder to work for. As a freelancer, you have to question whether they are worth spending your time on anymore. Your business may be better off without such interference.
5 Tips on how to fire a client
Individually, the signs above might seem innocuous, and as a sporadic event, it’s easy to write them off. There may be room for compromise, which makes the decision to fire a client pretty tough.
Freelancers can use the Pareto Principle to guide their decision here. Assuming that 20% of your clients account for 80% of your profits, it’s best to focus your time and effort on building those relationships.
As for the 20% that cause 80% of your stress, it may be time to let them go. It’s important to stay professional and do the deed with some class. Here are a few pointers to keep things civilized:
1. Be honest
It’s okay to sugarcoat things a little, but don’t beat around the bush too much. You can say “I enjoyed working together on this project”, but don’t lie about the reasons for ending it.
2. Be tactful
Don’t lie, but don’t be a jerk either. You don’t need to talk about the voodoo doll in the office. Simply portray the truth in a diplomatic way like, “It’s clear we aren’t a good fit, and so it’s best you seek someone else who is.”
3. Be brave
When you have to fire a client, it’s easy to cop-out with an email. If possible, it’s much better to meet up or call them on the phone. It’s more personal and professional, and you can reduce any hard feelings or misconstrued messages an email may convey.
4. Be ready
Firing a client is awkward. It’s even more awkward if you both have to continue communicating about a project, dragging the whole thing out in excruciating fashion.
When the time comes, be prepared to hand over all deliverables and files right after you have fired your client – as long as all your freelance invoices are paid up!
This doesn’t need to become a tit-for-tat breakup – you should just take the high road by wrapping things up briefly.
However, there are exceptions here, such as when the client:
Hasn’t paid you
Has made offensive comments to you or your team
Has made unscrupulous actions against you, your team members, or property
In instances like this, feel free to contact your lawyer and take that horrible client to the cleaners.
Sample letters for firing freelance clients
So, how do you put that all together?
There is no universal ‘how to fire a client letter sample’, but here are three common scenarios you can base yours on:
Script #1 - You’re raising your rates
This method effectively aims to price yourself out of reach of the client.
“Jenna, it’s been fantastic working with you over the past (time), and we’ve achieved (X goals) together. My business has grown a lot and so I’ve decided to change my rate structure.
My rates will increase to (X) as of (date). Please let me know if this works for you. If not, I can refer you to someone who is in line with your budget.”
Script #2 - You’re switching focus
Here, you are taking yourself out of the equation.
“John, it’s been a pleasure to work together. However, in recent times, I’ve decided to pursue (new focus) instead of (current niche). Therefore, as I move in the new direction, I need to reshape my client base.
Unfortunately, that means I can no longer work with you as of (date). My sincere apologies for the inconvenience this may cause. It has been amazing, and I’m happy to help you source a new partner that will give your business the attention it deserves.”
Script #3 - You’ve just had enough
They simply have to go!
“Mark, I’ve enjoyed working with you to date. However, after some deliberation, I’ve considered the issues we’ve had, and I’ve realized that we aren’t a great fit.
I believe it would serve both our interests if you find a partner who is closely aligned with your vision and expectations.”
All’s well that ends well
Knowing how to fire a client doesn’t always come naturally. You may find yourself with somebody who can be a real handful.
Of course, every business deal involves negotiation and compromise, but you shouldn’t be bending over backward for someone who doesn’t value your time or opinion. Clients that give you more stress and headaches than money and respect are simply poisonous to your professional aspirations.
By taking the high road and aiming to remain professional, you can complete the project, get paid, and then wrap everything up with a meeting that ties everything up.
Need help with your freelance contracts, proposals, invoices, and project management? Join Bonsai and take charge of your freelance business today.