There comes a time in every entrepreneur and freelancer’s career when they need to stop working with a client. Employees quit their jobs, but entrepreneurs and freelancers aren’t employees; they fire their clients. Learning how to handle this is an important part of freelance and entrepreneur life.
Fire a Client? Why Would I Fire a Client?
There are many reasons to fire clients; the most obvious of them all is that the client is a total PITA – incredibly demanding, paying next to nothing, and monopolizing far more of your time then they are worth, but there are other reasons:
You’ve developed your skills, and the client’s work is no longer challenging or interesting to you.
You’ve raised your rates, and the client is not prepared to pay the new rates.
Your order book is overflowing, and you need to drop some projects/clients to get your work-life balance back.
You find the client’s personality unpleasant.
The client consistently fails to pay their invoices on time.
In fact, you don’t even need a good reason to fire a client… if you don’t want to work with someone, for whatever reason at all, you don’t have to.
One of the benefits of owning your own business is that it should make you happy – any client who doesn’t make you happy must go.
Nellie Akalp, writing in Forbes magazine says: ”At times, the best way to grow your business is to let go of those clients who are holding you back.”
How to Go About It
It can be extremely tempting to tell a client to “**** ***”, particularly if you are finding them painful to deal with. However, this is a terrible idea. Your professional reputation should be maintained throughout every interaction with your business. You’ll feel better if no one can say that the situation disintegrated into a riot—that at least you were responsible and in control.
The best way to terminate a client relationship is politely and in writing.
Let’s take a look at that:
Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. Client,
I am writing to let you know that as of XX/XX/XXXX (Date) I will no longer be available to work on your projects. I will, of course, complete any work that has already been agreed before this date but won’t be able to take any more work on from now (or other date).
I would like to thank you for your custom, and I wish your business every success in the future.
Me, The Freelancer
You are not required to explain why you are terminating the relationship. You do not have to justify your decision.
If the client asks why you are finishing the relationship, you can be honest (“my rates have risen considerably since I first started working with you and you were clear that you had no extra budget for my services”), or you can cite any reason that you can think of (“I have decided to focus on developing my skills and no longer have the time at this moment to continue providing the service you deserve”.).
Keep it polite, and keep it professional. As long as you do that, the client will be likely to be understanding and continue to recommend you to other people. If the reason you are firing the client is financial, you may choose to enter negotiations if the client indicates being prepared to negotiate. However, you don’t have to negotiate if you don’t want to.
Author/Copyright holder: Tkgd2007. Copyright terms and licence: Public Domain.
It’s OK to use weasel words (words that are a little bit dishonest) to avoid hurting someone’s feelings when you fire your clients.
The Take Away
One of the joys of freelancing and being a business owner is that you can choose whom you work with, what you work on and where you work from. Sometimes, to preserve these joys, you will need to part ways with a client.
The most common reason to fire a client is that they’re a serious pain, but you are entitled to fire a client for any reason. You should never drop a client without completing any work that you have promised (unless they are not paying their bills or have become abusive – in which case your contract should enable you to quit the project) or without giving reasonable notice if you have ongoing work with them.
You should always terminate the relationship politely but firmly. You can negotiate if you want to— but you’re not required to.
In 99.999% of cases, this is all it takes to terminate a relationship with a client. However, if the client becomes abusive or insists on further work, you may need to ask a legal professional to follow up confirming the termination of the arrangement.
Author/Copyright holder: Thomas Hawk. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC 2.0
Pay disputes are the most common reason for freelancers to fire their clients. The truth is that if you can’t get paid, then shining shoes may be your only option to keep a roof over your head—and most people don’t want to shine shoes…
References & Where to Learn More
Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Idmarsden. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.5
Nellie Akalp’s “6 Reasons to Fire a Client”, 2014
Read the warning signs: Ways To Tell When It's Time To Fire a Client.