How and When to Fire a Bad Client

As a freelancer, there’s perhaps nothing more worrisome than the notion of getting fired by a client and losing out on a major income stream. But sometimes, you might land in a situation where you’re the one who needs to do the firing. Specifically, you might come upon a client who’s more trouble than he’s worth, thereby causing you to need to sever ties. Here’s how to know when you need to let a client go — and how to do it.

When your client needs the axe

Many freelancers struggle to find work, so the idea of giving up a client might seem unsettling. However, there are certain scenarios where working for a given client no longer makes sense, like the following:

  1. Your client makes unreasonable demands. If there’s a specific client of yours who constantly operates in fire drill mode, and, as such, messes up your schedule and wrecks your work-life balance, that’s reason enough to consider saying goodbye. It’s one thing for the occasional emergency to pop up, but if you’re dealing with someone who’s constantly calling you last-minute and pressuring you to meet sudden deadlines, it’s a sign that that client doesn’t respect your time or schedule.
  2. Your client isn’t communicative. Freelancers aren’t mind-readers. If you have a client who expects you to do the job right without any input, or who consistently fails to explain what he wants and then demands endless revisions or changes to the work you perform, that’s the sort of client you don’t want to work for on a regular basis.
  3. The work is not a great return on investment. Every client has his own budget, but if you’re dealing with a client who’s constantly lowballing you and asking for free work, it’s probably time to rethink that relationship. For example, if your normal rate is $80 an hour, but you have a client who refuses to pay more than $50 an hour, you’d be wise to swap that account for one that will pay you your regular rate.

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How to fire a bad client

Once you make the decision to let a client go, you’ll need to do so firmly yet professionally. You should always start by thanking that client for his business and affirming that it was a privilege to do that work. Even if that client has treated you poorly in recent months, you always want to be polite to avoid burning bridges.

Next, explain why the situation is no longer working for you. Your client will most likely want an answer, so be prepared to delve into the details — diplomatically, of course.

If it’s because the client has unrealistic expectations, you might say, “I don’t have the capacity to provide the work you’re looking for in the manner you want it, and I won’t put either of us in a position where I’m letting you down.” If it’s money that’s the issue, say something like, “I understand you’re operating on a budget, but I need to charge clients at a certain level to ensure that I’m covering my expenses, and this relationship unfortunately doesn’t allow me to do that.” There’s always a gracious way to spin an otherwise negative piece of feedback, so aim to soften the blow as much as you can.

Remember, just as it’s important to resign from a full-time job professionally, so too must you conduct yourself appropriately when breaking ties with a client you no longer want to work for. You never know when you might need that client as a reference, and the last thing you want to do is let your frustrations permanently destroy a relationship that might benefit you in some way in the future.

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