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Firing a Client: A Freelancer’s Guide

Jan 24, 2021
(updated: Dec 6, 2022)
Max 5 min read

Firing a client: it’s not something any freelancer wants to do. And yet, in a way, that’s why many of us became freelancers in the first place: so we could choose who we work with and who we work for.

There are plenty of reasons your working relationship might not be working out, but how do you know when it’s time to end that relationship? Let’s take a look at when it might be the right choice to fire a client and how you can have that conversation with grace and professionalism.

When to Consider Firing a Client

When we consider ending our partnership with a client, it’s usually a last resort. The client at some point trusted you with their business so as freelancers, the least we can do is really exhaust all possible options to save the partnership. Here are a few factors to consider.

All clients are demanding. The sooner you accept that, the better. You will no longer waste time wishing you’d meet a client who’s low-maintenance and makes your job easy. Now, while all clients are demanding, not all clients are willing to work with you.

Before you consider firing a client, determine if you have tried to set proper boundaries with a client. For more details, check out some additional tips about how to set up boundaries as a freelancer.

Personally, I feel like the worst kinds of clients are those who:

  1. Don’t specifically say what they want and expect us to be mind-readers. Sure, there are some clients who don’t really have any background in your service, but what I’m talking about are the ones you can never seem to please. No matter what you come up with, they aren’t happy and they still don’t know what they want.
  2. Are not willing to compromise. They demand that you do as they ask without any adjustments or collaboration. If you ask for something from their end, they are not willing to budge.

If any of your clients fit the above descriptions, you may want to do the following:

  1. Think about why the client annoys you. Are you objective? Or are you just taking it personally?
  2. While saving clients may be beneficial in the future, your resources in the present also matter. Does the client cost you money? If the gains don’t justify the means, then you have to let them go.
  3. You were chosen as a business partner because of your collective talent. The collective talent is your team. Does saving this client means losing your valuable team members? If so, then end it.

It can be challenging to decide whether or not to fire a client, so leverage this information to determine if it’s time to let them go.

Tips for Firing a Client

If you choose to end your relationship with a client, you need to do that in a way that doesn’t damage your professional reputation. You also don’t want to make it more difficult than necessary for the client. To handle the situation with grace, keep these tips in mind.

Choose Your Timing Wisely

It’s important not to deliver the news to your client while you’re frustrated or angry, especially if it’s their behavior that’s frustrating you. You need to be calm and professional, and you could lose your handle on that if you’re upset. 

You also need to choose the right timing within your work for the client. Fire them while you’re at an easy stopping point, like between projects. You don’t want to leave the client in a tough spot by ending your arrangement in the middle of a project, especially if you’re getting close to an important deadline.

Use Tactful Honesty

Be truthful about why you’re firing your client, but in a tactful and respectful way, even if they haven’t always given the same courtesy to you. Think about how you’d want to hear the news if the shoe were on the other foot.

Have Your Wrap-Up Ready

Go into the conversation with the expectation that this could be the last time you speak to your client because you don’t know how they’ll take the news. This means having everything ready for a final handoff. 

For example, be ready to return any proprietary information to them, as well as any passwords or anything else you might need to return. Have a final freelance invoice ready for them as well, in addition to any balance they owe from previous invoices. Have a list of anything you might need from them as well.

Be Discrete

You may have a story for the ages about your nightmare client, but it won’t serve you well to go telling the story all over town. Chatter tends to make its way to the last person you’d want to hear it (i.e., your new ex-client), and it’s never good to burn bridges. 

Even if the client never finds out what you’re saying about them, the chances are that gossiping will reflect more poorly on you than on them. At a minimum, it makes you look less professional, so be discreet about sharing your experience.

Phrasing for Your “Firing a Client” Letter

One way to make sure you use the best possible wording in these situations is to have a “firing a client” letter template prepared in advance. Then you can tweak it for each situation. Keep in mind that terminating a client relationship in a letter or by email is usually the best choice because everything is in written communication. Here’s a helpful place to start:

“Good morning, [client],

It’s been a pleasure to work with you over these past X months, and I’m thrilled that we were able to accomplish Y. However, … [explain why you need to end the contract]

[list of next steps – what you’ve attached, what you need from them, etc]

Thank you again for the opportunity to work with you. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

Best wishes, [your name]” 

The trickiest part is often that first blank to fill in: why you’re ending the contract. Try these examples for the most common reasons for firing a client.

If the Client’s Pay is Too Low for Your Growing Business

Your business has grown and you’re seeking out bigger fish to fry. You could tell the client, “As my business and experience have grown, I am no longer able to complete the work you need within the budget we have in place. I am, however, happy to refer you to other [designers/developers/contractors, etc] who are within your price range.”

If the Client Isn’t Within Your Chosen Niche

As your business has grown, you’ve been able to choose the clients you most enjoy, and you’ve found a particular niche that this client doesn’t fit into. Try this wording in your email: “As my business has grown, I have decided to focus on a more specialized niche, which unfortunately does not coincide with your industry. As a result, I will need to end our working arrangement.”

If the Client is Demanding or Difficult

This may be the touchiest situation, but you can be brief and professional in your explanation. For example: “After much consideration, it appears that we are not the right fit for each other’s needs at this time.”

Firing a Client the Right Way

It’s usually for the best and it might feel like a weight off your shoulders when it’s over, but firing a client is never fun. If you do it in the right way with the right wording in place, you can keep your professional image intact and create a better situation for everyone involved. The tips and templates above will get you started.

Get started today!

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