As a freelancer, you quickly learn that it’s important to have as many clients as possible. More clients mean a healthier bank balance every month. We never really think about firing clients … until one (or two) come along and we know we would be happier not having them around.
Whether the client pays late or is difficult, or you simply do not have the capacity to fulfil the brief – the time will arrive that you and your client may need to part ways.
How do you do this? Do you simply walk away and not look back? Do you opt for diplomacy and tact? Or do you leave the door open for the future?
These are questions that plagued me recently when I had to make decisions about continuing a relationship with a client I was working with for some time.
One thing freelancers will tell you off the bat – never drop a client too quickly. Firing a client has to be balanced with working with annoying, demanding or low-paying clients who sap us of energy that could be better spent pursuing more attractive gigs.
But sometimes we just have to fire a client. Knowing how to do this is crucial.
The first thing I instituted in my own process is a notice period. Too often I’ve dealt with people who work for me and don’t offer me the courtesy of notice of intention. It drives me to distraction. So, why would I do that to someone else? It’s courteous and appropriate to give a minimum of two weeks’ notice. This gives your client time to make alternate arrangements. And it gives them a chance to ponder your work and its value.
A colleague told me of a time she informed her client that she was moving on, only to be offered a higher salary to stay. My colleague was leaving because the relationship between her and the client had broken down. But she chose to accept the counteroffer over going with her gut that the old problems will remain. Two-and-a-half months later, she left for good.
The moral of that story: extra cash (unless that was the original reason for you leaving) is not a trade-off for the underlying problems.
Always keep the door open for future work. It is just good business practice. Freelancing is an unpredictable beast, so I believe in trying not to burn my bridges unless I really have to.
Diplomacy in business is key. Even if your client is annoying and miserly, there is no need to be rude. “I’m leaving because you don’t pay me enough” just does not cut it. Even if the client is the one not paying you enough. No matter how good you are, blaming and being rude about is just bad manners.
“I want to let you know I am moving on to other opportunities. I will complete all outstanding assignments and our final day of work will be xxxx, 2018” sounds and is more professional. Now, while you may be holding back on telling your client exactly why you are leaving, it is certainly a way to keep the door open for future opportunities to work together. And believe me, that is more important than telling someone where to get off.
This is one of the biggest problems we grapple with as freelancers. Should we let a paying gig go without securing another in its place? Ideally, I want to maintain a steady base income every month. Any interruption could be the precursor to a train smash further down the track. It’s never easy making this call, but my advice is to try to keep as much control of the situation as possible. Bide your time and work on contingency plans.
However, I am the first to concede that sometimes it is a necessary (and even humane) act to sever all ties before al the wheels fall off. This may be in the form of unacceptable or ethically questionable demands, ridiculously tight deadlines, asking you to deliver work that you aren’t happy with. In a case like this, I ask myself if the work I did is worthy of my portfolio. If the answer is no, then maybe I need to move on.
There are times when we simply outgrow a client, or we are forced to move on for some reason – often that reason has to do with remuneration. In a case like this consider lessening the blow in some way. I recently moved on from a social media management gig because my client simply could not afford to pay me. I offered her a free training session so that she could manage her own brand online. I also put her in touch with students who could assist her at a lower cost.
This kind of referral system has the added bonus for me. Being positive about a client as well as other freelancers is also about managing your own reputation in what can be a cut-throat business.
Firing clients is never easy – even for the most seasoned entrepreneur. It can be a stressful experience if you do not have the tools to handle it diplomatically. What I’ve shared are just a few ways you can end a relationship on a good note and leave the door open for future work.
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