Just a few weeks ago, you thought you landed the perfect client contract. But now, you’re losing sleep over the stress of dealing with their abusive comments, lack of personal boundaries, or inability to make a decision. Many freelancers and small business owners don’t realize that firing clients is even an option.
Rest assured, though, it is.
However, cutting ties with an unreasonable client isn’t always the right answer. And when it is, it’s usually not the easiest one.
So how do you know when firing a client is the right move?
Yes, It’s Okay to “Fire” a Client!
Many independent business owners feel stuck when faced with a difficult, uncooperative, or outright aggressive client. After all, you accepted their project and now it’s your job to slog through whatever comes your way.
Actually, that’s not the case. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
As a freelancer or entrepreneur, you’ll spend most of your professional life as your one and only advocate. And on top of selling your skills to prospective leads, you also need to protect yourself against abusive or inconsiderate clients.
If you’re lucky, your work is also your passion. But at the end of the day, we all work to earn an honest, livable income with as little emotional stress as possible.
So when a client gets in the way of this goal? It’s 100 percent within your rights to (politely) show them the door. Don’t forget that.
Stop Tolerating Poor Client Behavior
There are countless types of problem clients out there. However, many of them share the same rude, inappropriate, or unreasonable behavior patterns.
If you recognize any of these traits in your own clients, you should take a moment to stop and evaluate the relationship.
There’s a chance they’re causing more distress than you realize.
There’s a difference between holding industry secrets close to the chest and flat out lying. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a while to know which type of behavior your problem client is exhibiting.
As for why a client might lie or avoid answering your questions, there are countless reasons.
Perhaps they’re involved in questionable activities, like not reporting accurate business income. Or, maybe, they’re giving non-answers because they don’t trust you.
Whatever their justification is for the behavior, at the end of the day you can’t complete a project if the client won’t cooperate.
When a colleague or manager makes you feel uncomfortable in a formal workplace, you go to HR. But when a client behaves inappropriately, there’s no one to turn to but yourself.
Some of this behavior is quite blatant, like making sexual advances or comments. Others, though, are easier to brush aside.
While some criticism is normal in a client relationship, these comments should never cross into the realm of insult. If a client is making abusive remarks about your work, it’s in everyone’s best interest to swiftly end the relationship.
The whole idea behind working with a client is that, eventually, you’ll earn a profit. But what do you do when that’s just not happening?
The most obvious example of this is a client not paying their invoice. This isn’t the only way a problem client can cost you money, though.
If you’re spending time answering unnecessary emails and completing endless revisions for a client, you need to take a step back and ask if they’re really worth your time. Or, are they taking valuable time away from other, less-difficult clients?
When it comes to your livelihood, you sometimes just need to put yourself first.
Every client relationship requires some give and take. With that in mind, some clients have no concept of what is realistic when it comes to their project.
If a client is constantly enforcing short deadlines, expecting outlandish results, or requesting anything else you just can’t deliver (at least while maintaining a healthy sleep schedule), the working relationship is probably doing more harm than good.
Do you wake up in the middle of the night to phone calls from a problem client? Do they continually ignore your requests to keep non-emergency calls to your business hours? Has your client approached you in public, like at the grocery store, to discuss their project?
If so, it might be time to pull the plug.
Many, if not most, freelancers and small business owners maintain incredibly flexible working hours. However, just because you’re up working on a project past midnight doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for clients to call you up.
Before firing a client for overstepping these boundaries, make sure you communicate your expectations as far as when they will and will not contact you.
But if they still fail to respect this clear outline, it might be time to walk away.
Step-by-Step Guide for Firing Clients the Right Way
So you have a difficult client on your hands, and you think it might be time to end the relationship. What next?
Here’s how to cut them loose with the least fallout possible:
Step #1: plan ahead
The importance of an ironclad contract can’t be understated, especially when it comes to handling a problem client. If (or when) you need to say goodbye to a client, for whatever reason, you need to have terms set in place.
Before you can distance yourself from a rude or uncooperative client, you need to have a plan. And if you want this plan to cover your legal bases, it should be in your contract.
Your contract should include conditions, including behavior on the client’s part, that will trigger termination. You should also include terms like the amount of notice you’ll provide to the client and who will retain the rights to your work.
As with anything contract-related, consult with a qualified lawyer before putting any of your terms into action.
Step #2: check your ego
Sometimes, but not always, the client isn’t the actual problem. Instead, it’s you.
It’s not easy to step back and evaluate your emotional response to a seemingly difficult client. In fact, many freelancers are completely incapable of this feat.
But there will be times when you overreact to a client’s criticism or expectations. While that doesn’t automatically mean the client is in the right, it does mean firing them probably isn’t necessary.
In business, sometimes you do just need to grit your teeth and push through. And learning how to make that distinction is crucial to your success.
Step #3: communicate your concerns
With exception to the most serious cases — including abusive or threatening client behavior — you should always be open with your client about your concerns before cutting ties.
Of course, there’s a chance they won’t respond well to your concerns. But there’s also a chance they’ll admit they feel the same way.
Sometimes, two people just aren’t compatible.
However, being honest about your issues also gives your client the opportunity to change their behavior for the better.
Step #4: fire away
Have you identified the issue and approached your client about making a change, but they’ve failed to improve their behavior? If so, it’s time to pull the plug on your contract.
When you decide to cut a contract short, it’s important to remain professional and keep as much of your communication as possible in writing. Whatever terms you’ve laid out for this type of scenario in your contract, make sure you follow them and retain proof that you’ve done so.
While firing a client can be a scary experience, it doesn’t need to be filled with conflict or resentment.
If you and your client can come to a mutual agreement about the state of the project and how exactly it will move forward — albeit, without you attached — everyone can move on to greener pastures.
What to Expect After Firing a Client
The period of time immediately after firing a client can be filled with uncertainty and even doubt about your decision. After all, you’ve just said goodbye to one of your income sources.
Fortunately, this process gets easier as you go (and, yes, you’ll probably need to cut ties with more than one client throughout your career). Plus, after some time, you’ll see exactly how much your ex-client was draining your time, energy, and other resources.
Depending on the terms of your contract, your client might still owe money for the work you completed. Unsurprisingly, getting this payment isn’t always easy.
As with all clients, you’re more likely to receive prompt payment (or, in the case of an ex-client, payment at all) with a professional, easy-to-read invoice. And if your client has any intention of skipping out on their bill, a pro-quality invoice might just make them think twice.
If you’re searching for a way to create polished invoices and streamline your payment processing, invoicely is here to help.