If you’re a freelancer, you’ve probably wanted to end a client relationship at some point or another.
There are so many reasons to do so: sometimes it’s as simple as a personality clash, and you have a client you just don’t click with. Maybe it’s your smallest client who pays a discounted rate and expects the most effort, so it’s not worth your time. Perhaps the subject matter is boring, personally objectionable, or the work will not advance your career.
You might even have a “bad” client who pays late or not at all, is abusive, etc. It might be your biggest fantasy to channel The Donald and yell, “you’re fired!” But in real life, that’s just not good business practice.
Now, obviously, if a client has seriously crossed the line in some way, such as throwing things at your head or screaming at you (let’s hope this never happens!), then ending the relationship is probably in your best interest.
However, assuming your client doesn’t exhibit those extreme types of behavior, you still may find yourself yearning for freedom. Before you tell them to take a hike, there are several questions you should ask yourself, and they fall into two categories:
1. What’s Really the Problem?
- Is there a personality conflict?
- Is there some sort of abuse happening?
- Is the client’s upper management doing something to harm the relationship?
- Do you believe the company is doing something unethical?
- Is the work boring or unlikely to dazzle in your portfolio?
- Are you getting paid in a timely manner?
- Is the client crossing your boundaries around time management?
2. To Fire or Not to Fire?
- What are the criteria you use to fire a client as opposed to trying to work things out?
- Are there any ways to make improvements in the relationship?
- Can the relationship be handled by other people?
- Can the implementation of new systems such as editorial calendars or timesheets ease the stress?
If you can answer all of these questions and determine that ending the client relationship is your choice, here are some ways for it to be, if not a pleasant experience, at least one that isn’t unpleasant – for all involved.
Take Care of Yourself
Make sure that you suffer no serious or long-lasting repercussions as a result of ending the client relationship.
- Try to replace the client with another so as not to dent your income.
- Fulfill all remaining work on standing contracts. Even if you disagree with how the client wants it, you can put it in your portfolio with a companion piece indicating how you would have preferred to do the work.
- Remain professional at all times. Even if you’re hopping mad, communicating in a calm and respectful way is the best way to keep the situation from worsening.
- Don’t take it personally. Most of the time, the sins of the client occur because they’re stressed and under pressure, not because they’re trying to make you miserable.
Take Care of the Client
The way you treat the client will directly affect the way she feels about you after you no longer work for her. If you are able to keep things pleasant and relatively upbeat, you may escape with a glowing testimonial. She may even refer her colleagues to you.
- Determine what is your responsibility. Complete all standing contracts, and don’t take on new work.
- Offer to help find your replacement.
- Agree on the appropriate way to transfer knowledge to a new person doing your job, and also agree on whether you charge for that time.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
To make a clean break, do it in person if possible, or over the phone if you’re far away. Do not terminate the relationship over email or, God forbid, voicemail. Put yourself in their shoes: remember to always be professional, polite, and positive.
You needn’t get into your real reasons for ending it, especially if it’s not flattering to the client. You can say you’ve taken on too much work and you need to cut back. You can say you want to focus your work to cater to a different industry. You can say that you’re uncomfortable with the workload or schedule.
Another option is to look at personal relationship strategies. If it’s the case that you’re just not into them but you don’t want to go to the trouble of breaking up with them or creating a bad feeling, you could start exhibiting behaviors they don’t like. You might raise your rates, give them less attention, or even offload the work to a junior member of your team.
None of these is necessarily the single best option: each has benefits and drawbacks. You need to assess the situation and determine which tactic or combination of tactics will get the result you want.
One last thought: once you’ve decided to end the relationship, if you need help to muster your courage, you can’t do much better than this classic Bob Dylan song, covered by breakup experts Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash: It Ain’t Me, Babe.
About the Author ~ Siân Killingsworth
Siân Killingsworth is a freelance copywriter, content curator, and social media manager. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she blogs about marketing for small business, and spends a lot of time studying various social media channels to guide her clients with best, freshest marketing practices. When Siân isn’t writing, she enjoys discovering elegant wine bars, traveling, and working on her lifelong quest for the perfect prawn burrito.