As a freelancer, you must learn how to fire a client without ruining relationships. Every freelancer will have to let go of a client at some point—and it’s not always because the client is bad! Because of this, it’s important to keep the doors open and maintain a friendly relationship with the client, in case you’d like to work with them again.
Even if you never want to work with this client again, it’s still important not to burn bridges. Your reputation as a business owner matters; if word gets out that you were rude, it’s unlikely people will want to work with you.
I’ve been freelancing since 2013 and have had to fire multiple clients, rarely for negative reasons. Below, I’ll show you my five-step process for how to fire a client.
But first, let’s look at some reasons you might let a client go.
7 Reasons to Fire a Client
Reason #1: You’re changing your service offerings.
It’s common to pivot as a freelancer. For example, I started out as a freelance videographer making product videos for small businesses. Now, I’m a freelance writer who crafts blog posts for tech companies.
If you’re changing your service offerings, you may need to fire clients who don’t need the new services you’ll offer.
Reason #2: The client is too needy.
Do you have a client who needs constant handholding? Do they call you after hours? Do they ask for extra meetings (without offering to pay for them)?
Needy clients can DRAIN you of time, energy, and ultimately, money because you’ll be spending more time on them than on other clients who pay the same rate.
Reason #3: The client is unethical.
Does your client do shady business dealings? Do they ask you to lie or cheat? You might later find out that your client is unethical, and in that case, you should definitely get out!
Reason #4: You don’t enjoy working for the client anymore.
Maybe you started out with zeal working for this client, but now you are sick of offering this service to them. This is totally normal; sometimes, you just want to change things up. For this reason, you might decide to fire this client.
Reason #5: You are overwhelmed and want to cut back on work.
It’s normal to experience freelancer burnout, especially once you’ve been freelancing for years. In this case, it’s crucial to take a break. Sometimes, you can simply hit pause on your client contracts. But in other cases, you might decide to let certain clients go so you can take a break.
Reason #6: They keep asking you for more than you agreed to.
This is the dreaded “scope creep:” when the clearly defined project you had scoped out in your contract starts expanding into a monster until you’re earning mere pennies for your work.
Reason #7: They pay you late (or not at all!)
While it’s normal for clients to sometimes pay a couple of days late, if this becomes a frequent behavior, or if they never pay you, it’s time to drop them.
How to Fire a Client in 5 Pain-Free Steps
Step 1: Check your contract.
It may have been a while since you signed the contract with your client, so you need to revisit it because it likely contains a termination clause that will dictate how you fire your client.
For example, it’s common for the termination clause to require seven days’ notice via writing if you choose to end the contract.
For legal reasons, it is imperative that you follow the process outlined in the contract.
But what happens if you don’t have a contract, or you don’t have a termination clause within your contract? In that case, it’s open-ended, and you can choose to terminate in whichever way you’d like. Just make sure you are clear that you are, in fact, ending the contract.
The more notice you can give, the better. I recommend at least two weeks, but one month is even better, especially if you do a lot for this client and they rely heavily on you.
Step 2: Send them an email, call them, or meet in-person.
Whether you fire the client over the phone, via email, or in-person will highly depend on the working relationship. The longer you’ve been working for this client and the more they rely on you, the less appropriate it is to fire them via email.
Having said that, though, I think it’s completely fine to fire via email. Often, I will offer to field a phone call with them if they have further questions, but you do not need to do this.
Step 3: Make sure to finish any agreed-upon work.
Once you’ve clearly communicated that you are terminating the relationship with this client, you need to ensure that you finish any work that was agreed upon before you chose to fire them. If, for some reason, you are not able to complete the work, then you should refund them for the unfinished projects.
Step 4: Send them the final invoice (and make sure they pay!).
Before you walk away, make sure to send them the final invoice, and make sure that they pay.
Step 5: Thank them for their business.
Even if you’re firing them because they’re a bad client, it’s still important to be cordial and end on a friendly note. Send them an email or handwritten card thanking them for their business.
IF you want to keep the door open to working with them again in the future, let them know. If NOT, then do not say anything about working together again.
Do I Need to Tell the Client the REAL Reason I’m Firing Them?
Just like when you’re quitting a job, it’s not necessary nor wise to give all the details about why you’re doing it. While you shouldn’t lie, if you’re not comfortable giving them the real reason, just be vague. The “changing directions” line is always a safe bet.
Every Freelancer Will Fire a Client at Some Point. Be Prepared!
Like I said earlier, learning how to fire a client gracefully is an essential skill for every freelancer. Do this business for long enough, and at some point, you’ll have to let a client go. By following the five steps above, you can fire a client pain-free and drama-free.