Why firing your client is completely OK + how to do it right

While freelancing can be a fantastic way to earn a living in a flexible and free way, it does, like all jobs, have its downsides. For one, it can be tough to build up a consistent revenue stream.

Finding quality clients to work for can be tough, and often times, especially in the beginning, you might be willing to deal with less than desirable clients because you want to build up a portfolio or because you simply need the money.

But you don’t need to be subjected to the client’s every whim. It’s not good for you professionally, and most of the time it won’t be good emotionally.

It’s completely okay to fire a client, but to manage your all-important freelancer reputation, know there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might consider firing a client and how to go about doing the correct way.

Why you should fire a client

Late or inconsistent payment

When freelancing, sometimes you feel like you need to give the client the benefit of the doubt. There is so much competition out there that it feels wrong to be overly pushy or demanding.

And it is, but this doesn’t mean you should just lay down and take what the client gives you.

If you agree to terms before beginning a project, the client has the responsibility to pay you for your work when you deliver according to those terms.

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If clients start delaying payments, or if they start asking for excessive revisions or changes that go beyond the terms of the original contract, you might want to consider moving on.

This is not only unprofessional, but it also shows that the client doesn’t value you as much as they should.

Plus, when this happens, it indicates that the client isn’t entirely certain what it is they want from you. As a freelancer, you are supposed to be solving a problem for a client, but if they aren’t even sure what that problem is in the first place, then there’s not really much you can do.

Sticking around in this type of relationship is only going to hurt you down the road, as the client may end up giving you negative reviews, even though the problem was theirs.

It’s one of the frustrating aspects of freelancing, but if you know this is a possibility, you will end the relationship before it gets out of hand, saving you a lot of hassle down the road.

Allowing clients to push you around this way also hurts the freelancer community as a whole, as this client will likely not learn and will continue to put freelancers through this situation.

It might seem daunting because you’ll be sacrificing some income, but you’re doing the right thing by ending this relationship.

Poor communication

This applies to a few different things. Sometimes, as we’ve mentioned above, clients can be really bad at articulating exactly what it is they want you to do.

They may not have much of an idea of what they want, or they have a very specific idea and don’t know how to explain it to you.

Either way, this is going to get frustrating quickly, as you’ll consistently be underperforming in their eyes, even though to you it feels like you are doing exactly what they ask.

This is why it is important to ask lots of questions in the beginning. Sometimes clients welcome this type of uncertainty, using the experience and creativity of the freelancer to help them figure out what to do.

But if this is the case, you need to make sure the client isn’t expecting finished work right away. There will be a process of trial and error they will have to deal with as the two of you work to get it right.

If this isn’t made clear in the beginning, or if you find out later on how little the client understands what they want, you may want to consider ending the relationship.

The other aspect of communication you need to look out for is responsiveness. While clients will expect a certain amount of autonomy from you (and they should), they should also make themselves available so that you can ask questions or clarify things.

If they aren’t getting back to you, one of two things will happen: the work won’t be up to standard, or it’ll be late. Both of these will hurt your reputation as a freelancer, so if the client is hard to reach, it may be time to move on.

Unfulfilling work

We all have to deal with freelance work that doesn’t make us jump for joy, but you should be getting something out of it besides money. It’s not doing you any favors as a freelancer to eat up your time doing rote or menial tasks that you hate.

Again, you are trying to position yourself as a problem solver. If the only problem you solve is doing the tasks no one wants to do, then you are not really helping yourself down the road.

It’s okay to take on some of this work in the beginning, but if you find yourself completely dreading work clients are giving you, it’s probably for the best to go in a different direction.

How to fire a client the right way

So, these are some of the reasons why you may want to fire a client, and you are certain to come up with a few more in your time as a freelancer. But let’s talk a little bit about how to end the relationship the right way.

Voice your concerns and give a warning

No matter how sour the relationship might be, your client is likely still depending on you to deliver work.

If you all of a sudden send a message saying you’re done, this will likely leave them scrambling, increasing the chances of hard feelings.

If a client is starting to become unmanageable, or you don’t see the need to continue, give them a heads up. You might want to just let them know what’s on your mind.

For example, if you’re having trouble with payments, tell them how this isn’t acceptable and that if they don’t change, you may have to leave.

Or, if you’ve already made up your mind, let them know that you are planning to end the contract so that they have a chance to figure out what they will do next.

The important thing is to be honest. Don’t make up excuses, as this will only hurt you in the long run.

Just let them know what is going on, and if they want to make some adjustments to accommodate you, great and if not, no worries. It’s time to move on.

Finish outstanding work

If you have some projects you are working on, finish them before ending the contract. Not doing so will only cause frustration on the part of the client and could lead to some negative reviews, something that will hurt you when going after additional clients.

So, kind of like when you quit a job, let the client know you’ll be leaving so that they don’t assign you anything else. Then finish whatever you’re working on, get paid and move on.

Don’t forget your pleasantries

Even if you are steaming mad, don’t take it out on the client. This is still a professional relationship, and the way you handle yourself with have repercussions beyond just this contract.

So be polite, thank the client for the experience and leave all the personal stuff out of it. You’ll get over whatever is angering you soon enough, and you’ll be much happier you didn’t burn any bridges.

Plus, who knows? You may want to work for this client again someday, and you aren’t doing yourself any favors by treating them poorly.

Wrapping up

Training yourself to let clients go takes some time. It’s hard to turn away income, but if things aren’t working out, there’s no reason to stick around.

Remember that you are providing a service in exchange for a fee. When that fee no longer becomes worth it, you’re not doing anyone any favors by continuing the work.

What are some reasons you would fire a client? How do you do it? Leave a comment to share your experience and to help other freelancers.

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About Jock Purtle

Jock is the founder of Digital Exits, a brokerage service that specializes in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. His role is mostly as a client, but he enjoys helping other freelancers and entrepreneurs enjoy the benefits of working on their own.


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