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How to Break Up with a Client (Plus Examples)

Table of ContentsUpdated Jan 23, 2024

Note: This article contains legal advice. We recommend you consult a lawyer before making legal decisions in your business.

Breaking up with a client can be a tough decision to make. But remember: everything in your business is an opportunity cost. When you say “yes” to bad clients, you’re saying “no” to better ones.

While you may be tempted to continue a relationship with a bad client, breaking up with clients who just aren’t a fit is actually a very smart business move.

In this article, we’ll share exactly how to break up with a client, including exact scripts and what to say, important considerations, and legal ramifications too.

Key Takeaways:

  • When breaking up with a client, clearly identify your reasons for wanting to end the relationship. Look at it from a business perspective.
  • Review your contract and ensure you can legally terminate the agreement. Know your obligations for exiting the relationship.
  • Communicate professionally when contacting the client. Be clear about ending the relationship while still appreciating their business. Offer to assist with the transition.

Break Up with a Client

1. Clearly identify the reason you’re breaking up

At this first step, you don’t have to outline the reasons to your client just yet. But it’s critical that you understand exactly why you want to break up with this client.

Take the emotion out of it (unless the reason IS emotional, such as emotional abuse) and look at it from a business point of view.

You may even want to write down your reasoning for breaking up with this client. That will help you keep a clear head once you approach them about the issue.

2. Review your contract to ensure you CAN break up

In most freelance contracts, there should be an option for either party to terminate the agreement at any time.

However, it’s important that you know 100% what your legal obligations are. For example, if they paid you upfront, you’ll probably need to refund some or all of the money.

You’ll want to check for exit clauses and any other information regarding when and how you can terminate your client relationship.

3. Contact the client you’re breaking up with

Once you’ve got clarity on WHY you’re breaking up and you’ve reviewed your legal documents, it’s time to actually reach out to the client you’re breaking up with to begin the process.

We encourage you to communicate at the same level you usually communicate or better.

For example, if you primarily communicate via phone calls, don’t send an email to break up with your client. Or if you primarily email, don’t send a text. This simple act of professionalism will go a long way.

4. Be clear and professional

When explaining that you need to break up with your client, it’s important to be completely clear and very professional.

Even if it is personal, don’t point out personal flaws. Instead, explain that you’re not sure your businesses are a good fit because you communicate differently or because they have higher expectations than you’re able to meet.

5. Set a termination date & details

While some client relationships have to be terminated immediately, most of them will require some kind of transition period. Here are a few questions you may want to consider asking:

  • Will you hand off completed work to another freelancer?
  • Will you help them find someone else to work with?
  • When will the project officially end?
  • Can they contact you with questions in the future?
  • Will you ever consider working together again?

6. Send all deliverables and collect all payments

Before officially terminating the relationship with your client, make sure you send all deliverables they are due and collect on any unpaid invoices.

This will be much easier to do while you’re still technically in a client-freelancer relationship than after.

7. Personally review what could have gone better

Finally, once you’ve broken up with your client, take a moment to reflect on the situation and determine what you could have done differently.

This will help you avoid the similar pitfalls and problems which led you to have to break up with this client in the first place.

Email Scripts & Phone Scripts for Breaking Up with a Client

There are lots of ways you can say to a client: “I want to break up.”

You should consider saying it in your own way and in your own words.

But if you’re having trouble knowing where to get started, here are a few scripts for breaking up with clients:

Email Script 1: The Professional and Appreciative Breakup

Subject: Transitioning Our Working Relationship

Dear [Client’s Name],

I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude for the opportunity to work with you over the past [duration]. Our collaboration has been valuable, and I appreciate the trust you’ve placed in me.

After careful consideration, I’ve decided to make some changes to my professional commitments, and unfortunately, I won’t be able to continue working on your projects moving forward. This decision wasn’t easy, and I want to assure you that it’s not a reflection of our working relationship or your projects.

To ensure a smooth transition, I’m committed to completing any outstanding work and assisting in finding a suitable replacement if needed. I believe this transition will be in the best interest of both parties.

I truly value the time we’ve spent working together and the experience gained during our collaboration. I’m confident that you’ll find another skilled professional who can meet your needs effectively.

Thank you once again for the opportunity, and I wish you continued success in your endeavors. If you have any questions or require assistance during this transition, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

SOURCE: TheFreelanceFiles.com

Email Script 2: The Honest and Constructive Breakup

Subject: Refocusing My Freelance Portfolio

Hi [Client’s Name],

I hope you’re doing well. I wanted to have an open and honest conversation about our working relationship. It’s been a pleasure working with you on your projects, and I appreciate the trust you’ve shown in me.

However, I’ve been evaluating my freelance commitments and have decided to make some changes to align better with my career goals and areas of expertise. As a result, I believe it’s in both our interests for me to step back from our current projects.

I want to emphasize that this decision is not a reflection of your projects or our collaboration. It’s about me focusing my skills and energy in a different direction. I believe that bringing in a freelancer who can fully dedicate themselves to your needs will be more beneficial for you.

I’m committed to assisting in a smooth transition, completing any ongoing work, and providing all necessary documentation to ensure the next freelancer can seamlessly take over. If you have any preferences or suggestions for finding a replacement, please feel free to share them.

Thank you for your understanding and for the opportunity to work together. I genuinely believe this is the right decision for both parties, and I wish you continued success in your endeavors.

Warm regards,

[Your Name]

SOURCE: TheFreelanceFiles.com

Email Script 3: The Direct and Boundary-Setting Breakup

Subject: Ending Our Working Relationship

Hi [Client’s Name],

I hope you’re well. I want to have an open and candid conversation about our working relationship. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to terminate our collaboration effective [date].

I want to make it clear that this decision is not a reflection of your projects or our previous work together. It’s about my need to establish clear boundaries and focus on projects that align more closely with my professional goals.

I will complete any outstanding work until the termination date, and I’m willing to assist in the transition to a new freelancer if you wish to continue with the project.

I appreciate the opportunity to work with you and wish you success in all your future endeavors. Please let me know if you have any questions or if there’s anything specific you’d like to discuss regarding this transition.

Thank you for your understanding.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

SOURCE: TheFreelanceFiles.com

(A note on Phone scripts: Obviously, we can’t control what your client may say when you call them to break up. Below, we’ve included 2 scenarios that might happen in a traditional freelancer-client relationship.)

Phone Script 1: The Professional and Appreciative Breakup

[Prepare yourself by finding a quiet and private space to make the call.]

Freelancer (F): Hello [Client’s Name], I hope you’re doing well. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today.

Client (C): Hello [Your Name], of course, what’s on your mind?

F: I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to work with you on your projects. It’s been a valuable experience, and I’ve enjoyed our collaboration.

C: Likewise, it’s been great working with you. What can I help you with today?

F: After careful consideration, I’ve made the decision to make some changes in my professional commitments. Unfortunately, this means that I won’t be able to continue working on your projects moving forward.

C: Oh, I see. Can you tell me more about this decision?

F: Absolutely. It’s not a reflection of our working relationship or your projects. I’ve decided to refocus my freelance portfolio and align it better with my long-term career goals and areas of expertise.

C: I understand. What does this mean for our ongoing projects?

F: I’m committed to completing any outstanding work and assisting in finding a suitable replacement if needed. I believe this transition will be in the best interest of both parties.

C: That’s unfortunate, but I appreciate your honesty and your commitment to a smooth transition.

F: Thank you for your understanding. I truly value the time we’ve spent working together and the experience gained during our collaboration. I’m confident that you’ll find another skilled professional who can meet your needs effectively.

C: I appreciate your contributions to our projects, and I wish you the best in your future endeavors.

F: Thank you, [Client’s Name]. If you have any questions or need further assistance during this transition, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

C: I will. Thanks for letting me know, and I wish you success in your future endeavors as well.

F: Thank you once again, and take care. Goodbye.

C: Goodbye, [Your Name].

SOURCE: TheFreelanceFiles.com

Phone Script 2: The Direct and Boundary-Setting Breakup

[Prepare yourself by finding a quiet and private space to make the call.]

Freelancer (F): Hello [Client’s Name], I hope you’re doing well. I appreciate you taking the time to talk.

Client (C): Hello [Your Name], sure, what’s on your mind?

F: I want to have an open and candid conversation about our working relationship. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to terminate our collaboration effective [date].

C: I see. Can you explain why?

F: This decision is not a reflection of your projects or our previous work together. It’s about my need to establish clear boundaries and focus on projects that align more closely with my professional goals.

C: That’s unexpected. What does this mean for our ongoing projects?

F: I will complete any outstanding work until the termination date, and I’m willing to assist in the transition to a new freelancer if you wish to continue with the project.

C: I appreciate your honesty, but I’m disappointed with this decision.

F: I understand, and I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. Please let me know if you have any questions or if there’s anything specific you’d like to discuss regarding this transition.

C: I’ll need some time to think about it. Thanks for letting me know.

F: You’re welcome. Take all the time you need, and feel free to reach out when you’re ready to discuss further. Thank you for your understanding.

C: Thank you, [Your Name].

F: You’re welcome. Goodbye, [Client’s Name].

C: Goodbye, [Your Name].

SOURCE: TheFreelanceFiles.com

When to Consider Breaking Up with a Client

There are a few very good reasons you should break up with a client.

Among them are problems like emotional abuse, unprofessional conduct, or failure to comply with a contract. Let’s look at these a bit more.

Emotional Abuse

Working for yourself should make you happy. You should be excited to get out of bed each morning and get to work on your business.

If you have a client who is emotionally abusive, you should break up with them immediately.

Ask if your client makes you feel unable to deliver quality work or if they use hurtful or manipulative language. When a client says something like “if you were really smart enough to run a business, you’d do this over the weekend for me,” that’s emotional abuse.

No amount of money is worth persistent emotional abuse. Do yourself a favor and break up with that client today.

Unprofessional Conduct

Even when you just work for yourself, there’s a certain level of professionalism that’s simply expected in a working relationship.

If your client treats you like a therapist or gets a little to comfortable calling you on the weekend to chat about their project, that’s unprofessional.

Likewise, if they don’t respond to emails in a timely manner or don’t hold up their end of the work (like delivering assets on-time), you may need to break up with them.

Failure to Comply with a Contract

Another very clear sign you may need to break up with a client is when they fail to live up to their side of your agreement.

Even if this is just a verbal contract (which is legally binding, btw), they should abide by the contract.

When they don’t uphold their end of the contract, break up with them.

More reasons for breaking up with a client

Of course, there are many more reasons you may choose to break up with a client.

These reasons depend a lot on how you run your business, what kinds of clients you get along with, and many more variables. Just because we didn’t include your reason above, doesn’t mean it’s not a good one.

The #1 sign you should break up with a client is probably just your own intuition. Trust your gut. And when you feel like it’s time to break up with a client…just do it.

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Written by Preston Lee

Editor at Millo.co

Preston Lee is the founder of Millo where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade. His advice has been featured by Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, Adobe, and many more.

Preston's Articles

Reviewed & edited by Alex Skinner, Editor at Millo.

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