How to Fire a Client Professionally (3 Email Scripts)

As freelancers, we all rely on clients to generate income. Unfortunately, there are some times that the relationship with certain clients just isn’t working out.

They may be difficult to work with, not paying their bills on time, prone to scope creep, or you may just not be a great fit for each other.

Whatever the reason, firing a client can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult.

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While a lot of problems can be avoided by vetting clients upfront, it’s inevitable that you will find yourself having that conversation or sending that email to end a contract.

That said, knowing when and how to fire a client is crucial to maintaining a good reputation for your business and ensuring you part ways on good terms.

So let’s talk about the right way to fire a client, from determining if it’s the right decision for you, to navigating the relationship afterwards.

5 Reasons to consider firing your client

Discontinuing work for someone is a huge step, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. But there are definitely good reasons to let clients go. Here are several to consider:

1. They don’t pay their bills.

There is almost nothing worse than chasing down money. It’s time-consuming, frustrating, and uses up valuable hours that you could spend on billable work. You may want to start thinking about how to fire a client if you have to follow up every time an invoice goes past due.

2. They don’t pay what you’re worth.

This one is tricky. Legacy clients, family or friends and non-profit organizations all tend to pay less than market value. If this kind of work is still fulfilling for you or you’re just getting started, don’t worry about it.

On the other hand, if you dread working on certain clients’ projects or feel overwhelmed with other, high-paying work, it’s time to reconsider.

3. They’re abusive.

It should go without saying that you don’t need to work for anyone who treats you or anyone on your team poorly. Clients who threaten, intimidate or try to manipulate you aren’t worth your time and mental energy. In those situations, it can feel almost impossible to sever the relationship, but rest assured that you will be far happier and more prosperous without that kind of baggage.

4. They are impossible to work with.

Some clients are difficult to work with because their projects are complex, they don’t know how to ask for what they want, or they micromanage everything. Difficult clients are a drag, but there are ways to manage high-maintenance clients and hold onto that income stream without losing your mind.

Impossible clients are a different story. If a client is completely unresponsive, doesn’t give you the materials you need, or consistently refuses to take your advice and then complains about the results, they are bordering on impossible.

5. You are moving on to other things.

If you’ve been freelancing for any amount of time, you have probably realized that you just can’t do everything. As your business grows and evolves, your focus may shift.

You might need to step back and consider the ways you earn revenue and invest more energy into the highest-yielding areas. In these situations, no matter how much you love your clients, you’ve got to do what is best for you and your business.

How to fire a client: 5 ways to do it

The way you fire a client depends on the type of relationship you have and the reasons you’re letting them go. Reaching out in a way that is out of the ordinary may make an already awkward situation worse.

If you’re looking for different ideas on how to fire a client, here’s a few to consider.

How to fire a client

1. Politely bow out

This is probably the most common approach in firing a client, because it’s easy, it’s professional and it generally works. Be honest and very polite–just let your client know that you have appreciated your relationship, are unable to continue working for them, and give details on when you will complete outstanding work, and move on.

2. Restructure your business

One of the great things about freelancing is that you decide how you run things. If you’re ready to release a client for financial or strategy reasons, you can go ahead and let them know that you are changing your business model, and their work is no longer a good fit.

This is a nice way to say you can make more money elsewhere, but it also makes you sound confident and professional, which is never a bad thing.

3. Charge more.

If you have more work than you can handle, sometimes weeding out the clients you need to let go is as simple as raising your rates. Some clients won’t be able to afford your new pricing structure, and some just won’t want to pay. Just make sure you are ready to lose the business before you suggest a drastic change.

4. Be blunt.

The subtle approach is all well and good, but you might be looking for an answer to a slightly different question: how to fire a client that owes you money, was rude, or violated the terms of your contract? Some circumstances just warrant a more direct approach.

In these cases, there’s no need to be confrontational, but you should clearly state the reasons you’re terminating your relationship. Keep records of emails, contracts, financial transactions and any other paperwork to ensure you can defend yourself if necessary.

5. Make them think it was their idea.

This is a great course of action, if you can manage it. When you have a good relationship with your client, you can give them an idea of what’s going on in your business.

Have a real conversation about their brand and the style of work, and you may be able to convince them that it’s best if they work with another freelancer (that you recommend, of course). This ends your relationship on a positive note, and everybody wins.

How to fire a client

Email scripts for how to fire a client

Once you’ve chosen a strategy, let’s get down into the details of how to fire a client. If you have a strong relationship with someone or you are used to dealing with them over the phone, then that is probably the best way to discuss terminating your contract.

But in many cases, email is the easiest way to go for all parties involved. You aren’t putting them on the spot, there is less opportunity for emotion to take over, and the terms and details are written down, so no one can argue about what was said later on.

Luckily, the freelance community has been good about sharing their work, and there are a handful of awesome email scripts ready for you to use. Here are some of our favorites:

From Elegant Themes:

Hi [name],

I wanted to touch base with you to provide an update on my availability. As of [date], I will no longer be able to provide [service] for [company name].

I have several [same service providers] in my network who have the bandwidth and are actively looking to connect with companies like yours. If you’re interested, I would love to refer them to you. They do fantastic work and I think they will be a great fit for your brand’s needs.

I’ve enjoyed my time working with [you/your team], and I appreciate the opportunity! Please let me know how I can best complete the remaining work on my contract between now and [date].

Thank you,

[signature]

From Writing Revolt:

Hi (client name),

Hope you’re doing well!

I wanted to reach out and let you know that I’m restructuring my business right now to focus more on marketing my personal blog, so my new workload with that prevents me from taking on any additional (company name) blog posts at the moment.

However, I can definitely still write the 3 blog posts currently assigned to me and get those done by the due dates.

I have really enjoyed working with you and writing for (company name). Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help make this transition easier – if you’d like, I’d be more than happy to recommend a writer who can replace me!

Thank you!

From Freelancer’s Union:

Hello (client name),

In my business, maintaining a positive and professional relationship with my clients is one of my top priorities. I understand that you’ve been unhappy with my work but I must insist that our relationship remain respectful. To that end, I unfortunately must terminate our contract as of today’s date.

[signature]

When is the right time to fire a client?

The best time to fire a client is before you ever start working with them. But since nothing in life is guaranteed, let’s discuss when is the right time to fire a client.

If you’re in a disastrous working relationship, it’s tempting to pull the trigger on firing the client immediately.

Take a breath.

Once you’ve made the decision on how to fire a client, you need to decide when to fire the client. And the decision isn’t always as simple as it sounds.

Before cutting a client loose, you need to have a clear understanding of your contract, complete any outstanding work (or have a clear plan to do so), and give appropriate notice. You should also consider where you’re at in your billing cycle, and if you can afford to lose the client right now.

Finally, think about the timing for your client. If you’re working with a CPA, letting them go at the height of tax season is not the best strategy. If a large-scale event or product launch is coming up, consider staying on until the stressful time has passed and easing out after you’ve delivered some stellar results.

Why it’s important to remain on good terms

Don’t burn bridges. Even if you would absolutely never, under any circumstances, consider working for this company again, remain professional at all costs.

Why?

Freelancers rely heavily on recommendations from previous clients. Word gets around, and if you end your relationship with a temper tantrum and uncompleted work on the table, it can seriously hurt your business.

Plus, you never know who’s watching. There may be other members of the marketing team who go on to other endeavors and remember how well you handled a difficult situation. It’s best to act like your best self whenever you’re dealing with clients. Rant to friends and family on your own time.

Conclusion

It would be great if we never had to have these conversations or stress about the relationships we have with clients.

Obviously, that’s not the case.

But having a strategy about how to fire a client can help make it all feel more manageable.

If you have decided that you really need to leave a client, and it is the right time to do so, choose a strategy, compose a thoughtful email, notes for a call or face-to-face meeting, and go for it. Your business will be better for it.

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Millo Articles by Kylie Burgener

Kylie Jackson Burgener is a mother of three and a freelance consultant, specializing in public relations, writing and content marketing. She is a cofounder of Measured Melodies, a leveled piano sheet music system for piano teachers and students. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her family.
Read more from Kylie.

  1. Irene Fraser says:

    A key component before taking on a client is to make sure of their expectations and whether you are able to manage expectations and to provide an scope of service agreement setting out all the terms and conditions.

    If a client becomes rude and person, then the trust is broken and better to terminate the relationship

  2. Goes both ways. As a business, we’ve had terrible experiences with ad agencies and graphic designers.

    Seems there is some snobbery in the ad agency world that only wants the big, monthly paying clients. One wanted us to fork over a $5K deposit just to drive down to discuss our needs which could have been accomplished by phone or other means. Like extortionists, they unabashedly questioned how much our company was willing to spend up front and monthly.

    The two graphic designers we’ve tried to work with have disregarded our requests and acted independently on our behalf without authorization then delivered what they think we should have. They have imposed unwarranted delays by failing to respond then give a snappy response along with a poor product that was clearly rushed. Failing to deliver a duplicate of a design we submitted, they they want to charge us additional hourly fees for mistakes they made.
    Outrageous! We’re done with “creative folks” with inflated egos. We’re continuing to develop our graphics in-house as before which anyone with a computer an an ounce of creativity can do.

  3. MakeDestroy says:

    How about clients who will not listen to your professional advice and somehow become your creative director. Is it fair to let go a client who basically has a precise idea of exactly what they want (in this case, a logo) and want you to make it happen no matter what–even if you present them with examples and educated information as to why their idea sucks. If the client is literally nip-picking every tiny aspect of the design and telling exactly what to do (move this here, add this there, place this one inch down, make this thicker), is it fair to tell them you can no longer help them?

    1. Not only is that a perfectly valid reason to (diplomatically) fire a client, I’m actually about to do so. What they’re wanting is a production artist, which is a valid service to want. But it’s a designer’s role to craft a strong piece that’s in support of the client’s business goals, not execute the aesthetic whims of non-designers.

  4. Cheryl Dapsauski says:

    Thanks, Preston. This particular client had been given an agreement several years ago, but since then has managed to scare himself silly regarding the recession. I even lowered my rates slightly and made it a marketing ploy to help assuage him and others who were reining in their spending during the worst of it. Now he’s doing better, has rebuilt his staff, and things look positive for him, largely because of the foundation I helped him build with his brand. But, he’s has developed an attitude that it’s shark eat shark. The staff, who is largely untrained about marketing, graphics and print, simply follow his lead and they make poor decisions on his behalf, out of naivete. I think you are right, time for me to keep moving. I have an agenda to build my business, honestly and proudly.

  5. Cheryl Dapsauski says:

    I am at this tage with a client who has for about two years now, called me periodically with requests, gotten me on the path to have spent time on their project, then pulled the project. Each time they explain that they have a real need for my services, and the project is urgently needed. In the latest thing, they did not look closely at the estimate before launching into the work, then when the job was ready to release, couldn’t commit to the print price. Not only that, they forgot to consider the creative and printing as separate phases, so were unwilling to pay for anything except a new printing price. It turned into a debate on the phone, owner to owner. We agreed to proceed with a little better print price, which I had to go back out and find. And I had to reduce my creative rate, thus wasting about four hours of work. I think the relationship is tarnished. This client has seemingly ceased to appreciate the experienced project management we provide in favor of cheap solutions, which they are not above stealing the creative interim proofs we do together to achieve a final result. In the debate, he actually downplayed my creative time and compared it to an easy job they do for their clients. I have given them three chances to redeem themselves and this is where we are now. I do think they’ll pay, but I will be surprised if they call me again. And this time, I’m ready to let them go.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Cheryl Dapsauski,
      It sounds to me like your time could be better spent with a client who cares about your time and talents. Also, be sure to create a nice contract so that prices, terms, and final deliverables can’t be negotiated. You deserve to be paid what they agreed to. Good luck!

  6. Lisa Raymond says:

    Great article, Preston. I have to admit, I have a client who fits three of your categories! I’ve decided at this point to not cut them loose; instead, I’m using this as a teaching tool for them to better understand how I do business and schedule my workload.

    Recently my husband did fire a client because they demanded lots of changes on their site for very little/no money, and they determined how much he got paid! It was for a non-profit, but non-profits aren’t necessarily running broke, and most people don’t realize that.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Lisa Raymond,
      That’s a great point, Lisa. A lot of organizations (not just non-profits) try to weasel their way out of paying full price. As mentioned above, I have found that a contract will solve that problem.

      I’m curious, how exactly did your husband fire them?

      1. Lisa Raymond says:

        @Preston D Lee,
        Simple: he raised his prices to his norm, indicating the length of time and effort involved to make the requested changes were no longer consistent with the previously agreed-upon changes for price. Basically they demanded more of his time — including him working for them during non-freelance hours — for the same or less pay. The changes they requested were never consistent and given to his client/contact from a “committee” which never met together to discuss the changes. Very frustrating. They’ve since hired some “really cheap kid” to do the work; he’s already broken the PHP code and couldn’t figure out how to fix it! My husband did but at his normal rate, and they paid.

  7. yeah, sometimes client made us frustrating with their new requirement..
    they always keep asking us to add more and more while they don’t pay anything yet..
    ;(

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @ndrew,
      I think this is why a contract is important. I’ve noticed that 90% of client troubles that designers face could be preempted with a good contract.

  8. GUS the Gamer says:

    Its always wise to treat clients as such, and not as Bosses >.<

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @GUS the Gamer,
      I agree. I find it ironic that many freelancers leave their office job just to get away from a boss and then they end up creating bosses for themselves anyway.

  9. Anil Amrit says:

    Nice article Preston. I have very recently been put in this position and unfortunately have had to make a tough decision on cutting loose.

    Like you too, I too am a very easy going, professional and fair person to work with. Through strict time management, I like other freelancers schedule work in so you can structure/manage the workload and deadlines. The client never respected the fact that I do actually run a design business and need to address other clients, admin etc.

    In addition to constantly moving the goal posts, additional work with no flexibility on deadlines and constant sharp, abrupt and sometimes rude phone calls and email generally holding me to ransom just topped it all off.

    It’s tough enough as it is being a freelancer and like you said above, sometimes it really is not worth it being stressed over as overall it can and does affect your productivity on other clients and jobs you have.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Anil Amrit,
      Some great thoughts, Anil. Thanks for sharing your insight. I wish you the best of luck with your design business! What tips can you add to the list to avoid stress due to clients?

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