Sometimes, enough is enough.
As a self-employed creative, you’re always on the move to find new clients, get hired and work hard to please those new clients so they don’t fire you.
But guess what else you get to do since you’re the boss? You can fire your bad clients.
Does this sound familiar? You’ve been putting your client’s needs before your own (as in sleep and food) and they still aren’t happy with the results you deliver. You may think, well it’s okay because you really need the money and you don’t want to burn any bridges.
It’s like a romantic relationship that’s gone bad—there’s never a good time to tell them it’s over, but you really want it to be over.
The moment you move these types of clients from your present to your past, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.
It’s a relief unlike any other to let go, to just say no to a client who is dragging you down. Once you open up that window in your work life, you give your business brain some room to breathe, and some room for bigger and better ideas.
And that’s how you attract bigger and better clients.
If you find yourself in any of these situations, it’s time re-evaluate your client relationship, and consider giving them the pink slip
If you’ve been working with the client regularly for about six months to a year (or longer), it could be time for you to raise your rates—especially if the client is consistently happy with your work. Or maybe you have recently made a decision to raise your freelancing rates for all clients—because you’re worth it and you deserve more.
But, if your client does not agree to this change, for whatever reason, you will have to decide whether or not you can live with this. You could also offer to do less work for the same rate, but if there is still no agreement, then it may be time to let this client go.
There will always be someone out there who has a bigger budget and can pay you what you are worth. Yes, it may take time to find someone else, but that’s just another reason you should never stop networking and getting yourself out there.
Even worse than not agreeing to your new fees, is a client who doesn’t pay you at all! Justin Barker, a freelance producer who formerly worked at CreativeLive, shared his experience with what he did when a client refused to pay for work he delivered.
When you experience one or more unpaid invoices and all you hear are endless promises and excuses, you should press pause on the project until the money is in your hands. Yes, they may be fun to work with and good at sending work your way, and yes, things change within a company and budgets dry up. But, feeling bad for your nice client doesn’t pay the bills.
Wait as long as you possibly can for more information about your unpaid invoices, and then make the break. And although it’s a time-consuming headache, be sure to keep chasing those unpaid invoices.
We have enough issues of our own, so we don’t need a client who has them too.
Easily detectible attitude problems are never a good sign for a successful professional relationship. Freelance writer Davina van Buren finally got fed up with an unresponsive client and decided it was time to part ways.
“We had arranged a weekly phone check-in so I could keep abreast of the company’s happenings in order to write their newsletter. The client chose this time, yet every week when I called, he never answered. I asked on more than one occasion if another day would work better for him, but he always said no. I had a certain amount of time budgeted for these check-ins every week, and inevitably, as soon as I would move on to another project, he would call and expect me to drop everything and have the meeting. I thought this was inconsiderate and something I would never do in the reverse situation.”
Of course, she couldn’t get a hold of him over the phone to tell him his days were numbered, so Davina had to fire her client via email. The client responded very apologetically, adding that he would keep her in mind for future one-off copywriting projects.
But, it didn’t take long for Davina to replace the income she had lost, as it had not been an especially large project. However, the positive effect of losing that draining relationship, on her mental and creative energy was significant. This is one of the most powerful use cases for considering if you should fire your freelance client.
“I had worried a lot about what to say to this client because I felt like it was disrespectful of him to stand me up week after week, and I had never fired a client before. Plus, professional conflicts are always uncomfortable, at least for me. I was glad I stood up for myself, and the fact that he apologized for the behavior reinforced my feeling that the match just wasn’t a good fit, even though I liked the organization and the work they did.”
It’s frustrating when you get a set of project details from a client one day, and then the next week, while you’re in the midst of the work, you suddenly get a whole new set of instructions.
Sure, clients can change their minds, but if it happens frequently enough to disrupt your focus and energy on the project and basically makes no sense anymore, then its time for you to change your mind about working with this fickle client. If you’re set on keeping the client for financial reasons, be sure to require change fees if (and when) the scope of work is adjusted.
This is something you should be aware of before you even begin to work with the client—always read the contract. If you don’t understand any part of it, ask. Oh, they didn’t send you a contract? Make one.
Be sure that all the legalese works in your favor, and that you are fine with all terms. Ask for changes to the terms you aren’t happy with, and if the client or their legal team say, No way, then you’ll have to say, See ya later.
Photographer, graphic designer and food innovator LauraLi Bliss has never fired a client mid-project, but she did have to let go of a client who also happened to be a friend of a friend.
“So that made it a little heavier. I have many things going on in any given week, so when they came back for another project, I told them I no longer had the time for much design work and referred them to fiverr.com! The client understood me, for a change, and seemed fine with checking into fiverr for a new designer.”
Right after she dropped the client, LauraLi felt a big change in her life. Not having to deal with extraneous and inefficient back and forth correspondence removed a lot of stress from her workload.
“When I feel overwhelmed, I start to shut down and slow down everything else in my life. Anytime I can be less stressed and annoyed, I am energetically better in many ways.”
Just because you don’t have a 9 to 5 job in an office like your client probably does, it can sometimes be hard to remember that you are both equally professional. And if you’re not thinking of yourself as a professional writer, designer or photographer, then it’ll be that much harder for you to say no to a rogue client.
Davina admits that you may have to spend some time job searching to replace the client with a better one, “but in the end it will be worth it. You are a professional and should be treated as such!”
It’s also important to trust your instinct when it comes to keeping or firing a client, as LauraLi points out.
“This is certainly not a one size fits all conundrum. Trust your intuition, trust your gut. Check yourself first, and be sure that you aren’t creating or contributing to the problem. Always be courteous, and also consider the client’s situation. All relationships have to be supportive and understanding–even when someone is paying you. Respect still has to go both ways, and when it doesn’t, it’s best to remove yourself from the situation. It’ll benefit you in many ways.”
Working with any client should be a win-win situation.
An ideal scenario: The client loves your work, the payment makes you happy and is on time, the working relationship is smooth, the work increases visibility of your portfolio, you gain solid referrals, the work is challenging and helps you grow creatively.
Although each of your clients probably won’t check all of these boxes, you have to prioritize which factors are most important to you in your current situation. When your situation changes, which it will as your business grows, then your priorities will also shift and you may see some of your clients in a different light.
You chose the path of self-employment for a reason—to be your own boss and keep your freedom. Don’t let any client take that away from you.
Whether you’re just starting a freelance career, or looking to grow your existing business, download our free eBook, The Freelancer’s Roadmap and accelerate your business.
Connecting you with the tips and inspiration
you need to create great work.