Freelancers work with a wide range of clients – from the wonderful to the ah, not-so-wonderful.
It’s normal for those relationships to evolve or end. But sometimes freelancers are faced with an unpleasant task: “firing” a fractious, difficult, or irritating client.
So how do you fire an annoying client – without hurting your business?
1. Be civil – and nice, if you can be
It may feel really good to write a long screed about what impossible, inept, frustrating morons they are. By all means, write that screed – in a notebook, not an email. Don’t send it unless you’re… being quite reckless, indeed.
You may truly think that your client is a pain, and swear to the heavens that you will never ever work with her again. But you’d be shocked how often people reappear in life. You never know where that pain-in-the-butt is going to be in a decade. You DON’T have to keep working with them, but you also want to avoid completely fire-bombing the relationship, if you can.
At the very least, be civil. And be nice, if you can. Thank them for the good times, and wish them the best. Nasty screeds can come back to haunt you – save the articulate vitriol for letters to real villains: evil, globe-polluting corporations or especially terrible politicians. Take the high road.
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2. Be concise
Be wise about how you get rid of a problematic soon-to-be-former client; you don’t have to focus on all the slip-ups and wrong turns.
Instead, be concise and diplomatic. You don’t have to go into specifics about what went wrong. A good “unfortunately, my commitments no longer allow me to continue working with your business” goes a long way.
Opt for polite, succinct professionalism rather than apologetic over-explanation.
3. Focus on the positives
I know this sounds… insincere, at best. But unless you’ve had an absolutely horrifying, burn-all-bridges, sow-the-fields-with-salt experience with a client, you can probably find a few positives to drop into your polite goodbye.
Did you do any projects that went well? Did you have any mutual successes? Thank them for your time together, if that feels right.
If you really can’t think of any positives, focus on the future. Detail how you’ll finish up with them, and when they’ll receive your final invoice. Again, wish them the best – it’s good karma, if nothing else.
Relationships occasionally don’t work out. That’s okay! But if YOU were getting fired, you would want a civil send-off.
Give your difficult client the same respect you would hope for. End it in on a polite, professional note – they may soon be another freelancer’s problem!
Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.