Yes, You Can Fire Clients

By @TheMarkDalton

“I’m sorry, we have to let you go. You’re fired.”

When you are working as a freelancer you may think that there is a slim to zero chance of you ever having to say this to someone. Unless you are firing a client. Yes, you can fire clients and chances are at some point you are going to have to do it because not all clients are fantastic to work with.

A lot of blogs out there are teaching you how to pick up new clients and how to grow your existing client base. It is a difficult task to undertake, putting yourself out there and hoping people take the gamble on you. Then you have to deliver results, but what happens when you get a bad client. What do you do then?

Some people are unaware that they can fire a client. It is not a one way street where you have to put up with all the clients shit and they are the only ones who can fire you.

All clients are fantastic when you first meet them, then when the deal is in place and you are ready to roll on with the job some can turn out to be real jerks. Bad clients take up your time with their growing list of problems, they make your life difficult and hamper productivity.

Once you start thinking about “is this worth it at all” is when it is time to let that client go. Some people argue that firing clients diminishes integrity, I don’t believe that to be the case. You are saying no to something you don’t want to do, in clients services you have to eat a certain amount of shit but you shouldn’t be bullied into doing work you are not comfortable with.

Always Start With A Contract

Something that people overlook in particular with their first few clients is the need to have a contract. You don’t need something long winded and drawn out but you do need to cover yourself.

You need to make sure you are getting paid for stages of work, you need to make sure the expectations of what you are going to deliver are outlined clearly in the contract and the work you will be doing should be also clearly outlined.

Make sure there is a kill fee in place so that if the client decides to abruptly end the contract for various reasons, maybe they ran out of finances, then they are still legally obliged by contract to pay you a certain amount of money.

Basically, when you sit down to agree a deal verbally with a client and you both agree to work together on a project then it is time to inform the client that you will draw up a contract for them to sign. Remember, a contract should not be used to pin a client to outrageous terms, it is to cover yourself as a freelancer should things start to go pear shaped.

When the contract is in place then make sure that you and the client stick to it. We have a simple policy, when a contract is signed we work to the terms of the contract. If a client approaches us 3 months in and says they want us to start creating infographic and video content on top of just blog content – that is grounds to terminate the current contract and renegotiate a new contract.

If the job expectations change then the contract terms also need to change to reflect that.

Reasons To Fire A Client

So what reasons would you have for firing a client? Actually there are lots of reasons.

First we have money, if a client tries to pay you less than agreed in the contract you have drawn up that is grounds for immediate termination. They signed the contract, they are liable to pay and should they refuse then there are grounds for a lawsuit. If the client tries to renegotiate pre-agreed fees in the duration of the project you should fire them straight away.

Second we have clients that are too demanding. Now the reality here is that all clients are demanding so you need to keep that in mind regardless. What we are talking about is a client who places outrageous demands on you which you have no chance of fulfilling. If a client is bugging you constantly multiple times every day and demanding regular meetings which are impeding on the work you are trying to do for them then you have grounds for termination.

Third we have clients who insult you and disrespect you. I don’t think I need to explain this in any detail, a client who disrespects you should be fired straight away. Remember, they are a client and you are in client services. You are not an employee in their company and chances are you became a freelancer to avoid bosses who are assholes so don’t put up with it from a client either.

Fourth we have clients who vanish off the grid. This is an odd one and one which happened to me just this year. They don’t reply to messages or emails, they don’t honour meeting times. They basically stop communicating with you and it becomes disruptive to your working time and affects your productivity. Again, grounds for termination of the contract and move on.

Have We Fired Clients?

We don’t talk about the details of clients online, the relationship is sacred and should be preserved as best as possible. The details of the relationship we have with clients is confidential. However, it is worth keeping in mind that firing clients is never fun and not something you should be doing often by any stretch. Ideally we don’t want to fire any client but the answer is yes, we have fired one client in the past and another we parted ways by mutual consent because they ran out of budget and vanished off the grid.

We were lucky with the one client we fired, a contract had been agreed and work was due to start but a series of events in the week leading up to that work commencing on their business presence online gave us substantial grounds for termination. A decision which I am glad to say turned out to be the right one to make.

Like I say, ideally you don’t want to fire any client but working in client services, there will be a point where you will have to do it because not every client is going to be a perfect ray of sunshine when you start working for them.

How To Fire A Client

This is the hardest part of all, actually firing the client when the time comes. When a relationship with a client goes sour fast you need to get out before it becomes completely toxic. You can’t sit there and allow the client to hammer you, trust your gut and if it tells you the time to get out is now then do it and do it fast.

There is no easy way of doing it, someone will get hurt and it will lead to an awkward phone call that you will hate but it has to be done regardless. This is business, make sure you keep it that way.

– Be respectful
– Be firm, to the point and polite as possible
– Thank them (even if you feel it is not merited)
– Do it in writing (email or letter)
– Explain why you are firing them

The most important point to note here is to do it in writing. Email them or send them a letter. DO NOT pick up the phone before sending them something in writing. You need it on paper and then after you have done that you can discuss it with them verbally if you wish to do so. Also, explain your reasons clearly. It is up to them to accept those reasons or not but don’t just tell them you are not interested anymore, that is definitely not good for business.

Strictly Business

The time we fired a client was tough, but it was strictly business and that helped us get it done fast and with little mess. They took it personally but most times that will happen, you need to keep focused on it just being business and nothing more.

Firing a client sucks, not firing the wrong client is hell. Not every decision you make will be the comfortable one or the easy one. Saying yes to everything is tempting when you start out but the reality is saying no in the right circumstances to say no is just as important.

It boils down to this, you can fire them and move on to greater success or you can suffer. I know what one I would choose every time.

Sometimes people tell me, “Oh a client is making me do all this…” Wrong, remember this if little else when you start working in client services and I will repeat it here again. You are not an employee in their company, a client cannot make you do anything you are not comfortable with doing.


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