Written by Tom Ewer on 18 November 2014
Have you ever thought about breaking up with a client?
I’m sure this was probably the furthest thing from your mind when you first started freelancing. You were too busy hustling to bring in any new business you could. You were more than happy to take on anyone willing to pay your minimum fee – and sometimes a few that were willing to pay far less.
The thought of giving away that hard-earned regular income can be painful. When you’re building a long-term relationship with a client, it’s not appealing to fire them and have to go through the arduous process of finding someone new to replace them. Being able to pay your bills is still important.
However, there are times that the prospect of finding someone better, easier or more pleasant to work with is worth the trouble.
I polled some of my freelancer friends (fellow writers, web designers, etc.) and it turns out there are many reasons that it might be in your business’ best interest to kick a client to the curb. Below are a few of the best times to do so – perhaps you should take them as a sign...
1. Before the Relationship With a Prospective Client Even Begins
I once lost a writing client before I even started working for them.
They wanted three post ideas in specific categories, along with a turnaround time listed in my pitch. I provided the requirements in addition to a few samples and the client liked what he saw – the job was mine. I asked a few clarification questions before getting started and was a little too inquisitive it turns out, as he revoked the offer.
I’m a communicator by nature and feel strongly that the more I can learn up front in what a client is looking for, the more work and frustration I can save us both as the project continues. Other people may not need as many details to get started, but it’s just how I roll.
2. When You Outgrow the Account
Outgrowing a client could mean that your rates have risen above what they are willing to pay, or your skills have progressed beyond what you have been doing for them. Or it could be when they suck more of your time and energy than is warranted by the fee they pay you.
Either way, it's a sign to dump the client.
3. When the Client's Demands Continue to Rise or They Are Indecisive
A freelancer friend shares about the only time she’s broken up with a client:
I've only dumped one client. She loved every single version of her website that I did, but after three days she would come back with 100 million revisions that devolved it into a copy of someone else's website that she suddenly loved. Three days after that, she would hate the whole thing and want a completely new version. This went on for six drafts! Until I finally said enough and told her I couldn't work with her anymore. She asked for a refund – I laughed.
Never be afraid to nip scope creep in the bud, and agree in advance when and how key decisions will be made. If the rules are broken, don't hesitate to act decisively. You'll thank your sanity for it.
4. When You Dread Seeing an Email Pop Up From a Particular Client
This is closely linked with when you'd rather not be paid than work for the client. Or when fantasizing about dumping the client is the best part of your day.
If you're losing sleep over working with a certain someone, It could well be time to move on!
5. When a Client Makes You Doubt Your Chosen Profession Entirely
I get that not everyone is going to like the product you put out. It’s okay not to please everyone, every time.
However, if a client's unfounded dissatisfaction makes you contemplate quitting the work you love to do, it means you’re probably just not a match. Unless they have valid points and are willing to give you constructive criticism, chalk it up to difference of opinion and find someone that's a better fit for your particular style.
6. When Your Client Is Behind in Paying You
Some freelancers collect all or some of their fee upfront. Others trust that clients will pay once they’re invoiced. I’ve heard both methods work well for different freelancers.
If you choose the latter, you need to have a pre-determined threshold of how long you’ll wait or how much work you’re willing to do for a client unpaid. When the client is behind in paying you, it may be time to stop working for them until they’ve caught up on your payroll. If they’re still not paying you a set period of time later, it’s probably time to cut ties.