There’s a natural lifecycle for any freelancer’s business. When you’re just starting out, you indiscriminately look to attract as many clients as you can to build your business. But inevitably, some clients won’t be the right fit.
Whether it’s an overly-demanding client who’s prone to instant message you any time of day (or night), an indecisive client who’s sole feedback usually entails “that’s not quite it,” or the client who’s perennially slow to pay, some clients just aren’t worth the business. An extension of the Pareto Principle says that 20% of your customers probably account for the majority of your time and trouble.
Most of us strive to avoid conflict and stick with the mantra that clients are good for business. However, staying too long in negative client situations can take a significant toll on your job satisfaction, emotional wellbeing, and business.
If your attempts to actively manage the negative aspects in a client relationship ended up hitting a brick wall, it’s time to cut the cord. Firing someone may not come as easily to you as Donald Trump, but here are some ways to make the process as pain-free and professional as possible:
Take emotion out of the equation: When deciding to fire a client, don’t act rashly from frustration or a bruised ego. Take a few days to consider the situation before acting. Although, if you find yourself going through this process multiple times in a month or year, it’s time to listen to your gut.
Review the contract: Before approaching the client, go through every line of your contract and check for loose ends. If you don’t have a contract, gather any documents you have (including initial emails) that define the project scope and expectations. Make sure you have completely lived up to your obligations. If a client has already paid for certain parts of the project, make sure you have delivered on them. If you’re concerned the client may fail to pay what they owe, consider how to minimize the damage. This could mean waiting until they have paid before telling them your intentions.
Meet face-to-face: As tempting as it may be, firing a client doesn’t mean you just stop answering their emails or calls. Meet your contact face-to-face (or over a phone call if you’re a web-based contractor).
Keep it brief: No doubt you have a billion reasons why you don’t want to continue working with this client, but you only need to offer one. And it can be as simple as, “I no longer think my services are meeting your needs.” The more details you provide, the more you open the door to an argument.
Give sufficient notice: If a client relies on you for regular work, give them time to find a new contractor or vendor. This could be 30 days, the end of a major deliverable, or whatever works in the context of your relationship.
Offer alternatives: Unless the client was disrespectful or a major problem, help them find a new solution by referring a colleague who could meet their needs. If you don’t have a specific person in mind, you can still offer guidance on the type of provider who might be a better fit such as, “Your needs have grown, you may need to consider a full-size agency.” Or, “Why don’t you look for someone who specializes in x.”
At the end of the day, firing a client is never easy. Yet the difficult conversation will be over soon enough and you can move on to more restful nights and bigger and better things.
Fired Photo via Shutterstock