Terminating a Client Relationship

“Ugh!  This client is the bane of my existence!”  Unreasonable requests, late night emails, doesn’t pay on time (or ever), rude, dismissive and the list goes on.  If you are a freelancer, it is likely you have encountered a difficult or problematic client.  The impact of such a scenario often transcends into your personal life, creating stress you are yearning to break free from.  In fact, freelancer group message boards often seek advice on how to terminate a difficult client relationship.  You can take several actions and approaches to help regain control of your personal and professional life.

Prepare

First things first.  Before you pull the trigger to “fire your client”, prepare properly by reviewing the issues and understanding any outstanding obligations.  Discuss the scenario and action plan with a trusted individual.  Each situation is unique and you should deal differently with a client who is slow at paying opposed to a client who is abusive.  Draw up a strategy commensurate with your situation.

Protect Yourself

Firing a client is difficult and you need to ensure you protect yourself and your reputation.  Maintain composure during the communication by remaining professional.  Articulate your position in a polite and concise manner.  Use appropriate language to help execute your intentions more effectively.  “After careful review, I regret to inform you …” is more diplomatic than “I am firing you”.  Given how you feel about the client, you want to avoid an escalation.  Lastly, be honest in what you communicate.

Communicate Transparently

It is critical you communicate transparently with the client.  The onus is on you to ensure the client fully understands your position.  If your objective is to terminate the relationship, the communication should reflect that.  Similarly, if you are giving the client a warning, clearly outline the parameters and your expectations.  Respond quickly and decisively to avoid drawing out the discussion.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Carefully consider any olive branches you intend to offer to the client.  You may feel like you want to help them find a replacement to soften the blow and make it easier to deliver the message.  This rationale is understandable as you are trying to be a good person.  However, be cautious as this risks delaying the termination and continues to tie you with the difficult client.

Don’t Ignore the Client

I cringe when I see suggestions on message boards to direct emails from a pesky client to the spam folder.  It is not only unprofessional, it also creates a liability for your business, particularly if the client thinks you are still working together.  The client may sue you for damages alleging you failed to provide the professional services you agreed to.  What would happen if a client requests you to provide services that fall outside of your agreement or your agreement already ended?  Shut down any ambiguity immediately through transparent communication.

The (Former) Client Keeps Coming Back!

A common complaint relates to clients who keep coming back AFTER the job has concluded.  Perhaps the client wants you to update your work, requests some “minor” amendments, or needs some form of help.  Even worse, the client doesn’t compensate you for those services.  If appropriate, use the same communication techniques to close the service requests.  Alternatively, enter into a new agreement with the client to offer your services for those specific requests.  Even before you get to this point you can prevent this situation by:

  1. clearly outlining the scope of services, expectations and compensation prior to starting, and

  2. disengaging the job or project once completed by formal sign off from the client.

Get Better Clients!

We have previously posted about what can be done to select better clients.  Review your client selection process to identify what you can do better in the future.  Did you ask the right questions?  Did you identify any red flags?  Are the client’s priorities at odds with yours?  Do not be afraid to ask tough questions.

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