All money is not good money. Some clients are a pleasure to work with; others are not. A bad client for one freelancer may be a great client for another. It’s the clients that are not a pleasure to work for that you need to watch out for. Everybody has their own definition of what’s tolerable and what isn’t. You need to find your own comfort level, or put another way you need to know what you won’t tolerate. If you’re the type of freelancer that will tolerate every client’s actions no matter what than you don’t need to read this article any further. If you’re like most freelancers you need to know that it is okay to fire a client. Not all clients are whom they appear to be. The client may have inadvertently misrepresented the scope of a project. The client may have purposefully misrepresented the scope of a project. The client may choose to disregard your professional boundaries, whatever they may be. Or your client’s personality may be too abrasive or too condescending for you to have a working relationship with. There may a hundred different reasons why you and a client don’t work out. The key is to figure it out as soon as possible and move on, before you find yourself in an untenable position. A bad client will drain your creative energy, waste your time (when you should have just fired that client and found another one), stress you out, make you question why you ever decided to become a freelancer in the first place, and ultimately the completed project will probably be something you don’t want on your resume (portfolio) anyway. As Yoda would say, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Sometimes firing a client is the right thing to do.
There are some universal signs that a client should be fired and you will develop your own personal signs to watch out for as you gain more experience as a freelancer. Pay attention to these signs so you can prevent a problem (by firing the client) before it escalates out of control. When you’re a novice you may not trust yourself enough to fire a client, however with enough experience (unless you’re a glutton for punishment) you will learn to trust yourself and act (fire) when the signs present themselves.
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” – John D. Rockefeller.
Some examples of signs to watch out for include constant criticism or bullying. Think about it this way; if the client really thinks you’re that incompetent than why doesn’t he fire you? Some clients just like to criticize all the time and these are the types of clients you should fire. If a client is disrespectful towards you, you should let them go. We each have our own definition of what constitutes disrespect; however when a client crosses your personal respect boundary it is time to fire them. If a client consistently ignores your advice; it may be in everyone’s interest to fire each other. Once again why would a client hire you if only to ignore everything you have to say? A late paying client may turn into a non paying client. Use your own judgment here, but these are the types of clients you may consider firing (or demand a larger deposit up front before working). A client that doesn’t know what they want may turn into a big time waster. Be careful with your time; it is precious because it belongs to you and no one else. So if you feel your time is going to be hopelessly wasted because of your client you may want to consider firing them. Some clients are always trying to see what they can get away with. You tell them what the price includes and they want you to do a little extra (for free of course). If a client is demanding too much without compensation it may be time to fire them. Here is another example that I hope never happens to you, but I have had a client that had severe comprehension problems. We would spend hours working something out only to have the client forget everything we discussed by the next day. It didn’t matter if it was written down or not the client would still forget. As you can imagine this caused a lot of wasted repetition and lost time. After I fired this client I later learned it was a drug problem. Trust in yourself. If the signs around you are telling you something is wrong; ignore them at your own peril.
If you happen to find yourself in a position where you must fire a client do so respectfully. Do what you must to keep everything as civil as possible, by losing as little money as possible, and losing as little time as possible. Be respectful, explain to your client clearly as to why you can’t work with them, and wish them well in their future business endeavors. Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it cordial, and keep it respectful. If you fear some type of reprisal you may want to keep a copy of any written communication between yourself and the client you just fired. As a last resort if you really are having a hard time firing a client even though you know you should; set a ‘fu#k you price’. If you normally charge $50 an hour kick it up to $100 possibly even $150. Just remember if your client agrees to the ‘fu#k you price’; don’t complain later (it was your choice).
When I was much younger I worked for the city’s local ambulance company. One of the teachings they taught all of their employees who worked in the field was: you come first; your partner second; and the client last. That may sound cold blooded and unnecessary, however that bit of advice has saved many a life. I realize that most freelancers or want to be freelancers reading this article are not going to find themselves in a life or death situation, however there is something to be learned from the above advice. As a freelancer your number one priority is to yourself first. If you have employees or contract other freelancers they come second. The client comes last. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it actually makes sense. The same way you’re taught on an airplane to place the oxygen mask over your face first; then place the mask over your loved ones second. In freelancing you come first. Clients may come and go. Employees and sub contracts with other freelancers may come and go. There is only one you! If this was a game of chess you’re the king. As much as you may hate to loose your other pieces; your focus at all times must be on you (as king freelancer) being considered number one. Without you there is no freelancing business.
Respect starts with your self first. If you don’t respect yourself enough as a freelancer or business person to fire (when justified) a client; than how do you expect others (clients and your peers) to respect you. If a client mistreats you the first time, unless they have a come to Jesus moment, they will most likely mistreat you again, because in their mind if they got away with it once why shouldn’t they get away with again. If you’re going to let a client treat you like an employee and not as a freelancer; than you might as well go back to being an employee. Can you imagine going to your lawyer or doctor and telling them exactly what to do and how to do it, in an aggressive manner? If you did; what do you think their response would be? Joe Public knows not to do that to a doctor or lawyer because the public respects those professions. As a freelancer you must learn to earn the respect of others even if that means letting a client go (firing them).
Whatever your professional boundaries are try and stick to them as closely as possible and be wary of any red flags that suggest your client is refusing to respect them (aka you). If you have employees they will respect you more, because they will view you as a leader that actually cares about their well being. If you are a business of one you will respect yourself more because you stood up for yourself. It is never a pleasant experience to have to fire a client, however if it something that you should do and you do it, at the end of the day you will be glad you did it. You’ll respect yourself more. Those who work for you will respect and appreciate your decision. Believe it or not the client you fired will respect you too. (True story the client I fired apologized the next day and various times through out the following week asked for me to take them back). If you truly love something you have to be willing to let it go. If you really want to be a freelancer some times you have to let your clients go. It’s nothing personal (don’t make it personal) it’s just business. If you think you’ll never have to fire a client; think again. If you don’t think you can fire a client than you may want to rethink being a freelancer and go back to being an employee. Don’t chase the money; chase the freedom of being your own boss.
Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion.” – Tony Hsieh.
When taking on a new project we often think of all the outward reasons why we need to do this such as; bills, retirement, I have to have money to buy my girlfriend that gift I promised her, or I need to start saving now for that trip to Grandma’s over Christmas. We seldom ask ourselves is this project worth it? Will this project make me happy? Is this how I really want to be spending my precious time and energy? Do I really want to be working with this particular client?
Stress kills. Repeated stress is a hazard to one’s health. It can lead to heart disease and cancer. According to Carolyn Aldwin, with the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, whether the stress is from a major event or what some would consider a minor problem; both forms of stress can be deadly. (1) One major reason to freelance, or be your boss, is to have more control over your life. Being an employee severely restricts what controls you have over your working life. As a freelancer one can choose what assignments to take and which ones not too. Some stress as a freelancer is unavoidable, however some stress you have chosen to deal with. If a client is stressing you out and you don’t want to deal with; don’t! Otherwise you might as well go back to working a J O B (job) for someone else and just grin and bear it. With freedom comes great responsibility. You have the freedom to look for work. You have the freedom to say no to work. And you have the freedom to fire a client!
Whenever in doubt about what to do remember this. If you hate what you do then why are you doing it? The root of the word freelancer is free. Exercise your freedom (to fire) you’re not a wage slave anymore.
Wisdom is an extension of experience. Every industry is slightly different, yet there are some commonalities. Trusting one’s gut may sound too abstract. That’s just another way of saying trust your intuition. If you think something is wrong with your working relationship with your client; investigate further to see if you’re right or not. Don’t ignore the warning signs whatever those warning signs may be. It may be something as simple as a client refusing to follow your simple instructions. Or a client refusing to respect your boundaries like calling you at 6 when you stated clearly that you stop work at 5. Or it could be more telling such as a client being verbally abusive with you over the phone. Whatever red flags are present don’t ignore them. It’s best to try and resolve them as soon as possible. If the situation won’t be resolved then it may be wise for you to reassess if you want to continue your working relationship with your client. Learning when or if to fire a client will only come thru experience. In my opinion no matter how many books or articles you may read on the subject; you personally will never know when or if to fire a client without experience working for yourself.
Follow the dream (your passion) not the money. I realize this is much easier said than done. Ask yourself why you want to work on a particular project and why you want to work with a particular client? Never be afraid to walk away. Never be afraid to fire a client.
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