Two Great Reasons to Fire Your “Good” Clients

This was a banner year for me as a freelance writer—it was the year I started firing clients. And not just the ones who were difficult, unreasonable, or downright rude. Severing those types of relationships should be a no-brainer if you’re going to maintain your sanity as a freelancer.

This year, I went one step further and found the courage to fire the ones who—although perfectly civil, reliable, and easy to work with—were simply not moving my career in the right direction.

In this post, I’ll explain why I took this drastic step.

Why I Fired My “Good” Clients

Firing good clients may sound pretty foolhardy. After all, we’re going through a deep, prolonged, global recession. I’m lucky to even have clients. If they’re not downright abusive or crazy, shouldn’t I be doing my level best to keep them?

Maybe. After all, it takes time and energy to find and retain new clients. And firing them leaves a hole in both your work schedule and your finances—the bigger the client, the bigger the hole.

But sometimes that’s just the motivation we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. And recession or no, I want my career to be shaped by aspirations, not fear.

Which Clients Did I Fire?

So what kinds of clients did I fire this year? Here are two examples of perfectly good clients I chose to let go of in pursuit of a more focused and rewarding freelance career:

  • The client whose work doesn’t enhance your abilities or your portfolio. Very early in my freelancing career, I picked up a client who needed very light, simple articles written about promotional merchandise—gift baskets, monogrammed golf shirts, and so on. She paid reasonably well for the articles, and they were a cinch to write. The work was easy and stress-free, and the client was easy-going, appreciative, and paid on time every time. But I made the decision to end the relationship with her because the work was doing nothing to enhance my skills or build an impressive portfolio. I realized that every frothy article I wrote for her was taking me away from the type of client work or self-promotion activities that could help me move my career forward. Sure, the relationship was comfy, but where would it leave me in the long term? As freelancers, our portfolios are an integral part of our marketability. If my portfolio is full of fluffy filler, chances are I’ll continue to attract more jobs of that caliber. Refusing to do that kind of work doesn’t automatically guarantee I’ll land better-quality projects in future, but it does give me the time and the headspace to work on attracting quality work—by doing some outreach to a new market, for instance, or taking a course, or improving my website.
  • The client whose work isn’t a fit with your own ethics or values. As freelancers, few of us are lucky enough to work exclusively with clients whose values reflect our own perfectly. However, when the rift is wide, it may be time to let the client go. I made the decision to sever relations with a client earlier this year because their business was moving in a direction I wasn’t comfortable with. I had written web copy for their health supplement, and they were happy enough with my work to contract me for a series of e-newsletters, blog posts, and landing pages. The work was great, and they even stuck with me loyally through two rate hikes. However, the claims they made for their product were becoming more and more unrealistic, and the sales pitch began to feel an awful lot like snake oil to me. I think they truly believed their product was the cure for everything from obesity to asthma to osteoporosis—but I didn’t. And I didn’t feel good about writing inspirational articles about how a few spoonfuls of vitamin powder could solve readers’ health problems. When I finally fired this client, the boost it gave my self-esteem and sense of integrity was well worth the loss of the business.

It’s important to feel confident about the work you do as a freelancer—if it’s not something you want to share with the world, think carefully about whether it truly fits your vision. Do you need the money that badly? What if you could find work that’s personally satisfying as well as financially rewarding?

How to Fire a Good Client the Right Way

Even with a bad client, you want to end the relationship in a positive and professional manner. A good client who has treated you fairly deserves an extra measure of respect and consideration when it’s time to move on and let them go. Firing a good client requires finesse and forethought.

On a more practical note, here are some tips for bowing out gracefully:

  • Do it face to face. Firing a client via email is only appropriate if your communication with them occurs exclusively in this medium. If this is a client you regularly meet with in person, fire them in person. If it’s a remote relationship, but you talk regularly using the phone or VoIP, talk to them voice to voice about the need to sever the relationship.
  • Keep it civil. We’re so used to break-ups that involve anger and blame, it’s easy to default to those settings. Make sure you remain neutral and supportive during the conversation or email exchange. It’s not about laying blame. It’s about explaining to your client that you’re transitioning into a different phase in your career, and convincing them that in future, they will be better served by someone whose objectives are more closely aligned with theirs.
  • Give them fair warning. Your client relies on you to keep their business running smoothly, so don’t disrupt things by leaving them in the lurch. Make it clear that you fully intend to complete any projects that are still in play. To leave a really good impression, offer to continue working with them while they search for your replacement—but do put a time limit on the offer!
  • Refer them to another freelancer. If there’s a freelancer you know and trust that you know would be the right fit for the client’s work, make an introduction. You’ll prove to the client that you care about leaving them in good hands, and you’ll earn the gratitude of the freelancer you refer them to. Good karma all around.

Your Turn

Have you ever fired a “good” client?

Without naming names, share your story in the comments.

Image by jm3