My 3 past firing techniques:
* I was repeatedly “too busy” when a cheap offer from a client turned up in my inbox.
* I declared I felt “uncomfortable” translating porn.
* I simply refused to “give a discount” to a pushy client.
Except for the second client, to my relief, the others never returned.
Reasons to Fire Your Client
Posted August 10, 2011 in Managing Clients
It’s something we don’t like to admit very often is it? No matter how great of a freelancer we are, no matter how fantastic your contracts and vetting process is, you’ll ultimately end up with a client you feel that you can no longer work with. Hopefully, you’ve protected yourself so that these occurrences are rare, but no matter how rare, they’re never easy nor pretty.
As well as I think my personal vetting process has been, I’ve had some clients who’ve been unreasonable, demanding, and some have been downright crookish. I’ve had everything from a client demanding extra free work to the client who didn’t read the contract, demanded non-refundable deposits back and told me they hoped karma’s a you-know-what to me.
While a lot of this stuff was due to shortcomings on my end. I should’ve watched the designer’s mockups and caught the “extras” the clients were putting in, I shouldn’t have made an exception to a business rule I have, you matter how patient you are, no matter how hard you try to work with your client, sometimes it’s unavoidable. You have to part ways.
There have been several times that I’ve been unsure of whether I should finally fire the client and move on. Some of my “worst” first clients have turned out to become fantastic ones in the long run. So when should you decide to fire that client or continue working with them (and hopefully educating them so it’s easier the next time)?
Rude, Immoral, or Downright Criminal Behavior
There are certain times where I never hesitate to fire a client or to refuse a potential client. You should never stand for anyone who treats you with anything less than respect. You are a professional business owner, no matter what your age, and you should expect to be treated as one. I’d give the client a warning or two, but after that I’d refuse to work or even respond to their emails. There are too many nice clients in the world for you to have to work with the jerks.
Is the client being immoral? Are they demanding free work or extra revisions? Do they want work down on something you’re morally against? (Be it religious, politics or porn?) One of the major reasons people go into freelance is so they can choose what kind of work they can do. At one of my old jobs, I was forced to do work for clients that I was politically and morally, against. I promised myself I would never compromise on my values as a freelancer, and neither should you.
If the project is downright illegal, don’t even think twice about turning that one down. You don’t want the CIA kicking down your front door, do you?
Will They Agree to Pay a PIA Fee?
A fellow business owner, who actually runs a medium size agency, gave me some great advice once. They mentioned that if I found myself dealing with a client that I was unsure about, so raise my prices until it made me eager to work on the project, or to turn them down. This goes for working with the client as well. If you think the client is going to be a big pain, charge them double or triple fees. I’ve actually had clients come to me telling me that they’re very demanding, so make sure to charge extra to anticipate extra work (a nice way of calling the PIA fee).
If getting extra money for dealing with a bad client sounds good to you, go ahead and do it. If you have a short fuse though, it’s best to skip the client and the potential for things to turn sour and move on.
Is Your Business on the Line?
Some clients will actually threaten you if they don’t get their way. I’m not talking about physically threatening, I’m talking about the kind where they get on every social media site and tell everyone you’re a terrible freelancer and never to work with you–whether you really deserve that or not.
This is a personal call you’re going to have to make. Is it just a small change that you can quickly do to quiet them and send them on their way? Or are they demanding an entire month’s worth of work? Do they have a large following online to where they can really hurt?
It’s unfortunate that some people feel they have a right to use the internet to bully people to do what they want. I’ve always followed the mindset to never compromise my integrity and to not worry about other people. If they want to try to make me look bad, they can go ahead. That’s what referrals and testimonials are for right? Ultimately it’s up to you to decide which way to go on this one.
How to Fire a Client
Deciding to fire the client is a hard enough decision, but actually doing it can make you feel like you’re the worst person in the world. I promise you are not! The way you handle this though can make a big difference in whether the client goes away wanting to ruin your reputation online, or goes away somewhat upset but fine.
The easiest way to fire a client, is to not accept new projects from them. If all possible, try to finish the project you started with that client and if they come back with a new project, politely decline. Some of the freelancers I speak to will be brutally honest with the client as to why they’re not taking the project on, others will tell the client they’re too busy or not accepting new projects.
If you must fire a client in the middle of the project, you’ll have to give them a good, honest reason why. When you accepted the project, you took on a responsibility, ensuring the client that you were going to finish, so no matter how evil they are they do deserve a reason. Just be sure you never write an email when you’re angry. If possible, get a friend or family member to read it over before you send it.
How do you handle firing a client? What makes you decide to finally pull the plug?
Image by Bill Dimmick
- When to Fire Your Client
- Three Sure-Fire Ways To Receive A Killer Referral From Your Clients
- Fire Them Up!
- Jump-Starting Freelancing Productivity: 9 Reasons Why and 5 Reasons How Working Smarter Works
- 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Meet Deadlines For Freelancers & Web Workers
Unleash the true potential of your business. Get The Unlimited Freelancer and start transforming your freelance business,
now only $19.
August 10th, 2011 at 9:50 am
My 3 past firing techniques:
PaulaAugust 10th, 2011 at 10:46 am
It comes down to money. I just fired a client, a really nice one. It took me a couple of weeks to make the decision because I was looking at it from a personal standpoint. The client was pleasant to work with and was always happy with my work. But it came down to the fact that they didn’t have much budget at all and every single project they sent me ended up being double the time for various reasons. Double the time with half the pay. I was spending more time on their stuff to the detriment of my other, higher paying, clients. So I found someone I had worked with a lot before, who worked at a lower rate than me, and let the client know I was too busy now to handle their work but my colleague would take over. I helped over the weekend to make the transition easy. My colleague was grateful for the new client, the client was happy I made sure they were taken care of and suddenly I have time for my other clients again. Win. Win. Win.
August 10th, 2011 at 10:48 am
@Paula That’s a great reason and one I overlooked! It’s fantastic that you took the time to help your client transition to someone else :)
August 10th, 2011 at 10:58 am
What you’re saying is that you don’t enter into a contract with your client. What ever happen to that breach of contract thing? Don’t they have that in your state?
August 10th, 2011 at 11:09 am
Amber, this is a great post. You make a very valid point that I haven’t thought of before, witch is the PIA fee. It makes total sense. I, fortunately, haven’t had a client yet that I disliked to the point where I thought I would have to fire them. However, it’s inevitable…
Firing a client would be a tough situation once the project has already started. But, you gotta do what you gotta do and if it’s right for you, then do it. Like you said, more happy (non PIA) clients are waiting for your services.
August 10th, 2011 at 11:11 am
@Gold not sure how you came to that conclusion…
August 10th, 2011 at 12:05 pm
Good post. But what is a PIA fee?
I fired two clients (translation agencies) so far this year.
One took 80 days more than once to pay although my terms are 30 days net.
I told the guy that I would take on new work only if he prepays with a credit card.
He said that did not work for him and now he’s gone, which works for me.
Another agency wanted me to discount my translations, all my translation, not just for a single project, by 10%. I offered a discount of 5%, they did not take it, so now they are gone too.
Which makes it possible for me to replace this outfit by a company that pays better rates.
August 10th, 2011 at 12:06 pm
A client is a identity that contracts for services. After the contract is completed the identity becomes a prospect. Your problem may arises when you try to terminate the contract.
I’ve had relationships with identities that irked me no end. I discovered that an across the line price adjustment for my services eliminated the problems and increased the bottom line.
When the prospect comments that the “price is high,” I start off by letting them, “I know that’s because I’m the best”!
August 10th, 2011 at 1:35 pm
I think what Gold is saying is that, unless you have a “jackass” clause in your contract with the client, the fact that he or she is rude to you isn’t a breach. You can always walk. But then you’d be in breach, and that may be fine. But our contracts have specific provisions for when a breach occurs on either side. So far, I’ve never had to do anything like that. By the time they’ve filled out our web design worksheet and we’ve gone back and forth with the proposal and hashed out the contract, we pretty much know when it’s time to “sign on the dotted line” whether we can live with one another long enough to get through the project. :)
August 10th, 2011 at 1:42 pm
I remember firing a client because of how he spoke to me and treated me in general. He raised his voice at me about something that once again wasn’t discussed as an initial part of the project. I kept my cool for the first 10 minutes of him yelling at me, and then I finally started yelling back and told him we would no longer be taking his projects. Then he hung up on me.
We had done his work for about 3 years at that time. The funny thing is when he hung up, my husband and I started celebrating that we finally dumped the jerk of a client…I got that strange feeling he wasn’t really gone. I told my husband that the client was probably going to come groveling back. It took less than 3 hours and ge did. He apologized profusely to me and for 8 more years now my husband does his projects.
Unfortunately we’re getting ready to dump him again. He pays too slow yet demands quick turn-around. It’s just not worth the hassle anymore.
Great read Amber! I love the PIA reference because we already inflate for those type of customers. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
Another possible client wanted a new website quote. So we gave it. Then they decided they couldn’t afford it and wanted nuisance changes to their current website until we start their new one. So we did a couple of changes. Then a few weeks later they wanted more. So I let them down easy and told them we don’t do the little jobs. Got rid of them fast.
It’s all in how you handle them.
August 10th, 2011 at 1:50 pm
I keep it nice and simple.
I got a simple list of terms that consist of the services I provide in both quality and quantitative terms (such as unlimited wireframes, any re-designs are a fee, etc.). If the client breaks anything on my terms I consider unruly, I’ll let them go like a fish you’ve hooked and set free back into its body of water. I got in my terms that either I or the client can stop the project if either party is unsatisfied. It keeps me working on client satisfaction and ensures I do my best, but I’m not stuck in that situation at all.
I’d find someone else to take over for the client, if they were nice. If they were being a dick, I wouldn’t want my friend designers/developers doing work with them since they might get pissed off with you. It’s best to just let a bad client go free. But I’ll always help someone looking for service and acting responsibly. If you’re backed by many people who can counter a rogue client, you’re fine. A good portfolio and testimonials are gold for freelancers, so let it speak its worth.
I haven’t had to deal with this. But I am well prepared due to the amount of research I do and continually tweaking my form before I begin a project.
JimAugust 10th, 2011 at 2:03 pm
My #1 reason is not being paid. Just happened to me two weeks ago.
I have a VERY GOOD contract, but, in the end, the contract is really only good for defining what each will do, and how and when I’ll be paid for work done. I don’t have it to sue anyone (at least not at the dollar amount involved here.)
So, no pay, no workee.
August 10th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
Jim….you’re right. It sometimes doesn’t matter how solid your contract is, some clients won’t follow through.
In my major contracts I request progress payments and spell out dates that they’re to be made. When it comes to completion, and handing over the final project, it’s sometimes a crapshoot for some designers. I’ve only had one major client who didn’t pay but in the long run even suing won’t help us with that one.
August 10th, 2011 at 4:31 pm
@Steve A PIA fee is “A Pain in the Arse” fee ;)
August 10th, 2011 at 4:38 pm
We call that a PITA fee or Jackass fee. :)
August 10th, 2011 at 5:05 pm
I’ve never had to fire a client yet (though, I did quit a job as a contracted developer at a company because they constantly insisted that I do free work to make them look good), but I fear I may be experiencing the first case of needing to. I have a current client, who shall remain nameless of course, that is late on several payments spanning a few months. Reassurances that s/he will pay by specific dates are becoming less and less reliable as the weeks go by. I may have to take my losses and move on with filling my schedule.
In the end: use solid contracts, and be mindful of clients who defy even those. Some people may be that cocky. I’ve heard from others how some clients will call your bluff and stop paying, and they do it because they believe the amount they owe is less than what you’d pay in legal fees going after them.
August 10th, 2011 at 5:13 pm
@TheAL We found ourselves in that kind of pickle one time. Then we decided to collect payments incrementally so that we aren’t holding the bag and the client has incentive to pay so that work can continue. You don’t want to be in the position of being out on a limb on your time and effort without recompense. We also have a restart fee in our contract so that if the we don’t hear from the client for 90 days, the project is considered abandoned and we collect a percentage to restart the projet, another incentive for them to keep moving forward. It probably also helps that most of my clients are aware that I work a swing shift in a very very large law firm. :)
August 10th, 2011 at 5:21 pm
@Joni…… OMG!!! I love the restart fee idea! I’m going to incorporate that into my contracts.
August 10th, 2011 at 5:25 pm
@Christina We HAD to do that; we ended up with various projects half-finished. People would run out of funds or lose focus halfway through the project. Since that clause has been in the contract, we haven’t had that happen anymore. Now, it won’t stop a client who’s strapped for cash. If he doesn’t have the money to pay to finish the site, he won’t have the restart fee. But it does keep the others from foot-dragging. Because they realize it WILL cost them to do so.
August 10th, 2011 at 5:35 pm
@Joni… We just had a website project drag out to over a year! That is a first for us.
It was a website build for a business organization. Well they have a graphic designer who is a member (and knows nothing about websites) and she kept redesigning our designs as if they were print projects to work in a website design.
It was like she was wanting us to teach her how to do websites.
When push came to shove, I got a call from the President yelling at me about why it was taking so long to get their website up.
The thing that saved me is that I was documenting everything this other person did, on what date, what I did in response and how it affected the project. I emailed it to the group and they presented it to the other members who in-turn lashed out at the graphic designer.
Then I continued on with the project and just finally a little over a year later, the website is live and working. :) I’m just happy I saved my reputation.
August 10th, 2011 at 6:10 pm
Great post. Some people are just not worth the time or trouble it takes. I had a project earlier this year to do a postcard mailing for a company. It should have taken about 4 hours over a week’s time, so I charged a flat $250. Unfortunately, the woman I worked with had to get everything approved by her husband. The only opinion he was capable of expressing was, “I don’t like it — start over!” I lost $1500 on the project. They also want a new Web site. I followed up once and they put me off. I don’t think I’ll follow up again!
August 11th, 2011 at 1:35 am
Well, the beauty of a being a freelancer is that you can choose your clients, you also have the power to decline a client. Unlike working in an agency or company, you have no choice but to accept the project no matter how annoying the client maybe. I agree with Amber’s rationale not to accept new projects from the same annoying client, but that will only work for freelancers, I think because for companies, more project means more income.
August 11th, 2011 at 1:56 am
Great post, Amber! It doesn’t sound so good to let go of your client, especially when the pay is good. But sometimes, we have no choice than to make tough decisions. It could be a blessing in disguise. Besides, a freelancer is not expected to stick his or her entire life to a particular client, especially if he’s the bullying, rude type or a scammer who would pay a paltry price and demand extra revisions again and again.
On my part, I have had to let a client go because he wasn’t able to control himself after taking too much alcohol. Having lost his sense of judgement, he couldn’t marry the content I submitted with his requirements and started talking gibberish. He admitted his guilt and apologize for his rude behavior. But I couldn’t cope any longer, there are just too many nice clients in the world than to keep absorbing abuses from a single one. Sure, I let go of him, not before I got my full pay for the work done!
August 11th, 2011 at 2:56 am
@Catena: Since you’ve dealt with that, you’ll need a countermeasure.
Ever consider charging flat rates and charging per hour IF the client drags out the project? I’m pretty sure that would deter people from wasting your time.
Or you could ask for payments in increments of intervals, like I’ll work on your project for as long as you want, but you’ll have to pay $200 every week or something like that.
It doesn’t have to be any of these, these are just ideas. The goal is to minimize your loss and increase your gain. If your client wanted you to do a redesign, you should put in your contract that there are redesign fees.
I basically have that. My particular setup is I do unlimited wireframes detailing layout/functionality/site features. If I design something and have to start over, I let the person know that they’ll be charged for it ahead of time. And design is generally trickier, because it’s more prone to opinion. Clients don’t care about code, they care that the features work.
The look of a website can be many times worse because everyone has their thoughts on what their ideal design is.
ChristiAugust 15th, 2011 at 5:50 pm
It’s always a good idea to have a clause in the contract about the right to fire the client and keep the deposit. I know I have one! Along with the interest that starts accruing if payment is not on time. Having a solid contract is key. If the client actually reads your contract, they should know you are a professional and not someone who just does this for fun.
- Reasons to Fire Your Client :: Freelance WordPress Developer Amber Weinberg
- Reasons to Fire Your Client
- Reasons to Fire Your Client | World's Greatest T-Shirt
- Reasons to Fire Your Client | FreelanceFolder | freelance copywriting | Scoop.it
- Reasons to Fire Your Client | TRUtricks
- In The Sphere: Passwords and Security « BlueFur.com
- Reasons to Fire Your Client | FreelanceFolder | LinguaGreca | Scoop.it
- In case you missed it… Weekly favorites (Aug 8-14) | Adventures in Freelance Translation by Lingua Greca
- Two Great Reasons to Fire Your “Good” Clients | ro-Stire
- Two Great Reasons to Fire Your “Good” Clients | World's Greatest T-Shirt
Sign up for our product discount list to get a free copy of Why Some Freelancers Thrive and Others Barely Survive. You can unsubscribe anytime.
- SEO Techniques All Top Websites Should Use
- When a Client Can't Afford You: Why It's Still Better to Bid High
- How To Stop Scrambling For Clients And Get A Steady Stream Of Paying Gigs
- A Simple Way To Stop Clients From Rejecting Your Proposals
- 3 Reasons Your Rates Are Still Low (And How To Start Raising Them)