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