Why did you become a freelance blogger?
That’s not a hypothetical question, I want to see the reason in the comments below.
Why am I asking? Because most freelancers lose sight of why they shunned the 9-5 to chase the freelance dream.
They start out full of promise. They want to live life on their terms, build their own empire, and get paid to do what they love, write.
If we boil that down, I’d say bloggers like you place a higher importance on happiness and personal growth than simple financial gain.
And that’s amazing.
But it rarely lasts. The dreams that drove you to leave your 9-5 soon escape your grasp. And with them go your positivity, happiness, and dreams of personal growth.
You see, most freelancers I speak to end up miserable, overworked messes. They’re terrified of falling from feast into famine and end up stuck.
Stuck doing work they hate for clients they despise. Stuck being overworked, under appreciated, and wishing they had more time to explore how they can improve themselves and their business.
But their fear of losing income prevents them from doing this. And that’s no way to live.
What most freelancers fail to understand is that holding on to clients because they pay is not how to run a successful business. You are the commodity and the value of your business.
When you’re unhappy, that value drops. You owe it to yourself and your business to drop bad clients. Sure, you’ll lose some income in the short term, but you’ll be a happier, more productive you which will help with long term growth.
Why Dropping Clients is Necessary For Growth and Health
We’ve all had nightmare clients.
Maybe they pay late, keep moving the goalposts, or are just absolute shits. Whatever the reason, the effect is always the same.
A huge drain on your productivity.
When an email from a crappy client drops into your inbox what do you do? Do you immediately see what they need and how you can help? Or do you avoid that email, fret over what they need, and procrastinate elsewhere?
When you can no longer avoid their request how quick are you to get started? Do you jump straight on it or procrastinate for hours?
But most of all, how does your pain in the arse client make you feel? Dejected, undervalued, and pretty useless, right?
Feelings that bleed over into other areas of your business. The time you waste procrastinating on this client’s jobs is time you could spend doing paid work elsewhere.
The feeling of uselessness robs you of your confidence and energy which shows in other client’s work.
Bad clients aren’t just a pain, they’re problematic for you and your business’ growth.
I know it’s scary and can seem like a step back, but you’ve got to drop them.
A happy freelancer is a profitable freelancer. And in that order. Happiness before profitability.
Happiness is not the result of success, success is the result of happiness.
When you’re happy you’ll work harder, achieve more, and do better work leading to more perfect clients. Hold on to crap clients and you’ll stall your career progression.
You owe it to yourself and your business to drop the dead weight.
But you’ve got to do it in the right way. Here’s how I drop bad clients like a bad habit without leaving a bad taste in their mouth.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Dropping the Client
Are you breaking up with this client for the right reasons?
This is the question you ask before taking any action. I speak to a lot of freelancers who, for lack of a better term, are thin skinned.
They perceive criticism to be an attack of their “art”. The perception is often bullshit and ill founded. It’s simply a knee jerk response to a client telling you that something you’ve created is not what they’re looking for.
You can argue the point. And if you have more experience than the client in that sector I’d encourage you to professionally disagree and explain why. But remember, it’s ultimately the client’s decision. They know their business better than you and their criticism might have nothing to do with your work, but with their long term business goals.
So before you take actions to drop a client, I want you to answer the below questions:
Is the client being a dick, or are they offering constructive criticism that’ll help you grow?
A huge difference many writers fail to notice. Sure, you’ve put your heart and soul into a piece, but the criticism you receive is often well intended. If it’s about the work then listen to what they say and improve. If it’s personal or just absurd then smile, nod, and move on.
Is the client making ridiculous requests, or do they have a plan you’re not aware of?
Clients are often looking at a far larger content picture. You’re simply one cog of a larger machine. That request to remove all reference to X might be because they have an upcoming article exploring it in more detail. Before you get frustrated ask yourself (or the client) if there’s a reason behind their decisions.
Does the problem occur often, or is this a one off?
Even clients have bad days. They can miss a payment, be short on the phone, or say something they later regret. Give them a break, they’re only human. But if the problem occurs time after time, it’s time to bounce.
Can you do the job well?
The work you do for the client will ultimately go into your portfolio or be attributed to you. If you can’t do a good job you’re going to hate the work and not want to use it later in your portfolio, so it might be better to move on.
Has the client worked with freelancers before?
If not, the problems might just be a case of education. Working with outside help is a new process and they might need educating in how to manage everything. Instead of dropping them prematurely, help them to better help you.
Can you afford a temporary lull in income?
It’ll take a little while to fill the income gap. Ideally you’d have a replacement client lined up before dropping your current source of income, but that’s not always possible in the battle to save your mental health. When you have to get rid of a client ASAP ask yourself if you can afford to lose a few weeks/months of income.
If you ask yourself the above and are still set on dropping them, here’s a few steps I recommend.
For god’s sake remain professional. Above all else this is the key takeaway from this piece.
Sure, they may have stiffed you on payment or berated you on a personal level. And yeah, telling them to go forth and fornicate would make you feel a hell of a lot better in the short term.
But refrain from personal outbursts. Your emotions will betray you here.
This is a business relationship, and even if the client acts like a child you shouldn’t. Taking the high road gives them little ammunition if they talk to their other editor friends about you.
Finish Existing Obligations
This falls under remaining professional.
If you’ve agreed with the client to complete X pieces, you complete X pieces. Even if you’re halfway through and they’re making your life a living hell, you finish what you agreed.
There’s no faster way to get a bad rep than to renege on your promises. Don’t be a dick, keep your word.
Give a Little Notice
Unless working on a single project, give the client a little notice you’re leaving.
They might be relying on you to provide their weekly blog content, and if you just up and leave after your next payment they’re not gonna appreciate it.
Do the decent thing and let them know you’re leaving so they have time to find a replacement. They might be pissed you’re leaving, but they’ll appreciate the notice as it’ll help them continue their service with no breaks.
Stick to Your Guns
What happens if they offer you more money or an increased workload?
Well, unless a lack of work or payment was the reason for leaving, you shouldn’t stick around. I know it’s tempting to stay on with a client if they’re providing you with a healthy wedge, but if you dread doing their work then that money really isn’t worth it.
Stick to your guns. You made the decision to end the agreement for the right reasons, don’t get drawn back in to a shit situation for a few extra dollars.
Call, Don’t Email
The lack of tone in email means there’s the potential for some pretty damaging misinterpretation.
You’re basically telling someone you don’t like them. Sure, you’ve remained professional, but there might be some part of the client that will take this denial of service personally.
If there’s even a small part of your email which could be misconstrued, there’s a good chance it will be.
Don’t take the chance of pissing the client off at the last hurdle. Give them the respect they deserve and explain everything to them over the phone. You’ll reduce the potential for misunderstanding and it will be far better received.
Refer Some Other Writers to Take Your Place
This could be a win-win for you.
If you know another writer who could fill your shoes then let the client know. Reach out to the writer, explain the situation, and explain why it could be a perfect fit for them.
You’ll not only keep the client happy by ensuring there’s no break in their service, but you’ll also have earned a favour from a friend.
A Quick Script to Follow
I’m not a huge fan of providing scripts. They’re too generic and are often easily spotted for what they are, quick and easy copy – paste jobs.
However, I know this is a pretty sensitive subject so I’ve included the skeleton template I use when telling a client we can no longer be content-chums.
I’ve written out an explanation each section and included a slightly amended version (for anonymity’s sake) of a client I very recently dropped.
Hey [Client Name],
Some small talk
Bring up a recent project’s success, how things are with the business etc. Basic phone stuff rather than just jumping in to “I can’t do this anymore!”
How are things going with the office expansion? (And then a handful of relevant responses to the client’s response).
Tell them why you’re calling
Get into it now. You’re not here for a chat, you’re here to break up. Once the niceties are over do what needs to be done.
I’m calling because I’ve unfortunately got to end our working relationship after we complete this project.
You’ll likely be given an “oh, really?” type response then a request for clarification. Don’t lie, but at the same time, remain professional. Give the real reason to save the next freelancer they hire the headache you had to deal with.
It’s mainly due to the delayed payments and communication. We contractually agreed on a two week turnaround for payment and had a strict communication policy for each project. Both of which are heavily delayed.
The lack of communication is causing more work. 4-6 weeks after submitting I’m getting feedback on how to edit, feedback which could have been applied to the work turned in the interim. If I had the feedback when agreed, I wouldn’t need to re-edit everything turned in during those 4-6 weeks. The extensive edits take too much time and have made the agreed fee too little for the time I’m spending on this.
And then each payment is very late. As a small business owner, having to chase your finance team for 3-4 weeks after the payment deadline before negotiating the contractually agreed late payment fees is wreaking havoc with my accounting.
Close this off and ensure you do not bend to any requests from them. Close it down with a definite end and offer them a next step.
After the current project is complete I’ll forward my invoice but will be unable to undertake any more work. To reduce the chance of breaks in service I’d recommend you begin looking for a replacement service provider now. I know a guy who could undertake this work for a similar fee and would be happy to refer him if you’d like.
The above is a slightly amended (and hastily recollected) version of an actual call I made to break up with a client. We’re completing the project and they declined my offer of a referral but, otherwise, all is about as good as it can be when telling someone you don’t like the way they operate.
Breaking Up With Clients is a Necessary Part of Freelance Life
As a freelancer, your happiness and mental well-being is of the utmost importance. You don’t have the benefit of a team of people helping you in every area. To grow a successful business you need to ensure you now only enjoy what you’re doing, but also you’re doing it with people you enjoy speaking to.
If you want to make this freelancing thing a success you have to drop dead weight. You only have so many hours in a day and life’s too short to deal with dick clients who drain you of your productivity and creativity.
Just be sure that you’re ending those crap work relationships for the right reasons and in the right way.
So tell me… Why did YOU start freelancing? And have you broken up with any clients lately?