Every freelancer has had that client.
You know the one I mean — the client all your friends hear about over drinks, whose name you dread seeing in your email inbox or your phone’s caller ID.
You know working with that client makes your life harder, but you can’t shake the feeling there’s something wrong with ending a client relationship.
That’d mean less money in the bank each month. You’re supposed to be grateful for any work you get, right?
One of the great (and often underused) privileges of working for yourself is the ability to walk away when something’s not working. Your time is valuable, so don’t feel obligated to spend it on a client that isn’t worth it to you.
There are many valid reasons to dump a client. You already know the most obvious: too little pay.
Even when that’s not an issue, there can be other problems. Here are seven more solid reasons to feel good about dumping that client.
1) Bad clients require more energy than good ones
Unnecessary drama, requests for endless re-writes, and chasing down late checks are all a waste of time and energy when you should be, you know, blogging.
To make a good living as a freelance blogger, you have to be productive.
A client who causes extra stress is bad for productivity, which means they’re bad for your bottom line.
Dumping a stressful client might mean you make less this month, but you’ll get your energy back to apply to productive work. That’ll pay off in the long term.
2) You want to keep moving up
This is your career. A client who pays too little, doesn’t respect you, or otherwise has a negative influence on your life and work isn’t helping you build a better career.
There are better clients out there. Always be on the lookout for them and never feel bad about leaving behind those that don’t value you as highly.
3) The client is not always right
Sometimes clients are insistent on work that goes against blogging best practices. Is your client pushing tactics that feel a bit too spammy? Or insisting on something you know wouldn’t be right for the blog’s audience?
Writers should always be open to feedback from clients and happy to educate them. But only up to a point. You know what you’re doing; if your client won’t listen to your expertise and insists on moving in a direction you don’t believe in, you might be better off without them.
4) Sometimes you’re just not a good fit
Do you prefer everything in writing, but find yourself stuck with a client that insists on long, aimless phone calls? Do you need a calendar of assignments in advance, but they expect you to drop everything for rush assignments regularly?
Every freelance blogger is different in our habits and preferences, but recognizing how we work well is an important part of the job. A client can be perfectly respectable and pleasant, but have a work or communication style that makes your job harder.
5) Bad clients prevent you finding better clients
Every freelance blogger is familiar with the persistent challenge of balancing your marketing efforts with your client work. Every hour spent working for a bad client is an hour that could have been spent pitching a guest post, networking, cold calling or whatever form of marketing you prefer.
Remember those better clients I mentioned? You’re missing out on chances to find (and be found by) them if you’re bogged down in work for a client you don’t want anymore.
6) It’s OK to need more time for you
Gaining more time and energy to spend on your business is important, but what about the time you need for YOU? When you’re running your own business, it gets easy to forget about how important taking time for the (non-work) things you love is.
Take time to go for hikes, read good books, or do whatever your go-to hobby for relaxing and enjoying life is. If you don’t take that time for yourself, you won’t be “on” in the hours you devote to work.
7) You’ll be free (at last!) to enjoy freelancing again
Any guilt you may feel about the idea of ending a client relationship is unnecessary. Trade it in for the sense of liberation that comes with knowing you decide who’s worthy of your time.
Stay professional when you quit working with clients who make you feel not-so-liberated. Dumping a client doesn’t have to mean losing a potentially valuable contact, so keep your tone civil and help your client move on — offer a referral to another blogger you know will find the project more fulfilling, or suggestions on where the client might find a suitable new blogger.
It only takes one simple email or call to dump your problem client, and then you can get back to days that are less stressful and more productive. #WORTHIT. [Tweet this!]
Now, it’s time.
Speak up and let that problem client know it’s over.
Great article Kristen.
I fortunately haven’t dealt with bad clients, but that’s not to say it won’t happen during my freelance writing career.
It’s always good to get reminders about why we are worth it! Thanks
Kristen Hicks says
Lucky you! I hope it stays that way.
Anthony English says
I don’t exactly have *bad* clients, but sometimes the service level I provide is far too high for the price. It’s a bit like blogging: your post stays in draft mode and never gets published. Same with the customers: their job is a work in progress, and because the little return or feedback you get, it’s hard to stay motivated.
For the customers, I sometimes tell them: “probably better for both of us if I use my time this way instead.”
For the blogging permanent draft problem, I’m trying 3 “lines” to help me get the blog from draft to publish: a Headline, a red line (the willingness to write furiously and then edit just as furiously) and a deadline. Here’s a blog post explaining how: http://goo.gl/mL0qml
Alicia Rades says
Great post! I love each and every reason you give.
Kristen Hicks says
Thanks! I hope it comes in handy just when people need it most.
Medha BN says
The picture of the guy trying to get off the sticky gum says it all!
I have had this problem in the beginning of my career where I was in fix ‘to let go or not to’ since I was new and inexperienced.
For 2 reasons it made me stick to them
– genuinely I thought my write-ups required polishing lack of experience
– badly in need of some clients to work with and make some money
Totally agree with your point 6- there was no ‘me time’.
Though I learnt from my clients’ feedback and re-writes I had absolutely no time to do the things I wanted to do.
It was like “all work and no play made Medha a dull freelance blogger”!
Thanks for the wonderful tips, though the scenario is changed now I can still help myself to betterment.
Great tips Kristen!
I also like to keep in mind that if my relationship with a client is struggling, that client is probably less likely to refer me to other clients or give me a glowing testimonial. So, you’re right – bad clients are bad for business!
Kristen Hicks says
Yeah, if it’s a bad fit for everyone, there’s no benefit to sticking around. It’s worth it to make the end as tactful and respectful as possible to at least not burn bridges.
Great post! It completely validated everything I told myself when I had to let a client go last week. I had a contract with them, but I was willing to break it, as their work was becoming a financial hardship to me (which I think would have been a good affirmative defense should they have decided to sue me for breach of contract). Three blog posts a week was turning into something close to a full-time job for me. And the blogs were going in a direction that I knew from industry experience weren’t going to get them more business.
I sent them a long letter outlining all the issues with their work (many of which had been raised before, so they had been given a fair chance to remedy things). I was sure to tell them how appreciative I was of the opportunity and how pleasant they were to correspond with (all true). I also told them I wasn’t just complaining to them; if they intended to hire another writer to take my place, these issues were going to keep coming up. I also made suggestions for where I thought they should go in the future. The client was surprisingly receptive and understanding. Whew!
I knew I had made the right decision before I even wrote to them when I got what life coach Martha Beck calls the “shackles off” feeling. Within a week I had two new assignments to fill the income void. I think sometimes you need to create that vacuum for new clients to come into your life!
Kristen Hicks says
I’ve struggled before on how much feedback to give a client when ending things. As you said, being honest with them (in a tone that hopefully won’t offend) may make things better for the next freelance writer, so it’s probably worth it.
It’s always tense though! It’s a relief when it’s done and no one’s angry.
Karen J says
Totally and completely agree, there has to be room for “something better” to come in, Patricia *and* Kristin!
Thanks for making room for this, Sophie! <3
Great post. The “blogging best practices” link is broken.
Sophie Lizard says
Thanks, Lisa – fixed it!
kudakwashe mudimu says
Yeah i did loved the article. My problem is im still new to blogging and im inexperienced so to say. i really love blogging , most of the times i will be just reading your tips n other posts, and im hoping as i get going with it i will find all your help and tips very useful to me.
I had a bad client 4 years ago, on Elance. At first he seemed ok, but in few HOURS I realized he’s not such a great client. It took him little to turn from a nice guy to an abusive client. I closed the deal, didn’t accept payment, even if I actually did work for him and focused on other clients. I immediately got 2 more jobs there with some really cool people. One of them hired me 5 times afterwards. So, the little money I lost I made up for with some excellent clients.
Kristen Hicks says
Sometimes it’s hard to tell from the beginning and you just realize little by little it’s not working. There have been other times I had a bad feeling from early on that turned out right.
Either way, the important thing is to not feel trapped and know you can walk away. Sounds like you handled it in just the right way!
Lorraine Reguly says
Sometimes it is not as easy as it sounds to free yourself of the client you don’t particularly like, because you need the money.
In those instances, what are YOUR recommendations?
Kristen Hicks says
It’s hard, but you have to figure out what the balance is between working for them for money and working for yourself to do more marketing and find better clients.
Are you so overwhelmed with work for them that you’re not able to spend time networking, marketing, and researching other options? If so, you could at the very least cut down on how much you’re doing for them for now to open up the room in your schedule to find something better.
And do be sure to use that extra time wisely. Personally, the thing that’s worked best for me is in-person networking. See if you can’t find local meetups and professional groups to attend wherever you can fit it in. I know other writers have found success with cold calling, email marketing, sending pitches, guest blogging and a number of other tactics, so try to figure out what works best for you.
Lorraine Reguly says
Kristen, I was being hypothetical, as I didn’t see this addressed in the post anywhere. I simply wanted to hear your advice. Thank you for providing it! 🙂
Just the article I need to read today 🙂 Thanks!
Marianne Griebler says
#1 is exactly right, in so many ways. When you’re in the right client relationship you literally feel the good energy propelling you through the project, no matter the amount of work or the obstacles. A crappy client makes you doubt your abilities and what you have to offer, which becomes an energy drain all on its own. And none of us has time for that. We need clients who energize us, challenge us, reward us. We deserve nothing less.
Katherine Swarts says
I had a similar experience very recently with a place I’d been doing volunteer work for; I never really wanted the job, I could tell from the beginning it was a poor long-term fit, but I believed in the cause, knew the people well, and everyone talked about how indispensable I was: can you say “feeling trapped, guilty, and afraid of alienating good contacts”?
In the interest of showing that thoughtfulness and understanding CAN be the response, here’s an excerpt of what I received from my “boss” when I finally cut the cord:
I know you have been torn, and I also know that you had intentions of quitting this particular job a long time ago. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so appreciative of your work and wanted to make sure you know it; I’ve known how much you dislike it, but admire the work ethic you’ve shown to continue doing it as long as you have. I also know how the lack of organization … drives you nuts because I’ve gone through that myself. … The difference is that I get PAID to do this. …There is no reason for you to continue something that’s making you miserable, particularly on a volunteer basis.
I feel bad that I’ve made you feel pressured to keep doing these things. … You have been an incredible help to me, but I don’t ever want you to feel obligated to continue doing it because of my appreciation. …
I think you know what’s best for you in this situation; you just feel bad to say it outright because you feel like you may either hurt my feelings or leave me hanging, but you won’t. Sure, I appreciate the help greatly, but I’ve never wanted this to be something you feel obligated to do ….you shouldn’t be tied to volunteer at something that doesn’t make you happy.
Maybe some of you can apply these words usefully to yourself, especially if you like the client personally but can’t live with the work.
Karen J says
Oh, that’s beautiful, Katherine ~ thank you for sharing it!
I so easily go to that “they’ll hate me forever” place (or its related ‘worst-case-scenario’ cohorts) and so, fail to either make a decision, or ACT on the decision!
Kristen Hicks says
I’m glad that’s the response you got. In my experience, the time leading up to telling a client you’re ready to end things is much more tense than everything that happens after. I’ve always braced myself for the worst, only to find the client to be understanding and professional about it.
Sophie Lizard says
That is just lovely. Let’s all assume our clients will respond this way — then we won’t need to feel that horrible tension about their reaction when we quit. 🙂
Darragh McCurragh says
As I have consulted with many start-up entrepreneurs there seems to be various ways this can pan out: a) the difficult client is the first they meet – very difficult to dump as this evokes fears of losing the only source of income. And very bad for self-esteem too which means they find it harder to deal with other clients. b) Mid-way. They have other clients but not yet booked out, this has all the traces of what you described above. And c) you are already well-established and kind of booked out – then this usually resolves itself because, and this is what I train self-employeds to do in all three cases: act as if you were getting so much business that time for this client grows shorter and shorter etc. Either that client has other options and then moves on rather than try and bait you with better behavior and more money. OR they all of a sudden turn around, become docile and willing to treat you with the respect you deserve and pay you the money you are worth. This method of -essentially- acting has all benefits and as far as my experience goes, no downside. You can always backtrack and yet you can end the relationship due to having too much to do without necessarily leaving that client with ill feelings. In fact it’s happened that he still kept referring other clients!
Screening problematic clients should be a platform’s task also. Once a user is Verified he/she is less likely to doubt the freelancer’s ability. We have also integrating a new function specifically to deal with “grumpy” users. If they dislike the service which had been delivered they can request an EXPERT review. Similarly, if a freelancer is unhappy with a feedback received he/she can too request a review by a Peer whereas another expert could review the project outcomes and create another feedback to support or negate the prior.
Ashley McElyea says
I really like this article. I dabbled in social media marketing for a season and one of my clients was asking me to do way more than what I offered in our initial meeting. I dreaded going to her office and there was also some awkward trying to hook me up with her son. It was all around a horrible job. It took a couple of months for me to finally tell her that I couldn’t work for her anymore. But once I did, I felt so much better and was able to focus on other jobs that I was tackling.
Marissa Richardson says
Kristen, your totally right. Getting rid of a bad client is very liberating. I had to do this just a few months ago. That particular individual didn’t have any respect for me at all. I just stayed polite and made for the exit.