Ending a relationship with a terrible client doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s how to call it quits with class.
Terrible clients: as freelancers, we all deal with them eventually.
Unfortunately, many freelancers are reluctant to break up with clients—no matter how low their pay or ridiculous their demands. After all, they’re helping you pay your bills, right?
But an awful client is like a terrible boyfriend or girlfriend. Sure, you might feel more secure clinging to someone you know, but they’re blocking you from finding the true love of your life!
If you’re ready to pursue your ideal clients, it’s time to break up with your worst ones. It’s not hard; just follow these five steps:
1. Identify your worst client
A client who pays you rock-bottom rates. One who demands multiple revisions on every project. An emotional vampire who drains you of energy and creativity. The “worst” client for you may be completely different than the “worst” client for someone else; it depends on your client list and your goals.
Freelancers who settle for any work they can get may find themselves saddled with several terrible clients. If your freelance budget is uncomfortably tight, dropping all your bad clients at once may not be the best idea. So just start with the worst one.
2. Set your terms
After identifying your worst client, decide whether anything short of a $1 million retainer would keep you working for that person or company. Some clients will never be worth your time, so negotiating new terms is futile.
However, some client relationships can be improved if you ask for more pay or better communications, or cut back on free revisions and lengthy Skype conferences. If you think a client relationship can be salvaged, go for it.
But remember: keep your bare minimum terms in mind, and don’t let the client talk you out of them.
3. Write a polite, professional email
In a romantic relationship, a “Dear John” letter is a copout. In business, it’s the norm. So long as your email is polite and professional, you’re good to go. Here are a couple of sample emails to get you started:
When you’re just calling it quits:
Dear Terrible Client,
Due to a change of direction in my freelancing business, I am no longer able to continue working for Terrible Client, Inc.
I can continue to work on current projects through (date two weeks or more in the future) or until you find a replacement.
This wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s one I need to make for my business right now. I’ve enjoyed working with you, and wish you the best of luck in the future.
When you’re open to negotiation:
Dear Sorta Bad Client,
As of (date two weeks or more in the future), I’ll be raising my minimum rate from $X/hour to $X/hour. [Or: I’ll be altering my contracts to include only two unpaid revisions per project, etc.]
I’d love to continue working with you, so please let me know if this new rate is [or: these new terms are] acceptable for Sorta Bad, LTD.
4. Negotiate if necessary
If you offer the client new terms, you may need to negotiate a little. It’s perfectly acceptable to go back and forth about payment, revisions and other changes.
What you don’t want to do is let the client talk you out of those bare minimum requirements you set earlier. If you only want to do two revisions, don’t leave the possibility of a third revision on the table. When your rock-bottom hourly rate is $35, don’t agree to work for $30—or even $34.50!
5. Move on
When you break up with a client, whether it’s at the first email or after an unsuccessful round of negotiations, just move on. Be polite but firm about no longer working for that client. You don’t want to burn bridges, but you also shouldn’t feel obligated to justify, defend or explain your decision.
Once the breakup is over, it’s time to move on. No crying jags and ice cream binges for you! Get out there and start marketing your services so you can find a great new client to replace the one you just offloaded.
Abby Hayes is a freelance blogger and copywriter who writes about personal finances for Dough Roller. She loves detailed budgets, dark chocolate and fat Victorian novels.