How To Politely & Firmly Fire Your Bad Fit Freelancing Clients

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Every long term freelancer knows this moment all too well. 

One day you wake up with a huge knot in your stomach. You probably didn’t sleep all that well either. 

Your mind is racing and your anxiety is high. 

Why? 

Today is the day you realized that you have to fire one of your freelance clients. 

Now, depending on your circumstances, it may be easier for you to make the decision to fire a client if things are really unfair. However, no matter how good or bad the relationship, firing a client is never easy (unless you’re a psychopath).

That being said, there are plenty of times when this choice can easily be the best path forward for your business and mental health. It can also be better for the client if you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. 

For those of you on the fence, let’s explore some of the reasons why you might want to drop a client in the first place. 

Reasons why you should no longer work with a client

Having a bad day or two isn’t a good reason to give up a good gig or end a relationship with an otherwise pleasant paying client. The time to disengage is when those one or two bad days start rapidly adding up and become the norm. 

In the beginning of your freelancing journey it’s easy to accept any offer and situation that comes across your desk because you’re getting started and might not have any other source of income. 

I get that, truly. It’s how I spent most of my first 12 months as a freelancers, but what I found over time was that the more I accepted bad fit clients, the harder it was to build up a book of clients that I enjoyed working with. 

The bad fit clients drained my mental energy and physically took up my time, often not paying as much as other good fit clients. So the best thing to do is try to only work with good fit clients that respect you from the start and if you have a bad fit client for the money, make it as quick as possible. 

Here are the most common reasons i’ve found for firing a client:

1. They aren’t paying

Getting paid what you’re worth and on time is one of the foundations of building a successful freelancing career. Without that, you really don’t have much and it’s a quick road to burnout. 

When it comes to keeping time, you are going to have a few clients who genuinely forget or make a mistake with an invoice. It happens to everyone and it usually isn’t a big deal. 

One or two follow ups for invoices is something you should be comfortable with doing as founders or owners tend to get really busy running their own operations. 

However, if a client refuses to pay you or is chronically late in paying you multiple months in a row, then it’s time to move on. 

2. You’ve lost your passion

One reason that most freelancers don’t consider until it’s too late is simply that they don’t want to do the work anymore. 

You might be hanging on to a client out of a sense of duty or a small bump in your earnings each month, but deep down you know that you’ve lost the desire to truly help them and the passion for the work you’re doing. 

Once you first have that feeling, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. You could simply be having an off day or a rough week. It’s when that feeling continues to grow and intensify that you need to be honest with yourself and part ways with your client. 

Even if they are upset and caught off guard, you will be able to rest easy knowing you did what’s best for them. 

3. Breach of contract

A clear and mutually agreed upon contract is in place for a reason, so that the specific terms of the business engagement are set in place in case any conflict arises. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise to you or the client what the terms of payment or scope of work is throughout the partnership. 

When a client breaches the contract through asking for something they didn’t pay for, not responding to you in a timely manner, not following the payment schedule, or even engaging in illegal activity, it’s time to leave. 

If for some reason the client makes a minor mistake like forgetting to send over their graphic design revision within 4 business days because they were out of office, you probably shouldn’t fire them. 

However, all breaches of contract should be taken extremely seriously from the moment they happen. 

4. Unrealistic expectations

Some clients expect the entire world from you and mistake your partnership for indentured servitude. They are overly demanding and frequently make requests that are way outside of your formal agreement.

Common examples of unrealistic expectations from clients:

  • Messaging you on the weekends and expecting a response
  • Asking for 5,6, or 7 revisions of your work when your contract states that there are only 2 rounds of revisions
  • Expecting you to come to visit them in person in their office when that wasn’t discussed during the sales process
  • Wanting their marketing program to double their revenue overnight when it’s 2 months into a campaign

It’s best for you to identify these behaviors early on, call them out, and after multiple experiences, disengage the client. 

When you’ve got clients who aren’t happy with the work you produce, it will only take away from your personal growth and ability to successfully help the rest of your book of business. 

5. When you’re treated poorly

Know your worth. 

Know your worth. 

Know your worth. 

A client being disrespectful or treating you poorly is one thing that cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. 

Even when you’re a new freelancer and you need the money or think you have to “earn your stripes”, you can’t get in the habit of accepting a person mistreating you. 

In any successful long term  client vendor partnership, there is a shared understanding and mutual respect. You are 50% of that ideal equation and need to step fully into that belief and demand it of your relationships. 

Just because you are performing the service for them, doesn’t mean you are less than. 

What to keep in mind when firing a freelance client

Now that you’re all fired up about why you should fire a freelancing client, it’s important to remember why we’re here. 

How to ensure that you disengage from your engagement with your client politely and professionally. 

Why? 

Your reputation is everything when you’re a freelancer. 

If you throw a tantrum, cuss out your client, or ghost them completely, word will get around. You won’t get as many referrals. You will be more likely to get bad reviews. 

It’s just not a good idea to be anything but clear, direct, and amicable 99 times out of 100. Here’s what to keep in mind. 

Be clear and upfront

There’s no reason to beat around the bush when you’re delivering hard news to someone in a business context. The best strategy is to say exactly what you mean and state your intentions right from the start. You won’t hurt their feelings (probably). 

Stay professional and polite

This is huge. 

Even if you’re feeling incredibly upset about the reasons that led to you firing your client, you can’t lead with that emotion in your interaction. 

Professional just means that you’re keeping the interaction about business. Any action related to insulting the person, trying to damage their company, or other calculated attacks don’t have a place in business. 

Politeness is a courtesy to help ensure that you keep your brand reputation in tact. You don’t  have to like everyone or even go out of your way to be nice, but keeping basic politeness in mind will go far. 

Document everything

This is crucial for legal reasons. If at any time they decide to take you to  court or dispute the legality of your work or how you ended the engagement you should have a clear record of all events related to incident. 

That includes abiding by the terms of your contract as well as keeping track of any emails, text messages, phone calls, zoom meetings, or other communications for your records. 

I cannot overstate how important this is and you’ll always be better off having this information and not needing it, then not having enough when you need it most. 

Give them feedback on why you made your decision

Some of you might disagree with this and I will admit that it’s a person choice of mine that is less important than the other considerations. 

That being said, I really dislike being ghosted in any context of life. It throws me off when unpleasant things happen and I have no way of knowing why it happened or how to improve. 

I find it honorable to give someone honest feedback if they’ve hurt you or wronged you in some way, so that if they choose, they can learn from the mistake and work to become a better person. 

If they choose not to accept it or do anything about it, that’s on them. At Least you can rest easily knowing that you tried and were up front with them. 

Be firm

For those of you who are naturally empathetic and/or conflict avoidant, standing your ground and sticking with your decision to fire the client can be difficult. 

The advice here is that if you’ve really taken the time to think through why you want to end the contract, and you feel convicted about it, then you should trust that decision. 

Understandably, some clients will be upset. They will get angry, or perhaps even beg you to stay. This can tug on your heart strings and even seem enticing if they offer more money. 

When this happens take a deep breath and remember why you’re doing this in the first place.  It’s not a good fit for you or them, and ending things will allow you to take on more work with better clients that you enjoy.

Scripts to use for each Freelance Client Firing situation

Script #1 – They aren’t paying

Hey [Client First Name], 

I say this with a heavy heart but due to [list out time when you gave a warning/reminder/each previous missed payment], I am formally ending our engagement as agreed upon in [list contract section] of our contract. 

It wasn’t my intention to stop working together but ultimately the lack of cash flow has caused harm to the health of my business operations and isn’t sustainable. 

I’m sorry to end this abruptly and I will ensure that all files will be transferred to you, I will finish the final deliverable as discussed, and will send a final email when the engagement is officially over. 

Please let me know if you have any questions, or would like to jump on a final call to discuss more in depth. 

[Your signature],

[Your name]

Script #2 – You’ve lost your passion

Hey [Client First Name], 

There’s no easy way to say this so I’ll just keep it short. I am writing to you to formally end our partnership. 

Please know that it has nothing to do with you as a client or any aspect of our relationship. In fact, I’ve genuinely enjoyed helping you [describe work you’ve done together] all of this time. 

My reasoning is that i’ve been torn up inside about losing my passion with [freelancing work you’re performing] and over the last [time period] i’ve grown more and more weary about providing services without being 100% into it. I’ve continued to push through these thoughts to deliver the best service possible but I don’t ever want to get to a point where that drops even a little. 

I’m so sorry for this seemingly coming out of nowhere and don’t worry about this month’s work, I want to finish strong. Please let me know if you have any questions, or would like to jump on a final call to discuss more in depth. 

Before we part ways i’m also going to try to find someone in my network who I trust that I will introduce you to as a replacement. 

[Your signature],

[Your name]

Script #3 – Breach of contract

Hey [Client First Name], 

There’s no easy way to say this so I’ll just keep it short. I am writing to you to formally end our partnership. 

As you know, we have  agreed upon [name of violation] in  [list contract section] of our contract and based on [action they took] as of [day and time violation occurred]. 

Despite an otherwise great partnership, these kinds of violations can’t be tolerated due to the treat that they pose to my business. 

I will finish out the reminder of the work that I owe by/within [list out timeframe] and please let me know if you have any questions, or would like to jump on a final call to discuss more in depth. 

Per our agreement, the end date of our contract will be [date and time]. 

[Your signature],

[Your name]

Script #4 – Unrealistic expectations

Hey [Client First Name], 

There’s no easy way to say this and I believe in full transparency, so I’ll just keep it short and to the point. I am writing to you to formally end our partnership. 

Throughout our engagement I’ve done my best to accommodate all of your requests, even the ones outside of our agreement, but I’ve got to the point where this isn’t working out for me. 

We’re [bad outcome of the unrealistic expectations] due to [key examples of bad expectations] and I feel like it would be unfair to both of us to continue working through this project. Ultimately, we both deserve to have a working relationship that we enjoy, founded on respect and effective collaboration. 

To be clear, this doesn’t mean you should change your expectations or that your vision of work isn’t valid, but I know that I’m not the right partner to accomplish that vision any longer. 

I will finish out the reminder of the work that I owe by/within [list out timeframe] and please let me know if you have any questions, or would like to jump on a final call to discuss more in depth. 

Per our agreement, the end date of our contract will be [date and time] and I will [any actions you need to take to fulfill your contractual obligation]. 

[Your signature],

[Your name]

Script #5 – When you’re treated poorly

Hey [Client First Name], 

There’s no easy way to say this and I believe in full transparency, so I’ll just keep it short and to the point. I am writing to you to formally end our partnership. 

Throughout our engagement I’ve done my best to accommodate all of your requests and keep our interactions professional. Despite my best efforts, you have continually [described the nature of them treating you poorly with examples]. 

This is something that I’m not able to tolerate any longer as it’s a detriment to both the health of my business and my personal wellbeing. 

I will finish out the reminder of the work that I owe by/within [list out timeframe].

Per our agreement, the end date of our contract will be [date and time] and I will [any actions you need to take to fulfill your contractual obligation]. 

[Your signature],

[Your name]

Big Takeaway

There will always be difficult moments when it comes to managing clients, but you should never keep a bad fit client around just because they are paying you. 

Know your worth, always set very clear expectations, stand your ground, and be quick to fire clients who are taking advantage of you. 

There’s always more fish in the sea, and your future self will thank you.

Ken Marshall

Ken Marshall is the Founder of Best Freelancer Tools as well as a husband, former freelancer, recovering foodie, mini Australian shepherd puppy dad, and serial entrepreneur (mostly failures, lots of lessons). He is passionate about helping others achieve their full potential.