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We spend so much of our professional lives fearing that we’ll get fired from our jobs that when the tables turn, we have no idea what to do or say.

Becoming a freelancer, consultant, or owning your agency means that you have the power and flexibility to take on the projects you want and work with the clients you like. That also means that you’ll inevitably be faced with firing a problem client, which can be as scary as getting fired yourself.

Here’s a quick guide about why you’d want to fire a client, what to say, and how to do it:

Why Would You Fire a Client?

Not all clients are created equal. Just because they’re helping you pay the bills doesn’t mean they’re the ideal client. And, more importantly, they may be doing more harm than good. If you constantly dread talking to a client or feel perpetually stressed or disrespected, then money just won’t solve those problems.

Here are some reasons you may want to fire a client. He or she:

  • Makes unreasonable demands
  • Is consistently late paying you
  • Shows a lack of respect
  • Wastes your time
  • Is never happy/is too high maintenance

There are many more reasons why you may decide to fire your client. I’d say a good indicator of how you really feel is to listen to your gut. Literally. If you see an email from him or her, or see his or her name on your phone, and you suddenly feel have a rock in your stomach or feel like throwing up, you may want to evaluate your relationship.

3 Scripts for Firing a Client

Here are three different strategies for firing a client and exactly what to say:

Strategy: You’re Changing Direction/Focus

“I’ve been doing an analysis of my business and goals for the upcoming year and have decided that I’d like to focus on email marketing [different type of work] rather than public relations [current type of work]

Unfortunately, this means that I won’t be able to work with you as of [date].

I’ve really enjoyed working with you this past year and appreciate your understanding as I enter this new field. I’d also be happy to help you find another freelancer/consultant.

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to make this transition easier or if you have any questions.”

Strategy: Increase Your Rates So They Can’t Afford You Anymore

“I wanted to let you know that starting [date], I will be changing my pricing structure. To accommodate demand, I plan to raise my rates from X to Y starting [date].

Please let me know if this is inconvenient for you. If you prefer, I’d be happy to refer you to other freelancers/consultants in my network that are more in your budget.”

P.S. This strategy should be reserved for “meh” clients. If a client is really awful and is ruining your life, then go with a more direct approach. But, if you’d be okay keeping a client for more money, then use this script. However, understand that the client might accept your rate increase (if you really want to “price them out,” then double your rates).

Strategy: The Honest Approach for Awful Clients

“Recently I’ve noticed a few issues with our working relationship and I no longer think our businesses are a good fit.

This isn’t the easiest conversation to have, but I think it would be best if you worked with another [freelancer/agency]. As of [date], I will not be able to assist you any further.

I’d be happy to refer you to another freelancer/consultant in my network.”

Email vs Phone?

Firing a client doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pick up the phone and talk to them directly. Depending on your relationship, it might be more appropriate to do this over email.

If you’ve never talked to your client on the phone, do not make the first phone call ever an uncomfortable and unpleasant one. If your whole professional relationship has been over email, then it might make more sense to terminate the client over email as well.

And secondly, if you send an email, it allows your client to take some time and compose him or herself before responding. If you two typically don’t talk over the phone AND you still call to fire the client, he or she will may feel forced into dealing with a completely unexpected situation with no notice.

A good rule of thumb is to consider your client’s personal preference. If he or she always insists that you two talk on the phone to catch up, then go with a phone call. On the other hand, if he or she is very comfortable with email and that is the bulk of your communication, then email may be appropriate.

Firing a client is awkward for everyone involved, but remember why you became self-employed in the first place. You wanted the control to pick projects you were interested in and to choose clients that make your life easier, not harder. There is no reason you should force yourself to deal with a toxic client. As a freelancer or consultant, you have the power to do exactly what you want (well, in reason). So why not take advantage of it?

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