How to Fire a Client – Prevention and Execution

How to Fire a Client - Prevention and Execution

Every freelancer has a funny story to tell about their previous clients, but not everyone gets to experience firing one. Have you? Maybe it’s because you are too shy or you have no idea how to go about firing a client, but I’m telling you that it’s very possible – I fired a client.

Firing a Client

Story time! I made the big mistake of accepting a web design project three months ago. The client wanted a WordPress website to be designed, the requirements were simple and I figured I could finish everything in just three days and after which comes the review, but I told the client five, just to look awesome. Sure enough, I finished the website on the third day, but I had another engagement during that day so I didn’t setup a meeting with the client for the review. When I returned home, I received an email from the client saying he wants to put the project on hold and have me design a different website, which I did.

Things I did wrong:

I didn’t set a deadline for the entire project, and I mean the time we would spend working together. I failed to establish ground rules and discuss what responsibilities my client was supposed to hold on to. This all happened because it’s a client referred to me by a friend, so I became lax – another thing I did wrong.

Prevention is Better than Cutting Off a Limb

Image credit: Mike Shaheen

Your Client May Be Inexperienced As A Client

Remember the first time you bought a car or your own furniture? If it’s just you who went to buy, most likely you had no idea what to do aside from the tips you read from the internet. You just deferred judgment to the salesperson. Or you asked too many questions and requests. Either way, this happens a lot.

In the same sense, clients can be inexperienced too when it comes to working with other people. I’d go as far as to say that most don’t even understand why they need to sign a contract with you. In which case, it is your obligation to make them understand that it’s for the protection of the both of you.

Solidify Your Contract

Don’t forget to agree on a contract which should include the following clauses:

  • Pricing/Rates – and most importantly, ask for a deposit. This will only work if you are an already established freelancer. Never start working on anything without asking for a deposit. Usually I ask 50% upfront and the balance upon completion, others ask for 25%, it mostly depends on you, but never ever work without any assurance in your pocket..
  • Payment/Invoicing – agree on due dates and late fees. Another safeguard you can place is to set up milestones with the client, and as each milestone is hit you send another invoice. This is especially true if you are working with a first time client.
  • Single Point of Contact – this is another mistake I made on the example above, I was too lax and failed to establish a single point of contact with whom I could discuss the project. I was passed around from the CEO down to some person whose position I haven’t even heard of. It’s like having three Algebra teachers telling you which method/formula is better. So, establish this and you’ll only get to listen to one person.
  • Kill Fee – this is another protection that you need to set up aside from the deposit. Since you will be closing your doors to other projects during the scope of your current project, you’ll need to establish a kill fee for when your client decides to stop the project so that you can avoid working for nothing.
  • Revisions and Rewrites – talk about how long it should take for an email to be replied to, number of revision requests allowed, and how many times clients can change their minds (this happens often, especially with very imaginative clients).
  • Scope Creep – this is when little tasks/requests keep on piling up as the project moves forward. These are little tasks that aren’t too heavy to say no to, but if you’ll just say yes to every request, eventually you’ll be working more than your client will pay you for. In this clause, you need to mention that there are additional fees involved.
  • Copyrights – prints and reprints, which forms your clients can use your creation for, can they resell it, will you need attribution, and basically who owns the rights. Often in writing and web design and development, the rights are transferred to the client after the final payment is made. This protects you from clients who don’t want to pay, since technically, with the contract, you still own the product.
  • Deadline – It’s a given that there should be a deadline for every project that you work on, and usually the deadline is set by your client. But there are instances when the client (especially individuals) won’t specify one and you are given free rein on when to submit. Most of the time these are clients who have no idea how your process works, maybe because they’re new to most things you know already.

You also need to write some ground rules involving nasty things that shouldn’t be crossed, which could lead to you halting the project. Like great disrespect towards you, habitual delay in payments and replies, and the like.

Is It Time To Fire A Client?

Image credit: Moriartys

If one of the items below happens, then the answer is yes, it’s time to fire that client:

  • Client changes their mind about the project when you’re halfway through and won’t renegotiate the fee.
  • Client has a habit of delaying payments. Suppose you both agreed on setting up milestones and payments are habitually delayed, that’s a sign of a problem and it can escalate further if you won’t discuss it. The first delayed payment should be followed by a discussion regarding the terms you agreed together.
  • Client won’t respond to calls, SMS, emails. AKA bottlenecking. A day or two is fine, but three days without any word from your client is bad. They are basically bottlenecking the project and you should take it as a sign that maybe you should abandon ship.
  • Client becomes disrespectful when talking to you. You need to remind your client about the ground rules you both agreed to, that you aren’t working for them, but with them. And they hired you for your expertise.

So, how do you go about firing a client? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when you are dealing with different kinds of people. You are not burning a bridge, you are merely stopping the fire from spreading. You don’t want to leave a nasty impression, your goal is to exit gracefully and may be even educate your client.

How to Fire a Client – Depending on the Type of Client

Image credit: Defence Images

Once a couple of clauses in your contract have been violated by your client, it’s time to decide to hit the final nail. But before that, you need to understand what kind of client you are dealing with. There are three main categories: the cheapskate who wants to save a lot of money, the indecisive who can’t decide about anything, and the dictator who wants control over every aspect of the project.

The Cheapskate Client

Cheapskate clients will do their best to haggle down the price. Even when you are already working on the project, they will still continuously add tiny bits of tasks/requests that ultimately pile up and, as you may have guessed already, they won’t even renegotiate the price because, hey, it’s just a small task. This is what we call the “scope creep” (mentioned above).

They are also the type of clients that won’t pay you the full price until they are satisfied, until they’ve drained you of everything. It’s easy to spot them, and I highly recommend nope-ing away from them. Walk away and never look back. Because once you’ve invested your time on them and their little requests, your money will be their hostage.

Half of the time this kind of client is an inexperienced client. In which case, it is your duty to explain everything to them and maybe give them another chance. And the other half are just stingy and are leveraging poor freelancers (stay away from them).

How to Fire a Cheapskate Client

Simple. If you find yourself in the middle of a project and that’s when the red flags get raised, all you have to do is point back to the contract (which should include everything you’ll do for the client) and tell them that you really like working with them and you both agreed on the terms, but you can’t go on working with them if they won’t renegotiate the price, since the requests are starting to pile up. If your client won’t budge with the renegotiation, it’s time to say goodbye.

If you want to try to salvage the relationship, you can tell them the truth: that hiring another freelancer to complete the project (especially the little requests) will only make things more expensive.

The Indecisive Client

Indecisive clients don’t know what they really want. And even though they may sign a contract, give it a few days and they will change their mind. One moment they want green, then blue, then yellow, and the next day they will tell you to build a different website or write a different article. Some would even change the entire project mid-way.

How to Fire an Indecisive Client

If you got your rear covered with your contract, all you have to do is explain the difficulties you both are facing and pinpoint the clause about revisions.

Usually a simple explanation does the trick, without harming anyone.

“Hi [client], we’ve been working on the same project for weeks and nothing conclusive has come out of it, mostly because of the several changes you requested. I just want to remind you that we have a deadline for this entire project, after which I’ll start accepting other projects. Can we please finalize everything soon? Otherwise I think it would be best if we just go our separate ways for the time being.”

You can either decide whether to give your client a chance to finalize their decision or just walk away.

The Dictator Client

A dictator client is probably the worst person to work with. But many new freelancers fall prey to their domineering ways. They are deft in their ways, they know how to get what they want, and they will strictly follow through their words, often to the point where they will micromanage everything, give directions on what color, size, graphics, fonts, and everything about the project. You will just be left in your own corner, with jaw agape, thinking, “I’ll probably just do what the client wants,” or “why don’t you just do it yourself, then?”

They will also go to the extremes of being mean to you as if they own you.

Once you’ve been pushed to the brink of defenestrating your client (heh, I just had to use that word), you know it’s time to say goodbye. And although it might be tempting to say foul words, trust me when I say that you shouldn’t. Ever. No matter what the client type.

How to Fire a Dictator

At this point, you should have already given warnings or notices to your client that they are overstepping their bounds, that they hired you because of your expertise, and that you will have none of their demeaning attitude towards you. And if nothing changes, that’s when you say your farewell.

Remember to have everything in writing. Write an email to them explaining why you are firing them, in a calm manner. List out all the times the boundaries have been crossed, write what you’ve discussed about respect before signing the contract, and that’s it. While it’s tempting to rant, please don’t do that.

If you draft your contract nicely, you won’t have any trouble with keeping what you are owed.

To End

I should mention that if your client is perceptive enough, you can avoid mentioning the “you’re fired” in your phone calls or emails. Drop hints to make the blow softer. To end your email, you can just say, “I think it would be best if we part ways now. The project is not working well for the both of us, although I tried my best to accommodate you as mentioned above. I wish you well!”

At least that’s how I fired my client. I didn’t really think it was possible. But it is.


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