Yes, you’re reading that right. I tried to fire my client, and it backfired – so well, in fact, that our business relationship has improved!
So what happened? Let me tell you…
Deciding to fire my client
Most of you are probably thinking I’m crazy. Turning away someone who wants to pay me for my skills – absurd (or is it?)!
Truly, though, I had had enough. The project was WAY behind schedule, the client changed her mind on overall design strategy several times, and she spoke in a demeaning manner toward me when frustrated.
The money I was making wasn’t enough to cover the stress, and hearing statements like, “do you even know what you’re doing?” and “everything you’ve done up to this point is just average” made me resentful and less than interested in working on her project.
So, being a very non-confrontational person, I worked up the courage to fire her.
Should you fire your troublesome client?
If you identify with these red flags, firing your client might be in your best interest.
- You avoid working on their project because of your personal feelings toward the client.
- The client attacks you personally or speaks to you in a manner you are very uncomfortable with.
- You’ve exhausted your design time and revisions and you’re not making any headway on the project.
- You don’t feel the monetary compensation is enough to cover the stress of working with them.
As I just mentioned, I’m a big chicken when it comes to confrontation. I knew our history of phone conversations, and I knew our personalities, and she would’ve walked ALL over me on the phone.
Thus, I chose the email method – and yes, I feel it’s a bit of a cop-out, but I truly don’t believe I could’ve performed the same action over the phone successfully.
My first email was a bit (okay, fairly) scathing. I had my master-of-communications (my boyfriend, who is awesome at people-reading and perception) read it prior to sending, and he told me to start over, leaving my feelings out of it. I didn’t want to, but I did.*
My second email was super-professional, concise and polite. I expressed that I was terminating our business relationship because we were struggling to successfully complete the project, and that I wasn’t sure if we would. I also mentioned that I felt her negative comments were unproductive and diminished our business relationship. I even provided a list of resources for her to find another designer, and provided the project files they’d need to continue. And then I wished them the very best of luck for the future.
Once I sent my second (boyfriend-approved) email, I felt relieved, like a weight had been removed from my shoulders. It was glorious…and I was really proud of myself for standing up for myself and my business!
*Writing that first email paved the way for my second. Without the therapy of venting my feelings, I don’t know if I could’ve expressed myself as professionally as I did. If it makes you feel better and clears your head, write that raw, tactless letter. Then delete it.
Tips for firing your client
- Be clear – you don’t have to say “you’re fired,” but make sure your client knows you’re ending the relationship.
- Be professional – don’t let your personal emotions burn bridges (unburning them is hard work).
- Make it brief – explain your reasons concisely and move on.
- Don’t apologize – feel free to express regret (I’m disappointed… or I regret…), but don’t send the message that you are in the wrong.
- Offer resources or advice – while I wouldn’t refer a bad client to a friend, you can point them in the right direction for finding a new designer and getting their project finished.
- Get a second opinion – ask a trusted, objective third party to read your email to make sure you’re following the tips above.
Why I took my client back and how our relationship has improved
Simply put, my client apologized and provided clear steps to finish the project. I felt my grievances were addressed (and I allowed her to air hers), so I accepted her apology and continued to work on the project.
Since the attempted firing, my client’s attitude has totally changed. She offers constructive criticism on my work and even praises a job well done.
Whether she’s being genuine or just putting on a show matters not to me – that we’re finishing her project and that she treats me with respect is enough for me to stay in the relationship (besides the paycheck).
Why firing a client is a win-win
First, let me say that I am NOT encouraging you to use this technique frequently. Firing a client should be a last resort when you have exhausted all other options of resolving conflict. Firing too many clients will most definitely tarnish your reputation.
That being said, it’s a win-win for you as a freelancer as the very rare out.
Win #1: You get rid of a bad client
Even when you lose, you win. When a bad client (here are the warning signs) becomes so much of a liability that the money you’re receiving isn’t compensation enough, it’s time to let them go.
Win #2: You work it out and improve your relationship
I got lucky; my client and I resolved our issues and are pursuing a long-term business relationship.
To some degree, I’m very thankful to have traveled this road with my client. I’ve learned volumes about my limits, conflict resolution, and professional communication in emotional situations.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that getting to this point should be a last resort. I’m at fault for not resolving issues as they occurred and not setting my limits and sticking to them, thereby tacitly allowing bad client behavior to persist. I helped foster the undue stress upon myself, and that’s not good for my business, my clients, or my family.
As freelancers, it’s important to establish that we are partners, not underlings, in our business relationships.
Have you ever had to fire a design client?
What was your experience like? How did you handle it, and what made you decide to end your relationship? Leave a comment on this post!