When (and how) to fire your client

If you’ve ever freelanced, you’ll know the pain of working with difficult clients. There’s a reason why is so popular! Firing a client is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, parts of working as a freelancer or with an agency. But sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns and do it. Here’s our advice for getting rid of a difficult client.

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Look for the warning signs

Before you commit, keep an eye out for any signs things aren’t quite right. If you’re picking up a half-finished project and/or your client is complaining about the last person they hired, that’s usually a big indication that they’re unreasonable. At the very least, they’re not an easy person to get along with and that’s often half the battle.

Trust your gut instinct

If something doesn’t feel quite right from the start, walk away. If you’re partway through the project and the client starts veering between Jekyll and Hyde, you can still make a decision about whether you want to continue or not. Make sure you don’t do any work on a project unless they’ve signed a watertight contract with you, and be suspicious if they delay signing for any reason. It usually means they have something to hide.

Have a good contract

There are plenty of free and cheap boilerplate contracts on the internet, but you won’t want to use one as-is. Make sure you include (or amend) points specific to your style of working and your needs and requirements. One of the most important clauses should be that you can terminate the agreement at any point with no penalties.

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Don’t be afraid to say no

‘No’ can be one of the most difficult words to say, particularly if you’re naturally geared towards helping people. But it’s important to learn to say no and not be afraid of saying it. If you get to the point where you feel resentful or you’re working for free, it’s a clear sign that something needs to change. And that something is usually linked to the vow to say ‘no’ a little more often.

Don’t blame yourself

99% of the time, it’s them and not you. Don’t let them make you feel bad or incompetent; you’re not. Whatever the reason you’re walking away, remember that you’re finally free. Nothing can beat that.

Use your past experiences

A bad client means different things to different people. Over time, you’ll end up building up a mental list of warning signs and what to look for at the initial discussion stage, so you know from the start whether you’re likely to clash with someone or build up a good relationship. Good clients tend to attract good clients, so always ask your favourites if they know of anyone who needs work done.

Fire your client professionally and legally

When it comes to crunch time, stay professional. Terminate the agreement in writing rather than over the phone so there’s a digital footprint and include a copy of the contract you both signed at the beginning. Stay calm and avoid being provoked: the client will feel angry and powerless, and will often retaliate. Again, remember that it’s not your fault. Keep your cool through any threats and demands, and expect to allow some time for cooling off. Under UK law, unless you signed a contract stating otherwise, all work and creations remain your property and you’re free to take them with you.

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