Freelancers live and die by the unofficial ‘Client is king’ rule. 99% of the time, it’s a good rule. It helps us keep a level head on our shoulders even when what we really want to do is slam down the phone, growl at them or tell them to take a hike.
There are clients who make our freelancing lives difficult, jeopardizing our livelihood and endangering our freelance business – the reasons for which can vary from freelancer to freelancer and situation to situation.
In every situation, there are a few signs that tell you it’s time to let your client go. Get ready to walk away if your client:
1. Doesn’t pay on time
Let’s face it: for the sake of making a living, we’re willing to put up with a lot but the one things that we don’t want to be made to put up with though is late (or no) payment. We didn’t do all that organizing, scheduling and sheer hard work through sleepless nights just for the client to be late with their payments!
Work delivered on time deserves timely compensation. Late payments are fine once or twice. Clients have issues and glitches too. We understand this and if they let us know in time, we usually don’t mind. But if a client makes a habit out of it then maybe it’s time to move on.
In cases where you can’t let the client go: politely let your client know you cannot invest your time and efforts in any of their work any more to give priority to other clients.
In addition to that, if late payments have become the norm, then a change in the contract terms might be in order too. Ask for at least 50% upfront payment before you start work. Milestone payments (50% upfront, 25% on delivering and 25% on project completion) work better to ensure that your client doesn’t bail on your livelihood.
2. Sends less work your way than before
A lot of times, clients stop sending as much work as they used to. It’s a common occurrence and completely understandable. But as a freelancer, you need to think about what’s best for your business. If a client is sending less work your way, you might want to think about alternative sources of work since you’re losing money just by waiting.
Think of it this way: will your business be better off if you work for a client who has more work to offer regularly? Or does it make more sense to stick with your current client and risk receiving less and less work from them?
In cases where you can’t let the client go: send the client an email asking about the reduced work load. Simply state that you’re asking in case the terms of the contract need to change. Be candid. Tell them the reduced work is affecting your business and you need to know what amount of workload to expect from them so you can plan accordingly.
3. Becomes increasingly demanding
Demanding clients can be good – if they force you to produce your best work. But if all the demands are about unreasonable deadlines, changes they’d like you to make after you’ve met every specification or scope creep, it might be time to let the client go.
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Unless you’ve got balls of steel or are the king/queen of tact, I’d suggest against telling the client that you’re letting them go because they’re unreasonably demanding. Just let them know that you won’t be able to meet a certain deadline or do the additional work and apologize. Refer someone else to them and walk away.
In cases where you can’t let the client go: negotiate. Whether its deadlines or a general demanding behaviour, find a way to state your case and negotiate.
4. Is disrespectful
As freelancers, we’re willing to put up with a lot. But if there’s one thing a freelancer should never put up with is disrespect. Not only does it blow a mental fuse, you lose all respect for the client.
Whether it’s the client telling you that his children could do the work better than you, using foul language, questioning your ethics or anything that you personally find offending and disrespectful, do not, under any circumstances put up with it. If you do, not only will your morale go down, you’ll lose confidence and your self-respect.
When letting a disrespectful client go, refrain from starting a flame war. Act professionally, cite personal/professional differences and just walk out.
In cases where you can’t let the client go: make it a point that they are being disrespectful and you will not put up with it. You’ll need to be a little sneaky and a lot cheeky for it. If the client claims his children can do better than you, suggest his kids showing you the ropes to get you on the right path. You get the drift.
5. Violates the terms of the contract
Violating the terms of your freelance contract is an offense but it probably won’t be serious enough to hire a lawyer to take it to court but it will be serious enough to make you consider letting the client go.
If a client can’t be trusted to stick to his words, there’s a high chance you’ll face problems in the future. It’s one of those signs where it really depends on what contract term is being violated. If you feel you’ve been wronged, then by all means let them go.
If you can’t let them go, insist on revising the terms of the contracts and adding a clause of your own to prevent something similar from happening in the future.
6. Is high maintenance
High maintenance clients usually require a lot of hand holding or guiding. They expect you to explain every little detail, and submit detailed, emails or scheduled reports of your progress. If something needs to be emailed at 12 pm then that’s exactly when the email needs to go out otherwise the client gets angsty. A high maintenance client would want to communicate every day and may even call you after hours.
To be honest, such clients are rarely worth the hassle. Even if a freelancer has the time, he definitely doesn’t have the mental capacity to deal with such a high maintenance client. You may need to pop a couple of painkillers for the definite headache you’ll be getting every day just from talking to this client.
7. Is unprofessional
A lot of clients are very friendly with their freelancers. They talk informally and throw in a joke or two. But being friendly with your freelancer is one thing, being a chum who goes completely off topic or worse into gossip, is another.
It might feel easy to the these things pass but chances are high that the client will eventually say something or act in a way that you’ll find inappropriate or offensive. The fault is going to be yours for not correcting the behaviour when it started.
Unprofessional clients are unpredictable. You never know when they’ll turn on you or when they’ll expect a work-related favour at no extra charge. Get out of the relationship before it sours. Usually when a client doesn’t get the same chumminess from a freelancer they will back off. But if they don’t, a gentle reminder may be in order. Remember, tact is everything in cases like these.
If your client is showing any of these signs, it may be time to think about letting them go. The time and energy you spend on dealing with them will be better utilized in looking for new clients or concentrating more on your trouble-free clients. Have you ever let a client go? What was your reason?