how to fire a client

How to Fire a Client as a Freelancer in Three Steps

As freelancers, we completely run our own businesses. We’re the CEOs, but we also take on the unglamorous roles like running accounts and human resources. As your business develops, one aspect of the job is firing clients who no longer fit in the picture. For those of us who are conflict-averse, this can be fraught. However, knowing how to fire a client is a freelance essential and ultimately, it helps your business grow

Here, we lay out some tips and advice on how to fire your client in the most efficient and respectful way possible. 

Doing the prep work

Clients can be bad fits for several different reasons. Maybe they’re disrespectful, they don’t pay enough (or they pay late), you’re uninterested in the work or the scope of the project has gotten out of control. When it’s clear that working for them is causing financial or mental duress, it’s time to let them go. 

When you’ve decided that it’s time to fire a client, some preparation is required. As Nikki Wisher writes in Indy, “Go into the conversation with the expectation that this could be the last time you speak to your client because you don’t know how they’ll take the news.”

This is the worst case scenario — you never want to burn bridges — but it’s a good rule of thumb to be prepared. Have information or property ready to return to the client, prepare an invoice and write up instructions if someone else is taking over your work. Make copies of your work, your contacts or anything else you’re contractually allowed to keep. 

Ideally though, you’ll end the relationship in a way that maintains your professional reputation and doesn’t leave your client in the lurch. This means choosing a good time to send the email, being honest but tactful, giving sufficient notice and perhaps recommending another freelancer.

You also want to plan for what you’re going to do without your client. Do you have a replacement client to make up the income that you’re losing? Do you have enough savings to give yourself a grace period to find more work? Whatever your professional needs are, make sure they’re met before letting your client go.

Sending the email

When it comes down to actually firing your client, professional advisors recommend having the interaction via email to keep things cordial. On the flip side, this means that if things go downhill, you have a record of what transpired. 

When writing your email, you don’t need to offer your client an in-depth explanation and you don’t need to apologize. The Freelancer’s Union, Business Insider, and Indy all offer straightforward, unemotional templates that lay out how to fire a client in a variety of scenarios.

A generic client-firing email should go something like this:

Dear [client],

I really appreciate the work that we’ve done together on [project]. However, due to [reason], I need to focus on other work, so as of [date], I’ll no longer be able to work with you. Before then, I will [work you’ll finish up for them or any remaining matters of business]. I’m happy to recommend another freelancer to help with future projects. 

Thank you again,

[your name]

Knowing how to fire a client respectfully can help you keep a good relationship with them even after you’ve fired them, if possible. Who knows — in the future, they might refer other work to you, their behavior may change or their budget might increase to fit your needs again. 

Avoid burning bridges

But sometimes, a client will react poorly when you fire them, which means you made the right decision. In this case, try to keep the interactions on email, so there’s a record. If this happened over a phone call, take notes right afterward. Don’t engage and don’t stick around. You don’t need to listen to their abuse or do more work for someone who treats you badly. 

You can move on from a nightmare client while still being proud of the work you did with them. After the fact, it’s your decision how much you want to share with others about the experience. If a client is abusive or engages in other bad business practices, you’ll want to warn colleagues to stay away. 

When you’re running your own business, knowing how to fire a client and going through with it requires a degree of thoughtfulness. With preparation, you can go into it knowing that you’re doing the right thing for yourself while leaving them in the best position possible. If it seems difficult, remember to keep emotion out of the process. You’re making the right decision for your business and that’s what matters.