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Into each life, a little rain must fall, and every freelancer eventually has to deal with a bad client. Sometimes, they're unhappy with you, in which case the burden is on them to end the relationship, but there are also situations where you decide that things are wrong and not worth fixing. These are the clients you fire. Here are some tips to make both kinds of parting a little easier. First, let's talk about when you lose a client. You'll probably have several concerns, high among them, "Will they hurt my reputation by saying bad things about me?" "Did I deserve to lose the job?" And the big one, "Will they still pay me?" The spectre of your ex-client badmouthing you can really loom large, particularly if they're important in your field or industry.
In my experience it doesn't happen as much as people fear. Professionals try to avoid negative talk because they know it muddies them as much as their target. In any case, it's a matter that's pretty much out of your control. The best you can do is to handle the split calmly and professionally which will encourage them to do the same. The second question, "Was it my fault?" bears examination. If it was, take responsibility, and figure out how you can learn from your mistakes. If it wasn't, don't obsess with trying to convince them that it wasn't your fault.
Even if you win at that game, you lose. Would you really want to go back to a place where you were wrongly accused? The third question, "Will they pay me?" is the one that truly deserves your attention. Absolutely, you should invoice them as is appropriate to your agreement and to the work you've done. Then you should follow your usual collection procedures if they don't pay. I talked about those in an earlier video. But throughout all of this, remain above the name calling and accusations that turbulent emotions tempt you toward.
Learn from the experience and move on to greater successes in your freelance practice. That leads us to the second scenario, where you decide that it's time to fire a client. I used the word "fire" because you hired them just as much as they hired you. Firing a client is a big decision, but it's one you'll sometimes have to make because a bad client can harm the health of both yourself and your business. Just as they can get rid of you, you can get rid of them. The power goes both ways.
Now, with that power, comes responsibility. First and foremost, you have the responsibility to honor your agreement with the client. Do as much as you reasonably can before leaving and don't expect full pay if you've only partially completed the job. This is where a well-written agreement becomes especially important because it can help determine how much you should get paid for a partial job. Second, figure out what went wrong. Then make the tough decisions of whether to tell them and how. For example, it could be that the project was torpedoed by an incompetent staff member.
Should you tell that person's boss? That depends on a lot of factors, and you're the only person who can make that decision. The boss might appreciate it and send you future work that doesn't involve the problematic staff member, or the boss might resent it, and tell you off. But in any case, figure out the issues for your own education. Third, even though you might be leaving under bad terms, try not to leave them in the lurch. Help them solve their problems, perhaps with recommendations for finishing the project without you or by referring them to another freelancer.
Of course, you should only make that referral if you believe the other freelancer won't have the same problems as you had. And you should be upfront with the other freelancer about those issues. Continuing on that theme, make the parting as friendly as possible. Give them ways to feel good about it, encourage them to remember you as someone who helped the company even though that one specific project didn't work out. I also recommend that you make it as clean a break as possible. Don't linger, and don't take side jobs with them.
When a client relationship ends, it's hard not to imagine the worst. But believe it or not, sometimes those bad experiences lead to good recommendations, referrals, and future relationships.
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