5 Signs That It's Time to Fire a Client

When and How to Quit a Freelance Job

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One of the hardest decisions you'll ever have to make as a freelancer is when to let a client go. Even if the company in question is a pain to deal with or the project is less than exciting to work on, it's hard to walk away from money, especially when you work for yourself and don't have that guaranteed paycheck coming in every two weeks.

However, I can tell you anecdotally that I've never met a successful freelancer who hasn't had to part ways with a client before.

It's the nature of the game: no gig is forever, and sometimes, you'll be the one to decide that the job no longer meets your needs.

How to Know When It's Time to Go

The trick is to know when it's time to go, and to make the parting as pain-free and professional as possible. Go about things in the right way, and you'll free up time for more worthwhile investments, while still maintaining the goodwill of your former client -- which you want to do, because it's a small world, and you never know when you'll see them again, or whether they'll turn out to know people at your next big project.

Top 5 Reasons to Fire a Client

But, first things first: How do you know when it's time to "fire" a client? The following, separately or together, are pretty good signs that your association might have outlived its usefulness:

1. You're not making enough money.

What's "enough money"? Rates are notoriously hard to set, and often vary widely from client to client, but a good rule of thumb is that your hourly rate as a freelancer should at least equal what you made as a full-time employee (taking into account things like health insurance and paid time off, which you'll now have to cover for yourself).

If you find that you're working all the time and can't make your overheard, or you've worked for the same client for several years and never received a rate increase, chances are, you're underpaid.

The first step, obviously, is to ask for more money, but if that doesn't work, it's time to start quietly shopping for a replacement client, or looking into increasing your hours with other existing contracts.

Once you're sure you're not putting yourself in a worse spot by pulling the plug, go for it.

2. You wouldn't use the work you're doing in your portfolio.

Every freelancer has a story (or five) about a job they took solely for the money -- and would just as soon forget. That's nothing to be ashamed of. Every gig can't be something you'd pick for your highlight reel at the Oscars.

However, if you find that the work doesn't boost your personal brand, or worse, that you'd just as soon no one knew you worked for these people, it's time to think about whether the job is a good fit for your personal goals and values.

3. You can't communicate with your primary contact person.

Ever talk to someone and feel like one of you is using a translator -- and not a very good one? Sometimes, for whatever reason, people just can't express their ideas to one another. Maybe one party has a listening problem, or there are different communication styles at play. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself unable to get your ideas across to one another, eventually, it might be time to call it quits.

4. You feel disrespected or abused by the client.

It takes all kinds to run the business world, and some of those folks, by default, are going to be not-nice people.

The good news is that you don't have to deal with them -- ever.

There's no excuse for abusive behavior like name-calling, yelling, or inappropriate language or actions that make you uncomfortable. If the client engages in any of these activities, whether or not they meet the legal standard for harassment, you should part ways immediately.

5. You have a better offer.

As a culture, we value loyalty, and we show that by punishing people who demonstrate it.

I'm only sort of kidding. While you never want to leave clients in the lurch, you need to remember that you're in business. If a current client won't pay you what you're worth, isn't a good fit for your CV, and/or isn't fun to work for, it's completely OK to move on to a situation that works better. Your first loyalty needs to be to yourself, your business, and your family.

How to Quit a Freelance Job

Whatever the reasons why, once you determine that you no longer wish to work for these folks, do things the decent way and resign with professionalism, just as you would from any other job, freelance or full-time. Give them plenty of notice, in writing, abiding by the terms of your contract.

Don't get into the weeds with all the reasons why you've decided to quit. If you've really decided to go, now is not the time to talk about the poor pay rate or the unreasonable hours. All you need to do is to let them know that you're not going to be working for them anymore. Especially if you're really over working for them, it's a good idea to take a look at some sample resignation letters, before you sit down to write your own.

Keep your note short, sweet, and professional, and you'll never have cause to regret it later.

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