If you fire a freelance client, whether short- or long-term, it can be a nerve-wracking experience. Even though we know we’ll feel relief on the other side of the breakup, we dread breaking the news–and then working out the transition period.
If you’ve decided to fire a freelance client via email, we’ve pulled together five scripts for some of the situations you might find yourself in. If you prefer to end the client relationship over the phone, feel free to use the scripts as a jumping-off point to your conversation (and for reference throughout).
Before we dive into the scripts, let’s lay a few client-firing ground rules.
Ground Rules for Firing a Freelance Client
Firing a freelance client is a big step, and it’s almost never easy. These basic guidelines will help you stay on track as you navigate making the break.
- Give plenty of notice if possible. If you have a contract, abide by the amount of notice your client requires.
- Complete all your outstanding tasks, unless you and the client negotiate a hand-off to another teammate or contractor.
- Keep your message as positive as possible, and keep the focus on you–because even if the situation has been awful, you don’t want to burn bridges if you don’t absolutely have to.
- Don’t over-explain your reasons for leaving (you can say “due to personal reasons” if you want, but you really don’t have to elaborate).
- Keep your message short and to-the-point.
- If you’re firing a good client, try to recommend a colleague or two who can step in and help them out.
- If they beg you to stay, be firm. Sometimes, clients make it difficult for us to make the moves we need to make. There’s no need to become emotional or lash out, but do protect the boundaries you’ve determined for yourself as you step away.
- Refer to your contract and your agreed-upon scope of work often if your client tries to add additional, last-minute tasks.
- Don’t be afraid to issue a partial refund if you need to exit a project or client relationship quickly.
Ready for the scripts? Let’s go!
Script #1 – When the Team’s Great, but the Work Could Be Better
Sometimes, you’re a part of a team that is made up of great people. But, the work could be better. (Or, you know, the work is outright bad.)
Whatever the case, if you fire a freelance client like this, it could create quite a dilemma for you. You might not be a fan of the work you’re doing, but you don’t want to let the team down, either. Still, you’ve recognized that it’s time to move on–so you sit down to write that email.
Rather than detail your problems with the work itself, focus on how much you enjoyed working with the team. Keeping your emphasis on the warm fuzzies you felt for your team will make it infinitely easier to make this transition.
Hope you’re having a great week so far! I wanted to drop a note to let you know that I have enjoyed working with your team. However, as of [date], I can no longer provide [company name] with [name of service] services.
I’ll be glad to complete my outstanding projects during that time, as I have a few remaining items on my plate. [Add a bullet list of assignments here if needed.] Unfortunately, I will not be able to take on any new projects.
You’ve got a great team here at [company name], and I wish you all the very best moving forward. I appreciate you extending the opportunity for me to work with this great crew. Thank you for your understanding.
Script #2 – When You’re Not a Great Fit for a Good Client
My writing partner and I often refer to freelancing as a revolving door. For busy freelancers, there’s almost always a steady stream of new clients and one-off projects. Sometimes, a great client might end up being a bad fit for you.
This mismatch doesn’t mean anything about you or about them–it’s simply that: a mismatch. In these cases, you might love the client, but you recognize that working together isn’t exactly working out.
If that sounds like you, try this message:
Hope you’re doing well. I wanted to reach out with a quick update.
As of [date], I won’t be able to provide [name of service] services to [company name]. Of course, I’m glad to tie up loose ends with my remaining assignments between now and then. [Include a bullet list of outstanding assignments here if you wish.]
I would love to refer a colleague of mine, [name], who is also a [your type of service provider]. If you choose to connect with them, I believe they’ll take good care of you and be a great fit for your brand. If you’d like an introduction, I’d be happy to put you in touch.
I appreciate the opportunity to work with [you/your team] and wish you the very best going forward.
Script #3 – When You No Longer Have Available Bandwidth
Most freelance professionals experience seasons when they find themselves with more work than they can handle. If that sounds like you, it’s time to decide whether you should fire a freelance client or two.
There are many reasons you might choose to step away from a client relationship. Maybe:
- The pay isn’t ideal
- The client doesn’t pay on time, or at all
- The scope of work lowers your hourly rate and edges out more lucrative projects
- You’re burned out on a particular client’s work and need to take a step back
- You’re in a position where you can be more selective, and you want to niche down
If these client relationships are healthy ones, you can refer a colleague to take your place. Here’s a note that lets a client know you no longer have room on your plate–then immediately shifts the emphasis to helping them find another freelancer to help them out.
I wanted to touch base with you to provide an update on my availability. As of [date], I will no longer be able to provide [service] for [company name].
I have several [same service providers] in my network who have the bandwidth and are actively looking to connect with companies like yours. If you’re interested, I would love to refer them to you. They do fantastic work and I think they will be a great fit for your brand’s needs.
I’ve enjoyed my time working with [you/your team], and I appreciate the opportunity! Please let me know how I can best complete the remaining work on my contract between now and [date].
Script #4 – When You’re Ready to Fire a Difficult Client
When possible, difficult or toxic clients should be let go sooner rather than later. When you exit this kind of client relationship, it’s important to keep your note short, sweet, and matter-of-fact. Don’t air your grievances if you can avoid it, and don’t over-share your reasons for letting them go.
Refer to contractural agreements in writing. This will help set a precedent from now through the end of your contract. Take a look at this example:
I wanted to quickly connect with you to let you know that, as of [date], I will no longer be able to provide [services] for [company name].
Per our contract, I am able to complete the following outstanding tasks between now and [date]:
Unfortunately, I am unable to begin any new projects between now and then, outside of those listed above.
I appreciate the opportunity to work with [you/your team] and wish you the best going forward.
Script #5 – When You Need to Halt a Project with a Difficult Client
Once in a while, a short-term, one-off client project doesn’t go as planned. Maybe there are communication difficulties, or perhaps you’re having a difficult time pleasing the client. You’ve tried everything possible to salvage the situation, but things just keep getting worse.
Halting a project is a nerve-wracking experience, and it might mean losing money for work you’ve already done. In the long run, though, you can recoup more than you lose–you just have to stop spinning your wheels on this one gig.
If you’ve decided to cut and run, here’s one way to do it.
I hope your day is going well so far. I wanted to check in with a quick update on [project name].
After careful consideration, I have determined that I am not a fit for this particular project. I regret to inform you that I have decided to halt work on the project going forward.
Per my contract, I will retain the nonrefundable [$XXX.00] deposit; however, I will be issuing you a refund for the remainder of the paid fee [tell them when they can expect the money].
I appreciate your understanding and wish you the best of luck going forward.
If you’re like me, deciding to fire a freelance client is a tough call to make. It’s easy to second-guess your decision and your messaging, so hopefully, these scripts help boost your confidence as you take the next right steps for your business.
If you do reconsider firing a client and decide to continue working together, it’s fair to negotiate new contract terms. Make sure the terms of your working relationship, like rates, the scope of work, and workflow, are fair for both of you. Otherwise, you’ll end up right back in the same position down the road.
As you exit this client relationship, remember: you aren’t responsible for the success of anyone’s business but your own. You are well within your right to shift the direction of your work, and you don’t have to feel guilty for making this change.
As long as you fulfill the terms of your contract to the best of your ability and behave in a respectful manner, your former client’s future is in their hands–not yours. Wish them well and keep moving forward.
Featured image via vladwel / shutterstock.com