How to fire a client — and why you should

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Perhaps this will surprise you, but you need to learn how to fire a client. It will make you feel better and perhaps even help you make more money….

If you work as a freelancer, did you know you can fire clients? Here are 10 legitimate reasons for considering taking this step:

  1.  The client refuses to sign a contract.
  2.  The client asks you to do something unethical or illegal.
  3.  The client continually misses their deadlines for you.
  4.  The client frequently asks for last-minute work and expects a fast turnaround.
  5.  The client yells at you, talks down to you, demeans you or belittles you.
  6.  The client contacts you anytime, any day and always expects you to return their call or message immediately.
  7.  The client repeatedly asks you to re-edit copy they already approved, and then refuses to pay extra for the edits.
  8.  The client keeps changing their mind about what they want.
  9.  The client doesn’t pay within 30 days.
  10.  The work doesn’t feel rewarding anymore.

These are all perfectly valid reasons for refusing to work with a client any more (and there are other reasons, too.) But how you go about firing a client is another matter. 

Much as you might feel like shaming and embarrassing them — and much as they might deserve it — don’t give them any ammunition to start badmouthing you

Here’s how to fire clients fairly:

  • Finish work that’s in progress: Don’t leave your clients in the lurch. If you agreed to do a certain project, then stay with it until it’s finished. 
  • Give your notice in writing: Phone calls are friendlier (and you should make one of those, later) but begin with a letter or email to create a record that the client won’t be able to dispute. 
  • Use an excuse that they can’t argue with: There’s no point in trying to make the client be a better person. Leave that job to their therapist. Instead, use a face-saving excuse that will allow you to extricate yourself quickly from the situation. “I’ve concluded that we’re not the best business to meet your needs,” is a good, vague all-purpose statement.
  • Follow up with a phone call: Emails and letters do occasionally go missing. (And bad clients are far more likely to lose or ignore them.) Protect yourself by concluding with a phone call so you can be sure the client understands you won’t be working with them anymore. This is also a good time to discuss returning any necessary documents or their final payment to you.

And here’s how to prevent needing to fire future clients:

  • Make sure you aren’t part of the problem: are you a clear communicator who operates in an organized way? Do you meet your deadlines? Do you have a timely system for billing? Do you have contracts with all of your clients? (This is not an optional thing reserved for big companies. You need a contract with all of your clients, no matter how small they are, in order to spell out what you each are responsible for.)
  • Have specific — and written — client acceptance criteria: If you think you can work with anyone, you’re misguided — and you’re doing yourself no favours. No one else needs to see these criteria but you should review them before you accept any new client. For example, you may want to work only within a certain industry or niche. And you might require any company you work with to be of a specific size (whether you measure this by gross revenues or number of employees is up to you.) 
  • Watch out for red flags: Don’t expect clients to improve with time, as if by magic. Instead, they are likely to become worse. If they are argumentative or unresponsive during the negotiation process, they’re probably not going to improve once the contract is signed. And if they complain about your fees at the front end they’re unlikely to be overcome with largesse when your bill is due. 

Given the times we are in now — marked by inflation and belt-tightening — it can be scary to consider firing clients. But remind yourself that nightmare clients waste your time and prevent you from earning higher fees from better clients.

Wouldn’t you be happier serving people who truly value your work? 

PS: All the comments above also apply to bosses as well as clients. If you need to quit your job, you probably want to have another job in place first. But don’t delay planning to extricate yourself from bad situations.


My video podcast last week addressed the issue of how to better organize your research process. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  


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Have you ever fired a client? Why? And how did you do it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy! 

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