It’s late. You’ve been working on a tight deadline, only to see the “New Message” notification pop up on your inbox. It’s from one of your clients… and it’s not good.
Not only is the client unhappy with your proposed direction for his project, he’d like to change the scope of your work significantly – all just hours before the final deadline you had agreed upon.
What do you do? Do you buckle down, acquiescing to his requests without a peep? Or do you stand up for yourself, your business and the terms of the project you and the client had set?
The truth is, every freelance relationship starts out with the best intentions. After all, nobody takes on a new project thinking, “I can’t wait until this client’s endless delays and borderline-abusive feedback leave me wishing I’d never left my day job!”
But the sad fact of the matter is that not every client you take on will be a good fit for your business – just as your unique freelancing skill set means you won’t be the right fit for every potential customer. The key, therefore, lies in being able to tell when a relationship is deteriorating and when it’s time to call it quits so that your time and resources can be directed towards customers that represent a better fit for your business.
The unfortunate scenario described at the start of this post could have been prevented with a bit a forward thinking. Like so many things in life, proper planning and preparation is critical to client-relationship success. Handling bad clients appropriately begins before the situation gets out of control – not when you’re already deep in the weeds with a project that’s ground to a halt.
Start with a trial project
If the scope of your freelance projects makes it appropriate, consider starting with a trial project, rather than a full project load. Doing so will quickly make it apparent whether you and your client are a good fit for each other.
As an example, say you’re a freelance graphic designer who’s been approached by a local business to revamp its website and identity package. Instead of tackling everything at once, consider starting with just the logo or website header. Doing so will ensure that you’re on the same page, style-wise, before you get in too deep.
Document your agreements with contracts
Misunderstandings in project scope and direction are at the root of many freelance relationships that go south, and the easiest way to minimize these miscommunications is with contracts that document every aspect of your agreement.
Make sure your contracts include all of the following elements:
It’s also a good idea to have a small business lawyer look over your contract templates. The last thing you want is to hear that your agreement won’t protect you in the event of a dispute with a bad client!
Make use of cancellation clauses
As you’re writing your contracts, make sure to include a cancellation clause that dictates each party’s responsibilities in the event that the business relationship doesn’t work out. Specifically, this clause should address how much notice must be given by either party, on what grounds cancellation can occur, how payment milestones are impacted by the cancellation and who will own the rights to any work completed before the cancellation.
Now, let’s say that you’ve entered into your freelance relationship with your “I’s” dotted and your “T’s” crossed. You’ve taken the steps to protect yourself, but still wind up facing the challenges described earlier in this post. In this case, terminating your contract may be the best course of action. Here are a few other signs it’s time to call it quits:
If you think there’s a chance your relationship can be salvaged, your first step should be to address and resolve the issue you’ve identified in a professional way. But if these efforts are unsuccessful – or if they aren’t appropriate for the severity of the situation – it’s time to put your big kid pants on and fire your bad clients…
Now, to be clear, this isn’t to say that you go all Donald Trump on your bad clients, yelling “You’re fired!” as you exit in a blaze of glory. As satisfying as that might be, the business world is notoriously small. Burning bridges won’t help you in the long-run, so keep the following tips in mind for ending client relationships in a professional manner:
If it’s time to exercise your choice by firing bad clients and opening up your schedule to make room for the right customers, the tips above will help ensure you carry out this unfortunately unpleasant task in a professional manner that reflects well on your business.
Have you ever had to fire a bad client? Share how you handled it by leaving a comment below