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You're Fired! 6 Signs That You Need to Drop Your Client

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It happens to the best of us. You land a new client, and you’re excited about the project. Specs have been confirmed, contracts have been signed, and you’re ready to blow them away with your work.

Suddenly, you start to see some red flags. The client begins emailing you at all hours, expecting an immediate response. They add a few more aspects to the project that you hadn’t discussed. They never seem to be happy with the work and require a plethora of edits.

In any relationship, once the honeymoon phase is over, traits emerge that may or may not be deal-breaking. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, you might feel obligated to work through your client relationship problems—you have a contract, after all—but sometimes it’s not worth it, especially if it starts taking up too much of your time or affecting your mental health.

It’s perfectly okay to drop a client. It’s why you put a termination clause in your contract. Here are some clear signs that it’s time to fire your client and move on.

1. They don’t respect your time

Establishing a work-life balance is incredibly important. You need to be able to unplug and turn your mind off at the end of the day so that you don’t get burned out. A big key to accomplishing this balance is creating set office hours during which your clients can expect you to respond.

If your clients don’t respect that, then it’s a problem.

Granted, emergencies pop up, and even the best clients might email you out of your office hours with some sort of emergency, and that’s okay. It’s not okay if they do it habitually and expect you to say yes to any and all last-minute tasks.

They’re also disrespecting your time if they consistently reschedule or cancel meetings, especially if they do so last-minute. When they do this, they’re telling you that they have no respect for your schedule or that you blocked off that time for them. They see their time as more important than yours, and it’s not okay.

Disrespect of personal hours is more than a justifiable reason to fire your client, and it’s essential for your health and happiness.

2. They keep expanding the scope of the project without expanding their budget

There’s a reason why you hold contract negotiations and meetings with the client before you sign a contract. It’s important that you know the entire scope of the project and an estimated amount of time that it will take you so that you can quote them a fair rate.

If they keep adding to the scope of the project without offering reimbursement for the extra work, then they’re essentially stealing from you. Your rates are based on both your expertise and the time it will take you, and when they add extra work to the project without raising the cost, that’s free work.

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If the scope of the project keeps changing

your client isn’t respecting the extra time it will take you.

Sometimes, over the course of a project, a client might have another idea that they want to add. In this case, they should come to you to negotiate how this new piece will fit into your current contract. They should expect to have to pay more for more work, and they should be prepared that you might say no if you’re too busy to add on the extra job.

However, if they continuously add new pieces to the project without offering payment for those new pieces or if they fight back when you request additional payment for the expanding scope, then it might be time to say goodbye.

3. They don’t pay you on time

This one may seem obvious, but many freelancers struggle with this. Some clients have trouble paying in a timely manner. One month, they might be one week late, and the next they might be three. When you’re trying to plan your finances, this poses an issue.

Clients should always pay you in a timely manner. Instituting late fees can help with this, but even then, it can be stressful not knowing when your check is going to come.

If your client never pays you on time, then you should find a new one who does.

4. They don’t treat you with respect

Respect is an essential aspect of any professional relationship. You shouldn’t feel like you’re being treated poorly, especially when you’re providing a service to a client.

Being treated respectfully looks like many things. There are the obvious aspects (they need to speak to you with kindness, you should never feel like they’re overstepping the bounds of a professional relationship, they should address critiques without insult, etc.), but you also need to think about some of the subtler moments of disrespect.

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If your client doesn’t respect you

your mental health will suffer.

Your client hired you to do a job. If they consistently ignore your advice and go along with the way that they want to do things, this is a sign of disrespect. It shows that they believe that they know more about your industry than you do and don’t fully respect your services. On top of that, they’ll blame you for any negative results, even if you advised against it. Clients who don’t respect your professional opinion are a recipe for disaster.

If a client consistently changes your work without talking to you, this is also a sign of disrespect. Not only are they putting your name on a product that you didn’t fully produce, but they’re also saying that they didn’t trust you to complete the job that they hired you to do. Clients should always be willing to provide feedback. This ensures that the work that you complete for them in the future aligns with their vision, and it gives you a chance to tell them the reasons why you made the choices that you did. 

Your client should be willing to listen to your needs. If they continuously ignore your requests—such as your set office hours, deadlines for edits, or even which platforms you choose to use—then they are disrespecting you.

You deserve respect. If you’re not getting it, then it’s time for some client dumping.

5. Your personalities don’t mesh

Sometimes, it simply comes down to a compatibility issue. Everyone works differently, and some personality types have a difficult time working with certain other types. If you were an employee, you’d likely be forced to figure out how to co-exist with the person you clash with. As a freelancer, you have the freedom to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Dropping a client because your personalities don’t align goes beyond your happiness and stress level. Often, when your personality clashes with someone else, it makes communication difficult. Wires get crossed, and misunderstanding abounds. This makes it incredibly difficult to complete a project for them in the way that they want. In the end, you likely won’t produce great work for them, simply because communication failed.

Even if they’re the perfect client on paper, if your personalities don’t work well together, do yourself a favor and fill that space with a client who you love.

If you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to the client just because you’re personalities clash, here’s a great video on how to connect with your clients and customers.

6. You don’t love the work

This one needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

If you’ve signed a contract for a short term project that you don’t love, then you should complete the project and move on. You know that there’ll be an end date in a few weeks or months, and you’ve given your word that you’re going to complete the work. Failure to do so reflects poorly on you and leaves the client in a frustrating position. The work may be bland, but your word and professionalism are important.

However, if you’re in the midst of a long term client relationship, then you need to make sure that the work is something that you can be excited about for a long time. If you’re stuck doing something you’re not interested in, then your work will suffer for it.

On top of this, you need to make sure that the projects that you take on help spur your business in a direction that you want. If you’re a blogger who wants to get into travel writing one day, then you probably shouldn’t take on clients in industries like dentistry. The work won’t interest you, and it will do nothing to propel your career where you want it to go.

This might mean dropping a client that you’ve worked with for years, and that’s okay. Businesses go through rebrandings, and clients should understand when it’s time for you to move on to something different. 

As a freelancer, you should be careful about which clients you sign on. Not only are poor clients bad for your mental health, but they’ll also likely wear on your business. If you don’t like a client or if they’re causing you stress, your work will suffer for it. For the sake of your happiness and your business, if your clients are doing one or more of the above, then you need to dump them and move on to something better.

Meghan O'NealComment