Freelancing isn’t always the easiest.

A big part of growing as a freelancer is knowing when a client might not be the best fit.

In this article, you’ll learn how to do something challenging: how to let a client go, how to understand some warning signs and reasons for when to fire a bad client.

Sample email templates

There are usually a lot of reasons why you would like to move on from a freelance client.

Regarding how exactly to cut ties with a client, you know your client the best, so you’re the one to round out the tailored communications.

But, it can be hard to send that first email to get the process started of ending a relationship with a client for whom you’ve been providing freelance or contract services.

I recently chose to stop working with a client and went through several revisions of how I wanted to phrase the farewell email.

We’ve put together 3 sample email templates to get you started with ending a freelancing contract, retainer or relationship. If you would like more email templates, sign up for our waitlist!

Template #1: Staying brief or beating around the bush

Helpful Tip

Make sure to edit and tailor this email template in regard to your specific situation!

Hi CLIENT NAME,

I wanted to get in touch because I’ve had some things come up, and this is going to be my last week during which I’ll have time to work on your project.

It has been a good experience working with you and the company, and I hope my services and input have been valuable.

This being said, I hope the transition to another freelancer goes smoothly, and please let me know if you need anything from me in the meantime.

Best regards, YOUR NAME

Template #2: Avoiding burning the bridge/staying positive

Helpful Tip

Make sure to edit and tailor this email template in regard to your specific situation!

Hi CLIENT NAME,

Hope all’s well! I’m getting in touch today to inform you and the team that my availability has changed, and I won’t be able to provide services for your company/product much longer.

I’ve enjoyed working with you on [THE PROJECT], and despite some differences I think we’ve provided solutions for, I’m going to be moving on from working with [COMPANY] for the time being.

Please let me know if you need anything from me in the immediate future, and I’ll be glad to recommend another contractor to take my place, if requested.

Best of luck in the future!

Regards, YOUR NAME

Template #3: Explaining your reasoning

Helpful Tip

Make sure to edit and tailor this email template in regard to your specific situation!

Hi CLIENT NAME,

I’m touching base today to sum up a few of the recent observations in my working relationship with [COMPANY]. For the reasons below, which I hope provide clarity and value, I’m going to be putting in notice for ending the current contract/retainer on this project.

  1. Late payments (edit this)
  2. Excessive requests for revisions on (project), which have pushed my hours spent on the project past those outlined in the monthly retainer
  3. A lack of communication surrounding [XYZ reason]

I hope it’s understandable where these concerns are coming from, and as a freelancer, I have to protect my boundaries and business standards. My last day on the project will be [DATE], and in the meantime, please let me know if you need my assistance in closing out my duties as they pertain to the success of the project.

Thanks for your understanding and consideration.

Best, YOUR NAME

Why you may want to move on from a client

Freelancing is hard, and you can let a client go if they are slowing you down from growing your business, adding more stress or invading your personal time.

Before you make your final decision, first, evaluate that firing your client is the best move for yourself.

Identify some of the reasons why your client isn’t working out ideally for you. It could be that your working styles don’t match, or it could be something more serious like you feel like you are nearing burnout because of the workload.

If you are worried about how longer gaps in between clients would look, be assured that there’s a way to express gaps in clients, on your resume.

Let’s consider a few examples below!

Late payments

It is unacceptable if your client is constantly missing payments or is late, especially if you are always getting excuses from them about why the payment is late.

Late payments can throw off your projects or cash flow, and can cause a lot of added time tracking down these payments. This is probably one of the disadvantages of being a freelancer.

You can add in some safeguards when starting to work with new clients that might initially fix common issues:

  • Collect an up-front project fee before starting any work. Depending on your industry, you can expect to charge anywhere from 20% to 50% up front.
  • Add due dates on your invoices, or, talk with your client and ask what their payment terms are. You can expect anywhere between net 15 and 30. In rare cases, clients may phrase their payment terms as net 60 (remittance at two months past the date of the invoice). If this is the case, it has to be clear, not a last resort on their part.
  • Add late payments fees. Add this fine print on your invoice. And, make your client sign a contract knowing that you have a late fee. This will avoid them emailing you past the expected payment remittance date claiming, “Sorry, we don’t pay late fees to our freelancers.”
  • Make it easy for your client to pay you. Collect payments via Stripe, PayPal, Venmo, check, Zelle and ACH direct deposit. Ask your client their preferred payment method before beginning work, and make sure to accommodate that, or choose something that works for everyone.
  • Discuss remittance fees. If the client insists that you have to stomach the PayPal fees when payments are made, discuss if you can lump payments together, or do something to make the fees less of a burden. It’s common that clients will refuse to pay fees incurred by remitting PayPal or international wire transfers.

If, after all of your safeguards, you are still having issues with payments, you should probably let the client go and find a new client.

Unreasonable client feedback

Feedback is an important cycle of most freelance projects.

With creative projects especially, you will want to make sure that you explore your client’s vision to the fullest. With that exploration comes revisions.

If clients are relentless with feedback, you can have a conversation about when your current scope of work is complete.

It’s often okay to continue iterating on your project and create a completely new scope of work for that revision.

Here are a few tips to help protect the feedback cycle from spiraling out of control:

  • Add in a revision limit to your project. I usually like to start with two revisions, and put a time cap on the total amount of revisions.
  • Have the conversation early, if you feel like what is being asked of you is different from the original scope of work.
  • Create more milestone check-ins and have the client sign off on each step. This will prevent any huge changes at the end of the project.

If you’re still having issues and your client isn’t respecting the process that you set up, then move on!

Low budgets

Getting started as a freelancer can often mean starting your career with a few lower-budget clients.

There is really no problem working with clients who aren’t paying top dollar. In fact, they can sometimes lead into something bigger, but I digress.

I think what you want to avoid is “cheap clients.”

These are clients that micromanage you to try and save money off of the final product and maximize on profits and margins.

You are hired for your skills, your expertise and your years of experience, especially the experience that allows you to complete work so fast and so seamlessly. You should charge a fair rate for those skills.

In my experience, low-budget clients are almost a gateway drug to other red flags within this section. The low-budget clients usually ask for more revisions, and try to add a lot of scope to projects. It can show that there is a lack of trust.

As your business grows, sometimes the numbers don’t add up, and your time can be better spent with more expensive projects.

Bad client communication

With freelancing for a client, you’re working on work for someone else, and it is really disruptive if you aren’t getting answers to your questions.

I personally do not like when I am blocked on something and it takes more than four or five days to get a response. It makes projects really hard to get back into, especially when there are a lot of stops and starts.

Bad communication can also be disguised as misdirection.

It’s possible that what you deliver and what your client had in mind can be way off. In this case, it may lead to an unhappy client or a lot of additional revisions to see out the vision.

Here are a few tips for helping with the overall communication between you and your client:

  • Identify the best channel for communication. This may be email, text, phone calls, or Slack, depending on any time zone differences.
  • Ask a lot of questions. If you’re not clear on what to do, you won’t be set up for success.
  • Over-communicate. Give a lot of progress updates and ask for feedback early and often.

Consistent added scopes of work

When you agree on a project with a client, it’s important to document as much as you can in terms of what you are actually delivering.

I like to draft a scope of work (or a proposal) that documents step-by-step what will be the final output of my freelance project.

In my proposals, I like to note when the client can expect to give feedback and when the project is considered complete. It makes the boxes easy to check for both parties.

It’s common for clients to ask for one more thing, or drag out some of the review processes. It’s a good idea to educate your client about how you like to work and how you determine your scopes of work.

If your client doesn’t respect the environment that you create, you should consider letting the client go.

Personality conflict

Personality conflicts are hard to put down into words. Sometimes, you just don’t get along with your clients. There’s not much that you can do to change this.

Breaking up with a client can totally be mutual.

If you feel the tension while working together, don’t feel afraid to bring this up and present the option.

For example, saying, “I noticed our styles of working are pretty different, and given this, it could be best for this to be our last week of working together. This may alleviate some of the misunderstandings we’ve been having.”

How to communicate to a client that you would like to move on

The number one thing that you want to consider is being extra communicative with your client during this time.

Do not stop responding, do not ghost your client and do not act unprofessionally!

Email/text your client your decision to get the conversation started

Use your most common channel of communication, and send in your unfortunate letter of resignation. You can use the sample templates above or some combination of them to get a head start on your message.

Discuss your continuation after the final deliverables

Inform your client that you do not wish to continue your working arrangement after delivering the final project.

Provide referrals of other people who you think would be a better fit

Leverage your network and get some names, emails and portfolios ready. Share these potential candidates with your client to make it easier for them to transition the project.

Offer to help transition the project to another freelancer

If you have a lot of inside knowledge about a project, you can make it hard for another freelancer to get started.

You can pitch a hand-off as your final project. You should totally charge for this, as it is your time and can end up saving a lot of set up time for the next freelancer.

We recommend using our guide to how to price freelance services like a pro when considering a rate for such a project. You can also work on a transition plan when you are figuring out what to do in between clients or contracts.

Keep the line of communication open

It’s important to continue to speak with your client through your entire exit process. Ghosting and removing all lines of communication can give you a bad reputation.

As a freelancer, your reputation is all you have! Keep it super clean.

Stay professional

You never want to say anything that you would regret during this process. Be polite, professional and curious.

You never know, your old client may come back to you with some new work that might be a better fit, or may be able to refer you onward to a new freelance client.

In conclusion

Firing a client isn’t fun. It’s business.

In the end, everyone should understand and be able to move on. Every situation is different and there is no one-sized-fits-all solution to every problem.

I recommend applying bits and pieces of this article to your situation to form a fresh opinion on how to handle your next steps.

I truly hope this advice was helpful to you, and I wish you the best on your journey to grow as a freelancer.

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Last updated on May 27th, 2022