Let’s Talk About Firing Clients

Heather Dundon Content Blog


confusedMan, it’s hard to be a freelancer.

I talk a good talk about walking around barefoot all the time, water cooler breaks with the dog, and generally being in control of my own schedule but I’ll be darned if this isn’t the toughest, most challenging job I’ve ever had.

Funny thing is, I’ve found that the people who make my job the most difficult are other small business owners. Why does this happen? Is it some sort of preemptive aggression, pushback in a system that otherwise paralyzes small businesses in favor of the Apples and Costcos of the world? Is it the diametric opposition of heightened expectations and unreasonable timeframes we’re all expected to work in now that everything’s instant, digital, “in the cloud”?

it's not me

Nah. Sometimes people are just jerks.

It’s a hard realization when you go into business for yourself that some people are just really, really awful to work with. As a freelancer I always try and give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s me! Maybe I wasn’t specific! Maybe I really am a terrible, miserable writer! And, to be clear, we all need criticism. I really, truly want my clients to tell me when they’re not happy or when something’s not working so we can fix it together, but some clients can’t do that in a respectful, professional way. The bad ones say dramatic, unproductive things like “horrifying” and “ridiculous” and “my cousin could do that.” Nope, nope, and nope.

bill lumbergh gif personal d 2 organic my fave money gifs cool stuff  10 Bad Bosses Explained with Animated GifsBecause you know what? I’ve spent years building a business which means I’ve also spent years learning what my strengths and weaknesses are and how to play to and against those in my work. It’s my job. That’s literally my NAME ON THE DOOR (okay, not literally, but if I had a real office you better believe my name would be on the door.) So, really, how dare I let someone else – someone who’s making a living the same way I am – cause me to doubt my capabilities as a professional?

When a client makes you feel this way it’s time to fire them.

The first time I fired a client I was terrified. I could actually feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins as I made the phone call like I was about to go bungee jumping or something. I was all, “But I make my living by landing clients like this…telling a client who offers to pay me that I don’t want to more work for them is insane!” But you know what’s more insane? Working one more minute for someone who makes you feel less intelligent than you actually are, who rips you off you then questions your integrity, who ties your stomach all up in knots every time your caller ID shows their name on the other end. Especially when, and here’s the kicker, you chose this professional lifestyle solely because it gave you your agency back.


Don’t get me wrong, firing a client is never an easy decision. It typically doesn’t come to you after the first negative phone call or the initial passive-aggressive email thread but the idea’s always there…drip, drip, dripping on your brain. Like being waterboarded with self-doubt. And when it hits you that, “Hey, I don’t have to do this!” it feels like you won the lottery and met the love of your life and finished that half-marathon all at the same time. For me, at least, that’s when the money stops factoring into the equation.

So, ask yourself:

Would I suck it up and deal with this client if they were paying me 50% more than they do now?

Would I stay at a “real job” where my boss made me feel like this or would I look for something new?

(And, if you’re a woman like me:) Would a man let someone talk to them this way?

grumpy catIf the answer to any of those questions is no, it’s probably time to pull the plug. There will always be other clients. Getting rid of the awful ones just frees you up to find one of the good ones to take their place, and to rethink your business model or pricing structure or whatever else in the meantime. Also, nothing in the world feels better than knowing you just hung up the phone with the Client From Hell for the last time and the celebratory beer that follows.

Life’s too short. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, tell clients what you need, and generally just run your business like a boss.

Afterall…you are The Boss.



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