Because so many freelancers struggle to find clients, there’s a lot of resistance to firing one. You may wonder:
- Will this freelance client ever be replaced?
- Are you going to end up in a desperate situation and have to go back to them, begging for work?
- Are you going to get struck down somehow for being entitled? This is usually accompanied by thoughts like “Am I freaking crazy? The economy is terrible… who am I to think I can turn away work?”
All of those concerns are understandable. They may or may not be founded in reality, but they are understandable.
For example, yes – your bad freelance client will almost certainly be replaced. They might not be replaced as quickly as you’d like, but if you’ve got a reasonably good freelancer’s platform, and you’re asking for referrals and being visible, more work will come your way.
Here’s the upside of this freelancing fear: You’ll be more likely to attract new, better freelancing clients once you’ve gotten rid of this bad one. And it’s actually good to maintain just a little bit of space in your workload for a new client to come along… or to leave some space or for you to pursue a business building project that may attract more clients without you having to go find them.
Note: This is why it’s so helpful to charge a freelancer’s living wage, like $75 per hour. It gives you enough of a financial buffer so you can work at 80% of your client capacity and be choosy about who you take on.
I hear the anxiety about possibly having to go back to the bad client, too. I actually did this once. At the time I was feeling more than a little bit financially insecure, and I just wanted some extra income so I didn’t go into panic mode about money.
But as soon as I went back to working with that client, all the reasons I fired them came back to me in vivid detail. I started hearing myself complaining again (a lot), saying all the same things I used to say about them, like: “This isn’t worth the money! I’d rather just be broke or have to cut some expenses than go through this! Bad clients are the worst… why did I do this to myself?”
Fortunately, I quickly realized that if I was going to worry about money, that anxiety was better channeled into boosting my visibility in my field. Or, God forbid, I could have just reached out to the clients I did like, to see if they had any extra projects I could help with or if they knew anyone who might need a writer like me.
Bottom line: If you’ve fired a freelance client once, if you slink back to them you’re probably going to want to fire them again in short order.
This leaves us with fear #3: You will somehow be struck down for acting entitled.
This is… of course… on its face… silly. You’re not going to get struck down. Nobody’s going to get struck down. But that’s often the feeling that writers and other freelancers have, lurking around in the back of our heads, when we want to fire a client but we’re afraid to.
Don’t judge yourself for this. Just drop all the negative self-talk around it. Being scared, even in a really low-level, background simmer kind of scared, is completely human. It’s happening because you’re about to step outside your comfort zone. And that’s a good thing.
But you do need to evoke your inner business manager and not let this fear push you around. See it. Call it by its name. Address it. But do not let it keep you in a bad situation. Do not let it keep you cowering in fear of getting struck down.
The best reason to fire a freelance client
There’s another issue behind all of this, and it’s the single best reason to fire a bad client: Nobody but you is going to take care of you.
You see, firing a client is not a sign that you’re entitled. Freelancing is not slavery – or at least it’s not supposed to be.
You are entitled to back out of any situation that’s bad for you.
And actually, as a business owner (and especially as a creative), you have to back out of any situation that’s bad for you.
Because keeping bad clients is expensive. Very expensive.
How Bad Clients Can Hurt Your Freelancing Business
Few things will drain your motivation to work more than a really bad client. Whether they’re abusive, or make you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, or you just simply hate working for them, the longer you stay with them, the more miserable you will become.
A lot of things happen for creatives when we’re miserable. We:
- Start doing less and less of a good job. This opens up the possibility for the bad client to become even worse, because now they actually have a legit reason to complain about you. To give you a hard time. Because you’re turning in mediocre work.
- Start hating ourselves. Turning in mediocre work is bad news, especially if you’re really good at what you do. Creatives pride themselves on doing good work. When we know we’re doing bad work, or even mediocre work, we can tip into really judging ourselves. If you’re the tempermental sort, this can spin into full-scale self-loathing. As in “I do crappy work for crappy people and crappy pay.” That’s not a mindset for success.
- Can become difficult to work with. Suddenly, you realize you just sent off a less-than-professional email. Or you were kinda petulant in that last meeting. Or you’re just generally… always… in a bad mood. By being grouchy, you may also be turning away other, better gigs. You may be killing referral opportunities, too, because people have noticed you’re, um… less than delightful to be around.
- We sabotage ourselves. I don’t know exactly what drives this, but time and again I have seen myself and other creatives sabotage ourselves when we’re unhappy. Especially when we’re unhappy. For example, once a project I was working on went off the rails. I ended up spending about 20 hours of time on something that didn’t matter at all. The project manager told me I could send him an invoice for the extra work. But I didn’t. Ever. It would have been a $2,000 invoice. But I had this story in my head that he didn’t care, nobody cared, it all just sucked anyways… why bother. And so $2,000… gone.
- We start to make really dumb decisions. See above.
- We think we hate freelancing in general. This is the dangerous one. Bad clients can be so bad as to make you temporarily believe that you hate freelancing and even the thing you do for freelancing, like writing. A really bad client or a string of bad clients can be enough to drive a freelancer out of business.
So overcome your freelancing fears and fire that client already
… after you’ve sat down and accessed your finances, so you know exactly what is at stake here.
And after you’ve taken at least one concrete (if scary) action) to replace this bad client. Things like updating your LinkedIn profile, reaching out to past clients, or completing some business project that will make you more visible all count.