Breaking Up With a Client Doesn’t Have to Be Heartbreaking
I know, I know…some of you are thinking, “Breaking up?! I’m trying to get a client — not get rid of them!”
If you’re just starting out in this smutlancing thing, it probably seems impossible that a day will come when you’ll break up with (aka fire) a client. A few years ago, I thought the same thing. Desperate for work, I took anyone who came my way (this sounds a lot like my love life when I was 20…). I never sabotaged my career but even when it was awful, I’d wait for them to end it with me — much like my love life 20 years ago.
The reality is that as you take on work clients, you’ll outgrow certain jobs and even clients. Breaking up is hard to do but worth it. Even if you’re currently clinging to the work you have or desperately seeking it, keep this in mind. One day you’ll find yourself in the same position.
Good Break Ups
A good break up (okay, firing) is like the end of a good relationship. Neither of you was miserable enough to hate the other but you weren’t ecstatic either. One email to say it’s over with the promise to finish up the rest of your work, and it’s done. No hard feelings. The client might be sad to see you go, but they won’t trash you to other potential clients, either.
When and how you break up depends on the agreement you have with the client and the working relationship. For my ongoing clients, it’s a two-week written notice. Because all of our business is done by email, sending notice by email is typical. You can give your reasons or not – it’s up to you.
Bad Break Ups
Just like in romantic or sexual relationships, bad break ups happen with clients, too. They refuse to pay or freak out. Maybe they even trash you online or to people you both know professionally. While this is extremely rate, it happens. How the end of this professional relationship is handled says a lot about both sides…good and bad.
I just went through an awful “break up” and that person showed his true colors. If I’d been paying attention, I’d have seen it coming, though.
A Bad Client Equals a Bad Break Up
In mid-January, I landed a huge new client in the sex space which meant I could afford to let go of low-paying clients I didn’t love working with in the vanilla space. One client was late paying me every month and hardly engaged in the process of his own content. He left that to his “people.”
When I sent the email notifying him I wouldn’t be able to continue writing for him past January, he freaked out. Blew up my phone. Demanded my attention. When he didn’t get what he wanted right when he wanted it, he cut off my access to his website and sent a nasty email saying he wouldn’t need anything from me for January. How nasty? John Brownstone read it for me and then told me not to look at it. (I still don’t know what it says.)
It felt like he was saying, “You can’t break up with me, because I’m breaking up with you!” He didn’t know if the work I did for him paid a bill (it didn’t, thankfully) or whether I could make up the money he decided to take from me. But he also never paid me without a reminder…ever. He claimed I was important to his content needs but never spoke to me. Worse, he called me a liar and talked to every client he’d ever referred to me to find out if I’d let them go to.
It. Was. Wild.
And it’s messed me up a bit. I have to do a bit of negotiating with a current client (one I love!), and my stomach is in knots because I don’t feel confident about the reaction I’ll get. Not cool, dude. Not cool.
It’s Easy to Stay Too Long
Staying with a bad client is easy. We’re afraid we won’t be able to land a new client. We think this is the best we can do.
Both things aren’t necessarily true. In the two days after that bad episode, one of my favorite clients sent me extra gigs that were worth three times what the bad client ever paid me. And this client always pays on time.
There’s no guarantee that a great client will stick around forever or that ending the relationship will be easy. But you get the measure of a person when you work with them. The good ones will, at least, stay professional even if they’re disappointed.
I should have ditched that client the second or third time he paid me late. He was telling me in those early days that he didn’t value me as a freelancer. But I told myself I needed him. That he seemed okay.
Let me share a little secret, though…
If you landed that shitty ass client who doesn’t value what you do or your time, you are capable of landing a new and better client. It might take a while. Sometimes you have to stick with crap to pay your bills until someone better comes along. But the moment they do – and they will – break up, move on, and realize that you don’t need that bad client with their bad break up and their bad attitude.
How Do You Know It’s Time to Break Up?
In my case, I had to wait until I could replace my income before I could let a client go. We can’t pay the bills unless I do. Your situation may be different – this could be a side hustle or you have a second income that can pay the most important expenses.
When you break up is different than figuring out if you should break up.
How did I know I wanted to let them go?
- I hated working on their projects — even when other clients had similar needs.
- The communication was awful.
- Our personalities didn’t gel.
- I had no interest in going above and beyond. I would, but I felt put out when I did.
They weren’t bad companies or clients. We just weren’t the right fit. Except that bad break up. He’s a bad client, and I feel sorry for his next writer.
Once the money question is answered, think of how working for a client makes you feel. If you’re not dreading their assignments or their emails, and you’re willing to give a little extra – time, edits, whatever – it’s likely a good fit. But if you dread every moment, as soon as you can, break it off. You’ll be free to find a new client who’s a better fit.
Breaking up doesn’t have to be hard to do, as long as you keep it professional. And what I’ve learned is that you can’t control how other people react, only what you do. The jerk who talked to my other clients? Whatever he said seems not to have worked because they’re still working with me.