I don’t like to fire clients.
I really don’t.
Especially when I know they are going to have a hard time finding someone else to do what I do, or if it’s going to be a financial hardship for me. Besides, it’s scary. I hate being disapproved of or disappointing people. I have trouble putting myself first.
However, sometimes it needs to happen, for a number of reasons.
Why fire a client anyway?
Each freelancer has their own “hard limits.” That line they won’t cross. It’s best if you decide that before you even start work, so when you encounter that situation, you already know how to react.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
I had been working with a friend of the family for years. This individual hadn’t been the easiest person to work with, yet I finished several projects. The content of the books this person wrote had massive inaccuracies and they refused to correct anything. I continued assisting this person because I figured “well, if they want to do this, it’s on their head” even though I really didn’t feel right about helping spread bad information. However, I knew they were not the richest person in the world and I wanted to help them achieve their dream of being published. I was on the fence about it but not quite at the firing stage.
A few days ago, they came to me with another book proposal. Because of past issues I had said I would no longer do any art or editing but would assist with preparing the books for publication. When I actually read the manuscript I was appalled! Without going into detail, this “children’s book” actually had descriptions of animal abuse and torture and contained mentions of sexually transmitted diseases. In a children’s book! It was an odd hybrid of an alphabet book for toddlers and something aimed for sixth grade or older. This book, by the way, was also wildly inaccurate with many of it’s “facts.”
They had crossed the line.
So, I wrote up a letter. My spouse helped me make sure it was clear and professional, helped me chop out some clunky verbiage. I was not rude, but I was direct. It’s never easy to fire a client, and part of me regrets this because I know the author meant well. They were trying to help people with learning disabilities. However, I think their passion for the project overrode their good sense, and since they never were good about taking editing suggestions, the only option I was left with was to fire them. If they had been better at working with an editor, we probably could have salvaged the book – which is too bad, the illustrations were gorgeous, and the intent was laudable.
Here are some tips I hope are helpful for other freelance authors and artists.
Tips for Firing Clients
Stay professional in all ways. Never, ever, ever be rude.
Avoid blaming language. Use “I statements” instead of “you statements.”
Avoid excessive explanation. You don’t have to defend yourself, and defensiveness will make others think you were in the wrong. You weren’t if you thought this through properly, so don’t explain too much.
Watch out if your client won’t accept feedback, no mater how gently put.
Don’t run your clients down. Not then, not ever. It makes you look bad to other potential clients.
Keep everything simple and clear in your last letter.
Maintain meticulous records and back them up. Especially, keep records of your final email to the client. This will help protect you if they decide to sue.
Don’t Panic. If they decide to sue, or threaten you, keep your cool, seek help if you need it, and keep your towel handy.
Don’t compromise your principles. Not once, because if you do it once, you will do it again. Just make sure your principles are fair and reasonable first.
Fire clients only after serious thought, and never over anything minor.
Remember, sometimes firing a client is the wakeup call they need to moderate their behavior. You could be doing them a favor. For example, if I had published the book I mentioned above, the author might have encountered angry parents, internet scorn, and even death threats. If the author went on to publish it elsewhere without considering the points I made in my termination notice, it’s on their head not mine. I gave them the chance to improve whether they took it or not.
Also keep in mind, no matter how irritated you might be at a client, or no matter how sorry you might feel for them, there are lines that no one can make you cross. Staying positive and professional in all your communications will help you in both cases. Then if they are disappointed, angry, or hurt, you know you did the right thing – and you can prove it.
As a footnote, I don’t actually wish anything bad for that client. I hope they learn from what I said in my final letter, and I hope they also learn to take in constructive criticism and advice. That will allow them to grow and maximize their potential instead of circling around in a self created prison, shut off from the fresh air of feedback.
“To err is human, to admit your mistakes and fix them is professional.”