Calling It Quits with a Client

Breaking up is hard to do, whether it’s with a love interest or a business client. People tend to hold on to things longer than they should. They cling when the relationship isn’t benefitting them, when it’s not fitting either party, and when it’s obvious ties should be severed. Nobody likes to have “the talk”—and it can be even more nerve wracking when you feel indebted to the other party. I’m no exception.

 

Some pairings just aren't meant to last that long. (Photo by Chintan Mehta at Pendleton Roundup 2014).
Some pairings just aren’t meant to last that long. (Photo by Chintan Mehta at Pendleton Roundup 2014).

I’ve continued working for clients even when they still paid me at a rate 50 percent less than my standard. I felt indebted to them because I had worked for them for so long. There was a time, years ago, when our agreed upon rate was fair for my experience. Maybe they gave me a chance in an industry that I didn’t know at all. It’s likely that I “liked” the client and let emotions get involved where they didn’t belong.

As a writer, whether freelance or with your own business, there will come a time when you need to break things off with a client. Don’t linger. The Band-Aid approach is best.

Here are a few clues that the relationship is dead. The sooner you snip off that dead weight, the sooner you open yourself up to more, better, and more lucrative opportunities.

  1. They won’t/can’t meet your current standard rate

I’ve posted about this before, but I highly encourage writers to only charge per word or a flat rate per project based on average word counts. Never charge per hour—but make sure you have a personal “hourly rate” that you “need” to meet in order to grow your business. If it takes you 20 minutes to create a $20 piece, that’s $60 per hour. For some writers at certain points in their career, that’s a reasonable amount.

However, if you have a client or project that ends up paying you anything below $60 per hour, it’s time to call it quits. Otherwise, you’re stalling your career and your revenue.

  1. You dread their projects

There will always be times when you don’t want to write at all, or you don’t want to write for a certain client. However, if this happens every single time you have to write for a specific client, that’s a red flag. You’ve reached burn out and there’s only one cure: Letting them go. Only you can ask yourself if the pay makes it “worth it”. For example, if your minimum hourly rate is that $60 but this client pays $100 per hour, you might think it’s worth sticking around. Or you might not—that’s your call, and only you know what your hour is worth.

  1. They’ve been complaining more often than usual

In my experience, it’s very rare for a client to complain or ask for re-drafts after your initial learning curve. Of course, some clients are more demanding than others. Personally, if a newish client has continual requests for changes, I usually end things right there—it’s clear this isn’t a good match for either of us.

On the other hand, if an existing client starts suddenly requesting more changes, has more complaints, or otherwise is taking up more time than usual, read between the lines. This means one of two things: Either there’s a new manager somewhere in the mix you’re not meshing with (and likely never will), or you’re nor performing like you used to because you’re burned out. Either way, it may be time to move on.

So, how do you break up with a client? There are as many ways to break up with a client as there are to break up with a significant other. Be professional, be clear, and don’t leave any wiggle room. You can certainly come up with an excuse if you like, such as a mysterious new project that will take all of your time, but avoid bridge burning. After all, you never know when that client might come up with a new project that’s more in line with your passion—and pays handsomely.

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