SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 9: KNOW WHEN TO FIRE A CLIENT (AND HOW)
You’re trying to grow your freelance business. You’ve been taking every writing job that comes along just to get experience and put money in your bank account. You’re feeling fortunate to have cobbled together enough writing jobs to pay the bills and start a portfolio.
There’s this one job that you hate. (Maybe hate is a strong word—but it might be close.) You were grateful when you landed the opportunity, but things have gone south since you started. Maybe the subject doesn’t interest you. Or maybe the customer grates on your nerves. For whatever reason, you simply don’t want to work with that client any more.
What should you do? In the midst of trying to make it as a writer, is there ever a time to say no to a job? Is it ever ok to “fire” a client? Will you be considered a quitter if you give up on this project?
In Step 4, I covered when it’s ok to “just say no” to taking a job, but this situation is different. You’ve been working with the client for a while, but you don’t have any desire to continue that relationship.
I have good news for you: Yes, there is a time when you can say “enough.” If you’ve been following these steps to develop your business, you should be in a position that you can let go of that dreaded job.
No, this isn’t a free pass to just quit as soon as a project or a client becomes challenging. But I believe there are legitimate reasons to move on from a particular opportunity. Here are four:
1. When the work doesn’t meet your goals
Keep in mind why you started down this unconventional path in the first place. Was it for flexibility? An excitement for the craft? The freedom of being your own boss? Maybe you wanted to become a world-renowned cat blogger.
Whatever they are, examine your motivations and the goals you’ve set for yourself and your writing. Then, take a good look at the job in question. Does it meet these goals? Or at least move you toward them? If it’s taking you in the wrong direction, it might be time to turn around.
Several years ago, I was working with a resume company. I was receiving steady assignments, and they were happy with my work. I could have gotten more jobs from them if I wanted them. The problem: The work involved setting up multiple appointments with the people who were requesting resumes—and they often didn’t keep those appointments. I found myself arranging entire days around phone calls to gather information or review a completed resume, and the people didn’t bother to show up for our meetings.
This might not bother you as much as it did me. But when I looked at this situation, I realized this job was not meeting my goal of working a flexible schedule. I was missing out on doing other things because I was tied to a lot of set appointment times—that weren’t even being honored. I felt like I was wasting time, and the work had become more frustrating than rewarding. The result: I quit that job.
2. When the client doesn’t communicate
I’m familiar with the old adage that the customer is always right, but I don’t believe that fairy tale. Good service is important, but there are lines clients can cross. If they do, it’s time to part ways.
Communication is one of those lines. Remember when I discussed the importance of being responsive to clients? It’s important for clients to have that same quality, too (at least to some extent). If you’re unable to get clear direction from a client, if they won’t get back to you if you have questions, if they expect you to meet deadlines without providing the information you need – this communication breakdown makes it impossible to do your job.
Case in point: You have a client who is extremely hard to reach via phone. That’s fine – you can simply email. But the client’s emails are abrupt and unclear. They rarely answer the questions you asked in your previous email. Many times, the client doesn’t respond at all, leaving you waiting and wondering if they want you to start the next article or not.
I experienced this scenario. I finally decided it was not worth the hassle and let the client know via email that I would no longer be able to work with him. I knew I had made the right call when I received an email from him three weeks later, asking if I was ready to start the next article.
3. When the money doesn’t arrive
There are times when you’re just starting out as a writer that you might feel like a starving artist. This doesn’t mean you have to work for free. If a client doesn’t pay, don’t keep cranking out the content.
This might sound obvious, but it can be all too easy to work and work and never get paid. They tell you the check is in the mail. They’re consistently late with payment. You never know when the money might hit your account.
This isn’t acceptable, even for a newbie. Set certain parameters for payment, then stick to them. It’s ok to charge a fee for late payment, and it’s ok to refuse to do any more work until the account is current. That’s just good business sense. If a client gets offended that you actually expect to be paid for your work, is that really someone you want to rely on for your paycheck?
Of course, this requires clear expectations. Set these at the start of your working relationship. How will they make payments and when? Include due dates and other payment terms on your invoices (and communicate them with your clients when you first establish your rates).
All of my invoices include this note at the bottom: Payments received after 30 days of invoice date are subject to a $15.00 late fee.
Yes, I have waived this fee a couple of times when a long-standing client was late with payment (and I knew it was on its way). The goal isn’t to set strict boundaries that give you an excuse to quit if someone crosses the line. The point is to protect yourself and the client by presenting clear expectations, then sticking to them.
4. When the bank account allows it
I realize it’s one thing to believe it’s time to quit, and quite another to pull the trigger. There are times when you simply can’t. Even if you don’t like the job. Even if the client drives you crazy.
If they are paying their bills and sending you steady work, you might look at your budget and realize that it’s not wise to quit this job. This is particularly important if others, such as a spouse or children, are relying on your income, too.
In this situation, your best bet is to try to stick it out while you continue to pursue other opportunities. In other words, don’t quit until you have something to replace it. Develop a plan to replace the income first, then you’ll be free to move on (without missing a mortgage payment).
When It’s Time to Say Goodbye
If you decide a job falls into one of the categories above, it’s important to take appropriate next steps. While it might be tempting to simply text an “I quit” GIF, followed by a , I don’t recommend it.
Instead, try these steps:
Finish the current job. If at all possible, finish the current project. Whatever you are working on for them, complete it (unless your reason is #3). This ends things on a more positive note, rather than leaving the client high and dry without someone to finish their project. You’ve committed to it, so finish it. Afterwards, let them know you won’t be able to take on any further projects with them.
Don’t burn bridges. Keep in mind that your reputation is on the line. Even if you no longer want to work with a particular person or business, this doesn’t mean you don’t want them to recommend you to others. If you end things as positively as possible, you can maintain a good relationship that could lead to other opportunities in the future.
Be professional. To avoid burning bridges, part ways professionally. Here’s an example of a professional “I quit” email:
I have accepted new writing opportunities and will no longer be available to write for your blog. Thank you for the opportunity to work with you. I wish you all the best with your business.
Depending on the relationship with the client, you may need to add more details, or you may need to call instead of write, but this is a good starting point for a conversation or email. Keep it simple, positive, and polite.
But what if reason #4 above is preventing you from saying goodbye? If so, it’s time to consider my last step. Watch for:
So you wanna be a writer…Step 10: When the Honeymoon is Over…Persevere