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How to fire a client without getting burned

How to fire a client without getting burned

Not every client is your problem to solve, and some of them are just problem client's to begin with.

Not every client is your problem to solve, and some of them are just problem client's to begin with.

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Ok, firstly, breathe. If you’ve found this blog you’re probably already in the position of needing to fire a client. Which is hard, but I’m really proud of you to get to this point. It’s not easy, but I got you.

This blog is going to be here to help you navigate something that almost every creative has encountered and come out without the scorch marks.

I’m letting you know right now that every designer that’s worked with clients for more than a year has fired a client before. It sucks. It’s hard. And it’s normal. In fact, this is a really good thing, because it means you are getting braver with what you do and don’t want in your clients. For this, I am so proud of you.

So let’s start breaking this down.

Why are we firing the client?

Quite often, clients don’t realise that they have overstepped boundaries or done something wrong. But that doesn’t mean that they can continue bad behaviour or throw up red flags (read more about the 6 red flags of bad clients here). We can give them the benefit of the doubt, but there has to be a point we say “no, this needs to change”.

The client isn’t listening to me

You would think a client understands that by hiring you as the professional creative in the room, they get that sometimes they need to listen to your wisdom and skills. But this isn’t always the case and it can be incredibly frustrating. A client that micromanages you, that blocks your professional assistance and becomes a bit of a know-it-all is not only a pain, but a costly and inefficient use of your time. It is always a good idea to toss this client out with the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Their communication straight up sucks

A good friend who works in projects once told me when working with others, she had a 7 minute rule. If someone turned up to a meeting more than 7 minutes late without giving her a heads up they were late, she left the meeting. It’s about respecting each others time and energy. Same goes for the client who takes weeks to provide feedback, who ghosts then reappears out of the blue wanting you to remember every detail from your last convo. These clients are disrespectful, plain and simple, and they need to be given the boot.

They are demanding like a toddler at tea time

There are some clients that I have added fees that I charge because I know they are going to be a problem. But sometimes we don’t have the luxury of putting the PITA (pain in the ass) fees into effect before we see the bad behaviours. Things like putting the pressure on you without cause, multiple communication streams lighting up at all hours, acting like everything is urgent and due yesterday. Infuriating, and totally not worth it if you can’t charge a premium for that express service.

My gut is screaming

Ever had a message or a call from a client and as soon as their name flashes on screen you feel like you’ve drank a glass of milk with a juice chaser? This, my freelance friend, is the number one indicator that it’s time to let that client go. Your gut is a really good indicator of what’s healthy for you and what’s going to make you sick. And this client is going to make you vomit.

At the end of the day, you’re the boss, remember? And you deserve to enjoy the time that you are working. Sure, you need clients to pay the bills, but if those clients are costing you money rather than making you money, it’s time to draw the line.

So how do we break up with a client?

Deep breath. We’ve got this. The hardest part is over, recognising that it’s time to say goodbye and take that next step is hard! So here’s how we need to break up without getting burned.

Check your terms and conditions

In my contracts, I have a section that covers if the project is terminated and who’s responsible for what. Say for example I terminated the agreement, it was my responsibility to update them on what stage the project was up to and how that affected the end cost. This also applies if there are things that need to be fulfilled or assets that need to be handed over.

If I don’t have these sorts of things covered and communicated, I run the risk of the client being upset, feeling burned and passing that on to someone else, someone that could be a potential future client. And that’s bad for business.

Keep it profesh

It is so tempting to tell the client off, to make sure they know what they did wrong. But if you do, it’s going to come across as reprimanding the client. Not a good look. Realistically, once that client is out of your life, their bad behaviours and issues aren’t yours to deal with, so who is it really helping? Also, take the emotion out of it. I’ve more than once taken an extra bit of time to look over the email or get someone to proof it so I know I’m not falling into a puddle of emotion.

Just because you aren’t the one, someone else might be

We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we all know someone who might be better at what we don’t do so well. Set your client up for success by sending them to someone that might be able to help them in your circle of creative connections. It’s about reputation at this point. Leaving them hungry for a solution will quickly turn to hangry when they are back at square one, without a solution and potentially out of pocket with time and money.

Just like a restaurants reputation is heavily influenced by its customers, the same can be said for the reputation of your design business. It’s just as important to look after those who choose to dine there, as it is to look after those who aren’t the right fit.

Steal my Break Up Email Recipe

This script is from my Email Recipe Bases Handbook, but I’m giving you a taster below for free!

So this would be a situation where you are parting ways with a client that is simply a pain in the ass, but we are trying to maintain the relationship and not burn a bridge.


Recently there have been some problems with our working relationship. Although it isn’t easy to say, I think that another company may be a better fit for you and your specific needs.

I have several same SERVICE PROVIDERS in my network who are actively looking to connect with companies like yours. If you’re interested, I would love to refer them to you. They do fantastic work and I think they will be a great fit for your brand’s needs.

As of DATE I won’t be able to assist you with WHAT YOU DO any further.

Thanks for your understanding, wishing you all the best.

*Note if you or they have obligations based on your contract, make sure you let them know in this email so it’s in writing and you’re on the same page. Things like paying balances and finished files, all of that.

Good advice is like a delicious pie, it deserves to be shared with others...

If you liked that small bite, you’re gonna love the full meal…

Email Recipe Bases Handbook

Over 30 email templates to help you tackle any situation from new client work, saying yes or no to different situations including exposure and free work, as well as a few break up scripts.

Still hungry? Check these dishes out…