Want to Make More Money? Fire Bad Clients

Firing bad clients frees you up to work with clients who will pay you well and treat you right.

When freelancer Ginny Vachon, PhD, fired her first client, she was worried about losing money. Ginny had only been freelancing for a few years, and she was still building her business as a freelance medical writer and advisory board specialist. But the client was driving Ginny crazy. “I was losing money and time and sanity over countless revisions and changes in scope on every job,” she says. “I knew I was losing other opportunities by being busy with this client.”

Even though Ginny knew this was a bad client, she didn’t want to let them down. So she hemmed and hawed until she finally decided that she had to fire the client. “When I did, it was awesome,” she says. As owner of Principal Medvantage Writing, LLC, Ginny produces quality executive summaries, top-line reports, white papers, and reports.

“Everything got so much better after I fired this client,” says Ginny. “I made more money and found more opportunities and I work with people I genuinely like to work with.”

Always Trust Your Instincts

Before I fired a bad client for the first time, I had been freelancing for about 10 years.

My bad client started out as a very good client. The work was interesting, the people were nice to work with, and they paid me my usual fee.

Then the client brought in a new manager who wanted me to do work in a way that was unethical. On our first project together, I tried to politely and professionally explain the problem. She ignored me.

My gut told me to fire the client. Fortunately, I had more freelance work than I could handle, so I didn’t have to worry about losing money.

But I had submitted a proposal for another project and the client asked me to work on it. Even though I hadn’t signed a contract, I didn’t want to leave them without a writer. So I decided to do this project and then be too busy to work on other projects (a nice way of firing a client).

Big mistake! The same manager was so unethical and unreasonable that I simply could not finish the project the way she wanted it done. I fired the client and at about the same time, the manager fired me.

Since then, when my instincts tell me to walk away from a client, I run.

Why Freelancers Need to Fire Bad Clients 

Like most freelancers who end up working with bad clients, Ginny and I both knew that we needed to move on. But we put this off for too long.

“It can be hard when you’re just starting out, or even later when you are just being nice,” says Ginny.

But if you work with bad clients, then you’ll be stressed out and miserable. You won’t do your best work.

What’s more, you won’t have time to find or work with your ideal clients. These are the clients that pay you what you’re worth, give you steady freelance work, and treat you right.

Learn more about finding your ideal clients

How to Be on the Right Side of the Red Velvet Rope

Many things can make a client a bad client, including:

  • Unreasonable deadlines
  • Unreasonable expectations
  • Continual changes to projects
  • Continual (and usually unnecessary) revisions
  • Low pay
  • Slow to pay
  • Bad communication
  • Staff members who are difficult or just not nice to work with
  • New staff members who are difficult or incompetent
  • Boring work
  • Ethical issues
  • Any combination of these problems.

“My experience has been that clients who pay the least are also the worst,” says Ginny. “Lori is right, high-paying, repeat clients are out there. You can’t always see the opportunities if you are eyeballs deep in 75 superfluous emails.”

Balance the Good and the Bad

While there are lots of wonderful clients out there who need steady freelance help, few clients are perfect. Some clients may be close to ideal even though they meet one or more of the criteria for a bad client.

For 18 years, I did a lot of work that wasn’t very creative. It wasn’t boring, but it certainly wasn’t my ideal work. But the client paid me very well and fast and made me part of the team. Even though I didn’t love the work, this was an ideal client.

Also, I’ve had a few otherwise ideal clients over the years who are slow to pay. That’s okay with me, because I know that I’ll get paid without having to follow up. And I have other clients who pay me within a week or two.

Ginny works with some patient organizations and smaller companies that can’t pay her as well as her other clients. “But they are so easy to work with that it’s worth it to me,” she says. Her firing offenses are poor manners, late payment (sometimes), and being so bored that she won’t do a good job.

How to Fire Bad Clients

Fortunately, there are some very easy and professional ways to fire a bad client:

  • Say no when the client asks you to do more freelance work
  • Set expectations that the client won’t agree to
  • Increase your fees so much that the client won’t pay them.

When Ginny fired her first client, she didn’t actually say, “You’re fired.” Instead, the next few times they wanted to give her a freelance project, she said she was too busy.  After a while, they stopped asking her.

If you turn down freelance work more than twice, then the client isn’t likely to ask you again. And if the client is really persistent, you can say something non-confrontational like, “My schedule is full for the foreseeable future.” I use this line a lot.

With other clients, Ginny refuses to agree to unreasonable demands. “I will put my foot down with clients and then they fire themselves,” she says.

When you do fire a client, be logical and professional. “Definitely don’t do it in the heat of the moment,” says Ginny. “Even the best clients can drive you up a wall some days. But you know deep down if a client really is just not a good fit.”

Be Happier and Make More Money

Once you’ve fired your bad clients, you’ll be free to find and work with your ideal clients. You’ll do your best work. And you’ll be happier.

Learn more about finding your ideal clients

How to Be on the Right Side of the Red Velvet Rope

As you start to get more ideal clients, also start moving on from clients who aren’t right for you.

Clients who aren’t right for you could be clients you’ve outgrown. Or they could be a new type of client who just isn’t a good match for your skills and interests.

“Just because a client is not right for me doesn’t mean they are a bad client,” says Ginny. “Some people love being part of a team.  I do not. So a client I really don’t like could be great for someone else. Throw that fish back into the sea for someone else!”

The best way to move on from clients who aren’t right for you is to offer to find another freelancer who can help those clients meet their freelance needs. Referrals are the best way to get ideal clients.  Giving referrals to other freelancers helps you get more referrals too. Those freelancers will think of you first when they have freelance work to refer.

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Learn More About Firing Bad Clients

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How to Be on the Right Side of the Red Velvet Rope

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About Ginny and Me



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