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Firing a client doesn't have to be scary

project + client + time mgmt Jul 15, 2020

There are many reasons why you may need to fire a client. Perhaps you want to do more of one thing, and less of something else; maybe what you thought you’d be doing isn’t actually what you’re doing; maybe your client isn’t willing to pay you what you’re worth or what you’ve previously agreed upon; the list goes on.

Beth and Tiffany have both had their share of not-so-nice clients and experiences as freelancers, and it’s led them to some important conclusions that every freelancing parent and Kenza Collective member should know.


What's More Important than Time Management?

One of the most important concepts to know as a freelancing parent, is that there is something more powerful and more important than managing our time: managing our energy. 

It doesn’t matter how well you’ve time-blocked the day, or how perfectly everything has gone according to plan. If you are spending a tremendous amount of emotional and mental energy on one particular client (or a set of clients), you’re completely wiped out by the time you’re done with the work day. Whether you’ve worked 1 hour or 10 hours, you find yourself tapped.

As a result, it’s difficult to show up for yourself, your partner or loved ones, and even your kid(s) in the way that you’d like to, because your  energy has been completely drained.

Now, this doesn't mean they’re necessarily a “bad” client. It just means that they are needing more of your emotional energy than you’re able to give. A client doesn't have to be a “bad client” to make you want to fire them. Maybe you’re just done working with them. Maybe you’re just over whatever it is you’ve been doing for them, and you’re ready to move on. 

And guess what… this is one of THE BEST PARTS of freelancing!


Why You Might Consider Firing a Client

There are times when you may not think you have a solid reason to let go of a client, but there can be subtle signs:

  • After every phone call with them, you feel completely drained. You dread even having to meet with them.
  • When you sit down to work on the project you’re doing for them, you procrastinate over and over again and you can't figure out why. 
  • You can't wait for the engagement to end.
  • You complain about them a lot to your spouse, friends, family, dog, cat, and anyone else who will listen. 

If any of those sound even remotely familiar, we really encourage you to spend some time thinking about whether or not it’s right for you to start taking the steps needed to let go of one of your clients. 


Don't Forget, You're In Control Now

Before you were freelancing, if you didn’t like who you worked with or you were bored with the job, it was a much bigger decision to remove yourself from a work situation you were unhappy in. You had to decide to quit your job, be faced with having to update your resume and LinkedIn, do interviews, yada yada yada. 

But now that you’re a freelancer, that doesn't exist anymore!

You get to choose who you work with. You get to choose who you work for. You get to choose what you get paid. You get to choose when you’re done with something. These choices are some of the best parts of freelancing! Take advantage, friends. 

Now, we know that there can be fear around firing a client. You lose a source of income. Maybe you feel like you’ll be disappointing them. Maybe it’s someone who was referred to you and you don’t want to make that person look bad; those are all very legitimate feelings. 

We'd like to offer 3 things to consider as you feel that fear creeping in: 

  1. Remember that when you are serving a client that you are not aligned with, for whatever reason, you are taking up a valuable slot of time that could be filled with your ideal client. By allowing a wrong-fit client to take up your time, you are essentially are denying the ability for someone else to be served by your expertise, which is a real bummer. And on the flip side, you are taking up a job that might be a great fit for another freelancer. 
  2. You are wasting your precious energy on a client, versus saving it for yourself, your business, your other clients, and your family’s needs. 
  3. You can do this in a professional way. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. You don’t have to burn a bridge. You can plan it out and make it happen, and then move on. 


Still Not Sure? Let's Try Something.

If you are in this situation and this is really hitting home for you, but you’re still feeling nervous or questioning your intuition, try this exercise:

Be still for a moment & close your eyes.

Tune into your body, take some slow, deep breaths, and pretend that you don't have this client in your life anymore.

How does that feel? How does it feel in your body to not have to meet with them, respond to their emails, or interact with them at all?

Go ahead, do that. 

How does it feel? Do you feel excited? Maybe giddy? Maybe relief? 

If you feel anything like that, then you know your answer. 


Sometimes, it's a no brainer. 

Before we move on to the “how”, we want to mention another side of this. If you are working for a client who makes you feel uncomfortable, who is rude or degrading to you, or who doesn’t treat you with the respect that you deserve, it is time to end the relationship. Period. There is no room for that type of behavior in any healthy life, and we would encourage you to create that boundary as well.  

Now, in future episodes of the Kenza Pod, we’ll dive into how to avoid having to deal with this in the first place, which is by really understanding who it is you want to work with (and not work with), and how to discover that before jumping into a project. But that’s for another day, because even with the most perfect evaluation in the beginning, you may still end up here. And it’s all good.  


When to Fire a Client

The “when” really differs depending on the situation and the agreement that you have in place between you and your client. 

Ideally, you can find the right timing to do this. That might mean waiting another couple of weeks, but you will be amazed at how great those few weeks feel because you know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel of not working with this person or company anymore. 

With that said, beware of this temporary excitement!

You might be tempted to think “oh maybe they’re not so bad…. Maybe I’m making a mistake…”. Don’t do this. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. Trust your instincts. Remember why this client isn’t working for you and that when you can free up this time and energy, you will be available to find an awesome client who you love working with!

Determine where you and your client are at in your projects (maybe you nix the relationship at the end of the project you’re working on), or what deliverables you have left, and pinpoint the time for your exit.


3 Steps to Graciously Firing Your Client


Step 1: Get clear on a why so that you can share it with your client.

Now, this doesn't have to be super personal and in fact, we would encourage you that less is more here. But it’s nice to be transparent with your client to a certain degree. Examples: 

My partner and I have decided that it's best for our family for me to take on fewer clients at this time. Since our projects are coming to a natural stopping point in a few weeks, I wanted to take the opportunity to take a step back. 

I am taking a break from some client work to focus on a few personal projects for the next few months.  

Step 2: Set up a time to talk. Don't email.

Following up with an email is always great, but if you need to address what could be a touchy subject, just get on the phone with them. This will help to prevent anything from being misconstrued, misunderstood, etc. And this will help to ensure that you don’t burn a bridge. 

Try to be as honest as you can. If they’ve been an annoying client, you of course don’t need to just say that. But be honest in terms of why you’re moving on. Offer to send a referral their way, to stay in touch, or to help transition to a new person (as long as you're paid for that, and as long as you're comfortable doing that).

Step 3: Follow up.

After you’ve had the talk, follow up in an email. Make sure you reiterate when your engagement will be ending, be nice, be grateful, and always keep the door open. We recommend listing out all of the accomplishments you've done together - tell a nice story of how much you’ve done together, how great it has been, and how you’re looking forward to seeing where their company goes. 

Most importantly, be sure to include your final bill in this email!


Energy Management is Business Management

At the end of the day, none of us can pour from an empty cup. We must effectively and fiercely safeguard our own energy. 

Energy management is absolutely crucial to a freelancer’s success, most especially as a parent. Tiffany is currently putting together a 3-part course all about how to run your freelancing business like an agency, where she’ll cover client management, proposal writing, and managing the day to day as a freelancing parent. The theme of energy management goes throughout every single thing. 

To learn more, sign up for the newsletter below and check out the Kenza Pod wherever you listen!

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