How to Handle Firing a Client

Firing a client isn’t easy for any professional. It’s especially harrowing for those of us with small businesses (freelancers, I’m talking to you, too). Can you replace them? How will it affect your business? How will it affect your reputation? And, you know, can you actually fire them if you have a contract?

The Importance of Acknowledging Red Flags

I’ve written before about the importance of acknowledging red flags in potential clients to minimize a future headache. If you see red flags, you need to be honest with yourself about them. People don’t change because you’re YOU. They will still be who they are. Just a quick run down of things you should watch for to save yourself some serious hassle:

  • They can’t really give you a basic description of what they want or what they need you to accomplish. I understand that some people may just have an end goal in mind and not really KNOW how to make that happen. Pay attention to what people say and don’t say…and ask questions.
  • They’re vague about deadlines. Not all people want to use a deadline…and that’s their prerogative. Just keep in mind that if they hem and haw about a date and yet also want to make their project to be the most important one on your plate, that’s a worrisome sign. I promise that when it is time for them to pay you (if they didn’t pay a retainer of some sort), they’re gonna hem and haw about that, too. Recently, I had a new client ask me to do a rush job on a weekend. I don’t work weekends if I can help it. I wrote what they needed and edited it. They put the money in escrow on Upwork…and now they won’t respond to messages. The good news is, I know how to contact Upwork about it.
  • You can’t find much on the person (or the company) online. I understand that sometimes new businesses won’t have a lot of feedback. What you do find out about the person contacting you or the business (or both) can help you decide whether you should work with them.
  • They seem to understand exactly what you say to them over the phone / email and then turn around and introduce you to another person as something you aren’t. Run, bro. Don’t even agree to the project. You do NOT need this sort of trouble in your life.

I could probably list at least a dozen more. You can probably think of several on your own. Don’t ever ignore a red flag. Ever.

How to Fire a Client

I do not fire clients often. Generally, it happens before the work ever begins. So, with that being said, my walk through for how to fire a client starts with this:

Read Your Fucking Contract

If you have a contract, read it. Also, don’t ever enter into a contract without reading it. Also, get your own standard contract drafted. It really IS worth the expense. MyVirtual.Lawyer is a good option if you don’t know anyone in your area and dread the thought of calling around and going to an appointment. Please stay away from free state-specific contract sites and legal form sites because you’re probably not going to read it to make sure it is (a) following the laws in your state and (b) includes the right provisions to protect YOU. Also, those sites can’t give you legal advice. Well, one does…for a fee. A lot of lawyers now offer subscription model and flat fee options for small business owners.

Your contact should state the reasons why either party can end the contract. It should give several options, including whether either party can just say (in a business professional way), “You know what? I’m sick of this shit and don’t wanna work with you anymore.” Long term contracts are for suckers.

Determine If You Owe Them Anything

Before you fire a client, review your agreement (if you have one), emails, or private messages to determine if you still owe them any sort of work. If you have a contractual obligation and you don’t have an escape clause, fulfill your obligation. Otherwise, you could damage the reputation of your business.

If there is no contract and they’ve always paid you on time for your work (despite being a royal pain in your ass) and you’re in the middle of a project, do what you can to finish it. Give them some notice that you won’t be available for future work. This is, again, about protecting the reputation of your business.

Clarify to Yourself Why You Want to Fire the Client

Before you fire them, make sure you understand WHY you’re doing it. Please understand that in many cases you don’t have to answer follow up questions about why you’re doing it after you’ve did the deed…

Clarity is a necessity because you’re going to write them a Dear John email. You don’t want to be vague, but you also don’t want to come off as a total dick. You want to be firm and yet professional.

Again, if you have a contract, read it. Make sure that you’re within your rights to fire them. If necessary, talk to a lawyer BEFORE you do it.

Compose Your ‘Dear John’ Email

Let me say that I do not like firing clients. If it needs to happen, I prefer that it happens before the work ever begins. A lot of people show their true colors directly after engaging your services (with or without a contract).

The recipients should include your direct contact and the person who hired you, if that is separate from your direct contact. Also, BCC yourself.

Be clear, be concise, and do not be mean. The blame game gets you nowhere. Just be clear and concise and wish them well. If you have a contract, be sure that you can point them to the clause that allows you to get out of it (if necessary).

It’s also much easier to write something like “When this project concludes, I will no longer be available to fulfill your needs for X.”

I recently fired a client for grossly misrepresenting what I do to a third-party. I sent them a private email first to remind them we had already discussed, twice, what I do and my limitations as a PARALEGAL (and writer). To misrepresent me as a lawyer is just not okay. I cannot and will not allow that to happen. UPL is real. Some states are VERY aggressive when it comes to prosecuting paralegals for that sort of misrepresentation. I taught paralegal ethics. This is a big no-no. The response I received was ridiculous and amounted to “We know but we want to impress third-party.”

We do not have a written contract. I hadn’t officially started drafting any templates for them. It was on my to-do list for this week. I knew I had to fire them, but verified it first with my business attorney.

I also waited until I calmed down. I was livid about purposefully being misrepresented. My email was direct, but not a dick response. I stated why I was ending the business relationship and that UPL is a serious issue that I do not want to have to deal with in the future because someone was told I was something I am not. I wished them well.

That’s it. Past that, I don’t owe them an explanation. I was very clear.

What about Firing Clients on Freelance Platforms?

Well, to some degree the answer to this is to rinse and repeat some of the above. Make sure you don’t have any outstanding deliverables, particularly if you’ve been paid in advance. Finish up whatever outstanding project and send a polite and direct message that just states you won’t be available to assist them with future projects.

What If They Leave Bad Feedback?

Bad feedback is a legitimate fear for freelancing platforms, including Upwork. And some people, no matter what you do to bring the contract to an end that benefits both of you, will still leave you ugly feedback…especially if you stuck up for yourself in some fashion.

The good news is that you can often take those situations to Upwork for help. Depending on whether you’re Top Rated, you may have other benefits available for your use. To my understanding, all freelancers can comment on any negative feedback left for them. This gives you the opportunity to clarify why the arrangement ended.

What If I Want to Leave Them Bad Feedback?

My initial thought is don’t be petty…but you can be honest. You can use the star system to rate the client on several factors. Your honesty can help other freelancers. Don’t be a dick in your commentary. Again, you can be honest…but don’t be a dick. (How to succeed in life: don’t be a dick!)

PS – Yes, you’ll live…and yes, you’ll replace them.

The Quick Cure for Pigeonholes

I think that most of us can agree that being pigeonholed sucks. If you don’t know what that term means, it means that because you’ve worked in a certain industry for an extensive time (or did certain things for an extensive amount of time), one or more persons (or businesses) think that you can’t do anything else.

And If You’re a Freelance Writer, It Can Hurt Your Business

As a freelance writer (or an editor…or, really, any sort of freelancer), there’s a big likelihood of sticking with the same sorts of projects or working with the same industry over and over again. They like what we do. We know what we’re doing.

Yet, interviewing in other industries for other work can cause the new potential client to determine, without really getting to know you or putting a lot of attention toward what you sent, that you’re not right for the job because you don’t have a substantial history working in THEIR industry. They pigeonhole you. You can’t be qualified because you haven’t worked exclusively in their world. You know, you haven’t been THEIR bird in a gilded cage. You were someone else’s bird in a gilded cage.

It has the potential to leak much suckage into your business. Because, you know, how the fuck can you grow your business (and experience) if people do that?

The good news is, I have a quick cure.

Know Thyself

Don’t worry – I’m not about to get all philosophical on you. What I mean by “know thyself” is to make sure that you can recall each project you’ve worked on with similar features OR that is exactly the same (on the same subject or what have you). Make sure that you have samples (and publication links) ready. And take the time to listen to what they’re saying as they speak. There’s a good chance that they really didn’t take the time to look at the samples they requested. Trust me, I know. I was asked for samples. I sent two. One was an ebook snip and one was a textbook snip; they weren’t related. The potential client stated I sent two samples of legal writing. One was on leadership. The other was on adolescent psychology.

From there, I went forward and discussed published clips where I had written extensively for the legal industry about the specific idea this person had for a project (to show my subject matter expertise).

Whether or not I get the work still remains to be seen. My point in sharing this is to explain to you that you don’t have to get flustered or feel bad because someone pigeonholes you. If you know your previous projects inside out, you’ll find a way to relate it back.

First World Writing Problem: My Never-Ending Manuscript

About three-ish years ago, I started a manuscript all about how to start a business. Around 18 months ago, it was almost finished. Then, I suffered the dreaded flash drive crash. I lost it. I had no back-up (like an idiot). You would think that I would have learned my lesson having suffered a similar fate about a year prior to that with some client files stored on a flash drive that dropped dead. But,no.

Anyway, I had to start my manuscript over. I created an outline and that’s what I did. The problem? It’s become the never-ending manuscript. See, the previous version was finished at around 15k words. Like, it was ready to have the loose ends tied up. This one? Nope. I’m at over 30k. I still have three sections to complete.

I know that doesn’t sound like a BFD to anyone because most writers deal with writer’s block. I don’t. I suffer from the opposite: idea diarrhea. I keep thinking of shit to go back and add to previous sections because I want people to really get the most information possible out of this book. And the idea diarrhea is starting to piss me off. Because with the way my brain works, the book may never end.

Idea diarrhea

It’s also an overstimulation of my poor brain. I had a great day yesterday (and the day before and the day before and, well, just keep going back for a couple of months). Last night, I thought hey I’ll just sit down and work on this…there’s only three more sections!

Within two hours, I was fucking pissed. Not at anything in particular other than myself. I like my writing. I like my book. It was just overstimulating to keep going back and adding to different things and. I was totally worked up and stressed up and had to stop working on it.

This morning, as I piddled around the house (we’re doing our Thanksgiving tomorrow) listening to a Tony Robbins podcast, I had yet another idea to add. It was a good one. I never did make it to my laptop to jot it down. I’ve since forgotten it (and that’s probably not a bad thing).

By the way, this WordPress update fucking sucks.I’m writing my initial post in Word to copy it over because if I backspace onetime in WordPress to correct a problem, the whole fucking post disappears. It’s also not properly spacing between words. Get your shit together, WordPress.

Buzzword Killer: Biohacking

“Biohack” your life for a better experience! Be faster! Be better! Be happier! Be more productive! Blah. Blah. Blah. I mean, sure the word sounds cool. And if using a cool word gets you excited, by all means please do it. I’m all for whatever helps you as an individual. 

But I want to dissect this buzzword “biohack” (or “biohacking”). The root of the word is bio. You know, life. We all know what “hacking” is in the sense of life. I’m sure all of you have heard of Life Hacker. Maybe you’ve watched the TruTV show Hack My Life. Even if you’ve not read / watched those, you’ve found a shortcut that you use to make your life easier. 

Biohack = Doing What Works for You

Some of the articles I’ve read on biohacking list some crazy shit. Well, what I would find to be crazy. For some people, it might work perfectly well. And that’s kinda the point I want to make with this. Don’t get overwhelmed by a buzzword especially if you look into it because people seem to be raving about it and getting up at 5 am, running 12 miles, and drinking black unsweetened coffee with grass-fed butter and coconut oil (okay, I get up early most days and I like the butter coffee shit) and that shit isn’t anything that interests you…or that you dread it. (Although if you’re struggling with time management, stop hitting snooze. Get up earlier – self-discipline!)

Try out productivity methods, morning routines, afternoon routines, aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, hot baths, or hanging upside down from a tree by your toes (be careful) if that’s what interests you. Find the little things you can do in life that make you look forward to your day and that make you feel better. 

My Routine

Out of the blue, I was asked about what I do in the mornings to prepare myself. I don’t mind discussing it. I have CPTSD and AFib. Working from home can be a repetitive and monotonous experience. I enjoy it most of the time, but there are times I don’t. It can be hard to separate yourself out when you live where you work. Amirite? So, my “biohacking” (routine) looks like this:

  1. Hour of Power, as Tony Robbins calls it. I get up, take my supplements, drink some water, feed the dogs, and workout in some way. Sometimes, I go to the gym and sometimes I just do yoga at home. I meditate after. I also answer the Morning Power Questions.
  2. “Bulletproof” coffee. You can make it yourself. You don’t have to buy it. I buy a ghee / coconut oil blend I use to put into the coffee. Make sure you do your research before doing this. Some people get an upset tummy if they get too much oil. Don’t make yourself sick. If you don’t like coffee, don’t do this. I love coffee. I like it as dark as my soul. 
  3. I drink my greens. Good nutrition is an important component of my life. I get dressed if I’m still in workout apparel. You feel better if you get dressed. It’s science
  4. While either drinking my coffee or my greens, I plan my day. I have a Panda Planner. I also have three notebooks. I’ve also used OneNote. I also have a project management software I rely on during my day. I think about my end goal. What do I want to get out of this day? I take 1% of my day (15%) to plan out the other 99%. My plans are also based on my monthly goals which I set with a group of ladies every month. I write down, in advance, all appointments and such that I must attend. I work everything else around it. I also think about Brendon Buchard’s four questions that help high performers continue to perform at a high level.
  5. I work when I am most productive. I embrace the deep work concept to some degree. Because I have AFib and CPTSD, some days are better than others. I am usually focused in the morning and early afternoon. If I have a lot of appointments or errands, I rest during the day and do something fun…and I work in the afternoon / evening when everyone is settled. 
  6. I drink a fuck ton of water during the day. Turns out, that AFib causes your body to use more water. I drink close to 100 ounces of water today (and no, I don’t force it). It helps me feel better. I also take certain supplements three times per day (for AFib support). 
  7. When I get stressed, I am learning to take a break. My favorite break is to take a hot bubble bath in the middle of the day. Sometimes I go out into the backyard and just hang out. I’ll work on my loom. I just try to recharge. 

Those are the things that work best for me. What works best for you? Leave a comment!

How to Write an Upwork Proposal Clients Can’t Turn Down

I get a lot of questions about Upwork and about freelancing in general. By the way, save yourself some hassle and don’t call yourself a freelancer. Just call yourself self-employed or a business owner. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration by doing that. People hear the word “freelancer” and they translate it to “unemployed.” Anyway, the most common question I’m asked is: how can I write an Upwork proposal that clients can’t turn down? (By the way, you can listen to this on YouTube or on Spreaker; while you’re there, make sure and subscribe, would you? And share with your friends).  Read more