It’s a pain in the neck to fire a client when you’re freelancing, but it happens. If you’re not careful, your business can get stuck with clients who don’t pay their bills or make unreasonable demands. And that’s not good for anyone – not you and certainly not your employees. So, what are some signs it might be time to end the relationship?
When a client gets you to do work they didn’t specify
Performing work that was not specified in the contract is typically called “scope creep”. The problem with scope creep is that it can be hard to figure out where the line is between something that was included in a project and something that wasn’t. New requirements take additional time and money to complete. If they’re minor, that might not be a huge deal – but if they’re extensive, you could end up working for free. This is because the new requirements will have to be considered throughout the project for its impact on other requirements. The more scope creep you have the worse the ripple effect. If a client is habitually adding scope without re-evaluating the contract, it may be time to move on.
When clients are rude and disrespectful
If a client is rude or disrespectful, observe if the behavior is habitual or just a one-off. Sometimes clients may not know norms and customs so what may appear rude could be a genuine mistake. However, if the pattern repeats, you may need to act.
Being disrespectful is something far more severe. It means the client has no respect for you or the work you do. It could also mean they have no respect for your employees, so that’s one good reason to fire a client if they show disrespect. Being rude is something that should be taken seriously and could be a sign of more serious problems ahead.
When the client does not pay on time
If a client does not pay on time and it’s a one-off, remind the client. If this behavior repeats, you may have to consider letting the client go after the contract is complete and your invoice(s) have been paid.
Not receiving funds on time may have adverse impacts on your business. You could be late in paying your staff or your bills. This could affect and have an impact on your credibility. As well, when a client does not pay on time, you must spend additional time to ask the client to pay and to keep following up. If this is a recurrent pattern with the same client, don’t be surprised if your relationship with that client goes sour.
If your client is asking you to do something illegal or unethical
If the client suggests something illegal or unethical during contract negotiations, you can easily inform the client on your position and suggest they look elsewhere. Ensure you clearly state in your contract your refusal to do anything illegal or unethical. If the topic does not come up when discussing the project, ensure you go over your contractual points before you get started. This way, you are making your position extremely clear. If the client keeps bringing this up, it may be time to reconsider your relationship.
If a project takes too long, costing you more money than it should have in the process
One of the ways a project takes too much time is if the client does not respond in a timely manner. In this case you need to wait to decide your next steps. When a project takes too long, check to see if there is anything that can be done differently going forward. If so, ask the client what they would like to do and how they would like things structured from here on out.
Another sign is of course, scope creep. If a client keeps adding new requirements (however small they may be) to an agreed-to project, it always starts adding up. The hidden problem with scope creep is the ripple effect. Something small may affect a larger requirement and that will need to be retro-fitted.
If a project drags on, costs will almost always add up. Since the project is not completed, it also becomes difficult to take on new work. This can have consequences on your cash flow.
If a project goes over budget without any notification from the client
If a budget was set for the project but now you find it has gone over and the client has not bothered to notify you, it’s time to think about your interests. Sometimes there may be genuine reasons so check with the client before you take any drastic steps. However, if there are other telltale signs, it may be time to cut the client loose.
It is important to note that projects don’t go over budget in a day. In other words, there are always signs a project will go over budget. Some of the key ones are – (a) The client is not involved in decisions that have a direct impact on the project (b) Initial milestones have been missed or delayed (c) Requirements are ambiguous and you must spend more time during project execution to clearly understand them. As such, this can affect your initial estimates.
If you find you are going over budget but there’s no notification or awareness from the client, check to see if this is a genuine oversight. If not or if this is something that happens on a more regular basis, you may have to consider an out strategy.
You’re not getting paid what you deserve for your services
For example, say that you’re a freelance writer and the client who hires you for $50 per article is now asking what they can pay. You think “$40,” but instead of agreeing to your price or coming up with one of their own, they simply stop hiring you. Then there’s the client who always pays late. Don’t suffer in silence.
There’s a reason you have bills to pay, and that’s because it costs money to live. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer or someone who gets paid on the 15th of every month from an employer—you need your money promptly when it should be coming in. If this isn’t happening, or if this happens frequently, then it’s time to get moving on.
If the client is showing a general disregard for your value as their employee — and this includes paying you late or not offering you an adequate amount of money to begin with — it’s usually safe to assume that things won’t be getting better any time soon. Move on so you can find a client who cares.
It can be difficult to tell when it’s time to fire a client. However, there are signs that should ring alarm bells and lead you away from the decision. When any of these seven signs show up in your relationship with clients, consider whether firing them might be necessary for your own sanity and financial well-being. But do remember this is a two-way street. Always try to understand your client’s viewpoint and give them the benefit of the doubt before you decide to take action to end the relationship.