Any freelancer or entrepreneur who’s dealt with a bad client knows how emotionally draining it is. There are lots of ways a client can be awful — changing the scope of work mid-project, sending passive-aggressive emails about upcoming deadlines, paying you late (or not at all), being downright disrespectful.
The upside of working for yourself? You can quit bad clients. In fact, you have to quit them for the future success of your business. Here’s what you get out of ending things:
1. You free up your time.
Whether she’s taking up extra hours with additional demands or the back-and-forth is depleting your emotional resources, a bad client tends to eat up time she’s not paying for.
With this time-suck of a client gone, you can use your extra hours to overhaul your workflow, chase down new leads, or put extra emphasis into your stable of reliable clients. And that’s work that comes with a reward — more paying, happy clients impressed that you go the extra mile.
2. You boost your confidence (and your ability to market yourself).
Bad clients zap our mojo and make us feel like crap. They make us question what we know, how we run our business, and the value we bring. It’s hard not to carry that attitude over to our other interactions.
Remember this: As an entrepreneur or freelancer, you are your business. People buy your products, sign up for your courses, and pay for your consulting services because they need what you have to offer, but, more importantly, because there’s something about you they connect to.
If a bad client turns you into a crank or makes you doubt yourself and your work, you’ll scare away potential business. To up your confidence when you're feeling low, revisit a project you were especially proud of. Reach out to an old client you loved working with just to say hi. Reread past testimonials to remind yourself of your accomplishments — and what a healthy client relationship feels like.
3. You can prioritize great clients and find new ones.
Good clients make work feel exciting. You want to work with people who respect your work and time and are active partners in getting the job done. Stellar clients will sing your praises to their friends, family, and colleagues (who are hopefully looking for similar work).
Not only does this type of client relationship feel better and more authentic, but it benefits your bottom line: A good client is more likely to pay on time (and in full), stay within the scope of the project, and do your marketing work for you. And when you’re not devoting tons of time to a terrible client, you can fill your roster with more fulfilling customers and replace any revenue you lost.
4. You can get back to focusing on growth.
When you’re dealing with a tough client, work often becomes about just getting through the day. Between managing her and trying to make sure she doesn’t impact your other work, there’s very little space to think about growth.
And to be a successful entrepreneur, this is a sacrifice you simply cannot make. You don’t register thousands of people for an event, sell out a product, or triple your email list by accident. It all takes purposeful planning and work, which can’t happen without picking your head up and charting your course. Get rid of the distraction so you can get back on track.
So, how do you actually do it? It’s easier than you think.
How to Have the Conversation
Before you fire your toxic client, take some deep breaths. You want to end things when you’re calm and collected — not when you’re about to tear your hair out.
I suggest sending an email so all your communication is in writing. In the email, explain that you’ll no longer be able to work together moving forward. Here’s the kicker: You do not need to explain why.
If you do feel compelled to explain, be transparent. Say that you don’t feel like the relationship is a good fit, and that you think someone else will be better suited to help them bring their project to life. If you can recommend someone else, even better (although you may want to give that person fair warning that this client is a nightmare). If you’ve signed a contract and need to return money for the remainder of the project, tell your now former client when to expect the refund.
Above all, be diplomatic and generous. You may have every reason to unleash some aggression, but your real victory is getting to move forward with an important lesson learned and without bad blood.