The Right Way to Drop a Writing Client: My 5 Tips

Learn About When To Drop Writing ClientsIt happens to nearly every freelance writer at some point. You have a client, and you want to get rid of them.

They don’t pay enough, or their people aren’t appreciative, or their deadlines are too crazy, or all three. Maybe things started out great, but now the situation has changed. You find yourself putting off their work and maybe not doing the best work you possibly could on their account.

The bottom line: This client has got to go.

Making the decision to drop a client is a positive step. It signifies that you value your time and your career, and are only going to associate with clients that treat you right. It’s an empowering moment, really, when you have the insight that you want to drop a client.

But it can also feel very scary. Maybe you fear the economic uncertainty, or you just hate confrontations.

This topic has been on my mind lately because I recently dropped two steady clients. Here is how I decided these clients needed to be pruned off my roster, and how I handled the situation.

Choosing which clients to drop

In looking at my 2010 earnings, I identified two clients that needed to be cut from my list. I felt strongly that if I dropped these two clients, I would be able to replace them with better clients. I also needed to free up more time to work on this blog.

One client had been a great, steady account for a couple of years, with a nice editor who loved my work and gave me usually two articles a month. The articles appeared on very popular Web sites and gave me some great visibility. But the sad fact was their pay rate was lower than anyone else on my roster, and I didn’t find I got a lot of referrals from the stories. (One of my metrics of whether a client’s work is worth it is whether their clips generate referral business.) I asked for a raise for 2011 and they said they couldn’t do it.

The other was a steady gig with much good about it — a wonderful editor, a cool virtual chat room with all the other excellent reporters, a major brand behind it, huge website traffic, and a chance to learn tons about blogging. But it also had significant negatives, including a crushing monthly workload that had to be met or pay was zero. And its per-blog-post rate was my absolute lowest. It also did not generate referrals, and would have required significant additional time to build income — time I don’t have.

Often, we cling to existing freelance writing clients because it’s comfortable. We know what’s expected of us. It’s a known quantity. It feels secure.

But the reality is that if we don’t keep improving our client list, our income won’t grow. I eventually realized it was time for me to make some changes, which you want to do before the quality of what you’re delivering starts to go downhill.

Once you’ve decided a client is getting the ax, the trick is to do it in the best possible way. Here are my tips for managing the process of saying goodbye to a client:

  1. Line up your replacement client first. This isn’t always possible, but ideally, you don’t want to see any interruption in income. Try to keep control of the situation. Bide your time and do your assignments until the moment you’re ready to ditch them in favor of a better client. If you let your attitude or work quality deteriorate, the client may give you the ax first. Then you’re scrambling to find a replacement, and in your haste may latch onto another substandard client.
  2. Give notice. Don’t leave your client in the lurch. If you know you have a contract coming up for renewal, let them know several weeks ahead that you don’t want to renew. With more sporadic clients, it may simply be a question of turning down several assignments in a row by saying you’re too busy, then finally saying, “I think I’m not going to have time to do anything for you going forward.” If you write for mills, of course, it’s simply a matter of not visiting that dashboard again.
  3. Give referrals. A classy way to leave a gig is by giving the editor a couple names of writers who might replace you. This is where you can be a hero to your writer network, since there’s always someone who’s at a different point in their writing career, where your loser client might be a great client for a friend. I was happy to be able to refer a writer to one of the clients I dropped who was a perfect fit and got an assignment right away.
  4. Be professional. Even if you thought this client was a raging lunatic whose unreasonable demands drove you to the edge of madness, keep your cool. Remember, editors move around, publications change, and content budgets increase sometimes.
  5. Leave the door open. The ideal is to leave on a positive note, with the idea that if things changed, you might work for them again in future. This keeps you in the driver’s seat, with the possibility of coming back to the client later. It also means more likelihood this client retains good feelings about you and might refer you if they hear about other gigs.

My dream with the second client I dropped was to get more casual, better-paying occasional freelance gigs from them instead of being part of their monthly grind. I was classy, gave lots of notice, made sure my editor knew how much I valued working with him…and mentioned that I was available for any special projects. Presto: Since exiting my regular gig, I’ve gotten several fun, easy blog assignments and made a total of $1,300, with the potential for more work to come.

Sending a snarky farewell email or slamming out your editor’s door may feel good for a moment, but it burns a bridge. Better to keep all your options open for the future.

Have you dropped a writing gig lately? If so, how did you go about it? Leave a comment and let us know.

Photo via stock.xchng user Makau

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16 comments on “The Right Way to Drop a Writing Client: My 5 Tips
  1. I am a new freelance copywriter. I work FT as well. I have a client that is constantly talking about how tight their budget is. So I started out with an introductory rate and now that they want me to move forward, they can’t afford me. As a new freelancer, I appreciate the opportunity but my time is worth more. I am struggling with how to drop the client.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, this is why I hate ‘introductory’ rates. They’re hard to move up from.

      Hopefully you can use the tips above to move on once you’ve found a better client.

  2. Carol,
    Great article! I shared it with my office mate (we both have jobs plus freelance writing businesses) and she astutely pointed out another option: Raise your rates (to price yourself out of the work)! I didn’t read the other comments, so apologies if this duplicates previous postings.
    Steph

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, I mention it a bit in the post — asking for a raise before you kiss the client off — but it bears repeating, since so many freelancers never consider the idea that they could raise their rates.

  3. Megan says:

    I’d be ready to drop a client only after asking for a pay raise. What’s the best way to go about doing that?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, it’s tougher now — I love to ask for a raise toward the end of a year, to take effect in January of the following year. I know my CPA pulled it on me, and I of course said, “Fine.”

      But I wrote a post about strategies for raising your rates about a year ago. You might also read the posts in the ‘negotiation’ tag on this blog.

      I did exactly that with one of the two I dropped — asked for a raise first. When they wouldn’t go there, it was time to part ways.

  4. Laurie Boris says:

    I haven’t yet had to drop a client, but I did turn down what could have been a steady gig because I didn’t align with the ethics of the organization. I loved the empowering feeling I got for standing up for my principles.
    Laurie Boris recently posted…One Man’s Freedom Fighter Is Another Man’s Antisecrecy GroupMy Profile

  5. Karen says:

    I’m in the process of trying to drop a client. The pay is my low end, the work duties/responsibilities have expanded beyond the contract (my fault for not saying no), communication is poor and I get next to no provided material from company, and there have been some crazy deadlines for last-minute special projects as well as payment issues. The problem: they are friends of mine, and I had no idea the company was so dysfunctional. I don’t have a replacement client, but Spring is always my busy time w/ seasonal clients, which should give me time to find something. I love the experience I gained from doing a company blog, copy writing, and social media, but it’s not worth it anymore. Any advice?

    I’ve floated out there the idea that maybe it’s time to move on and provided a few replacement names. So far, my friend is ignoring me.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Karen –

      Ooh, working for friends. Definitely a tough spot.

      Well, you’ve hinted you’re on the way out and provided referrals. From here, I’d provide a firm exit date. “By the end of February, I know I’ll be unavailable, as spring is my busy season, so I’ll turn in my last assignments on 2/15″…or whatever date you want to name. Stop taking rush work NOW if it doesn’t pay more…that’s your first chance to start weaning them off. “Oh, you need this by Friday? I’m afraid I’m already fully booked this week.” And start easing yourself on down the road.

  6. Hajra says:

    Yes …I did leave a job recently…I was being paid way too less and though promised, it never increased. Though I kept insisting on an increase, the editor kept me waiting for quite a long, long time. I left on a bad note though…fighting, snapping and being a bit too harsh.
    Hajra recently posted…THE TOONS AND ME!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah…it happens. I’m guilty of snapping on occasion myself. But whenever possible, being diplomatic can leave a door open that may lead who knows where in the future.

      I had one client who was paying $100 a piece for article…and now they pay $800 for some pieces. Glad I kept it friendly there!

  7. Great blog as always!

    I dropped a client the other day…he wanted a lot more work than our original agreement and also was not willing to actually pay the 50 percent deposit he agreed upon upfront. He was incessantly e-mailing about why I wouldn’t do some of the work and THEN he would pay me the 50 percent deposit, so I politely dropped him. Some clients are really just not worth the time and effort; people must accept that our time and work are valuable commodities. They won’t do that if us as freelancers are willing to put up with all sorts of bait and switch games and other types of time-wasters.

    Most clients are great to work with; the few exceptions I politely let go…I’d rather have my time and serenity than the money.

    Stephanie
    Stephanie Mojica recently posted…3 Secrets To Generating More Diverse Clients This WeekMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ah, scope creep…I had one really bad one like that in ’09 I had to say goodbye to.

      I have writer friends who fall into the trap of starting work on corporate accounts where that initial deposit hasn’t arrived…or of continuing to work accounts that are past due on payment. I won’t do either. I find that when you explain that, as I say, “Your check gets me started,” and they’re OK with it, you have someone you want to work with, who understands you’re a professional.

  8. Jess says:

    Definitely had to drop a client right after Christmas. The main problem was that she was so hard to communicate with, which was really stressing me out. I decided the pay wasn’t worth the stress, and cut ties in the best way I knew how. I basically emphasized that I was too busy to take on any more projects, appreciated her business, and referred her to another writer. Thanks for the post & the reassurance that you can and should call the shots when it comes to your client list.
    Jess recently posted…Feeling DownMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Jess!

      You bring up a great point — sometimes a client may pay fine, but they’re just not worth the emotional stress.

      Another factor I track is payment cycle — how long do they take to pay me? That was another mark against my second client, they were taking 6 weeks and more, my slowest payer…which made me not inclined to keep working for them.

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