The Client Breakup Guide for Freelance Writers

We've talked about how freelancer / client relationships can be a lot like dating. And with those relationships occasionally comes the need to call it quits. How exactly do you handle a client breakup though? And how do you know when it's time to walk away and take your freelance writing services elsewhere?

Today (at Yo's request) let's talk about the why and how of letting go of freelance clients, from reasons you might decide to leave to ways you can do it tactfully.

When to Kiss a Client Goodbye

As a freelance writer, what kinds of situations might lead you to leave a client? Sometimes it's about money. Sometimes it's about the working relationship. Sometimes it's about other opportunities. Here are some possible reasons to breakup with a client, whether a new one or a longstanding relationship:

  1. The client can't pay your rates. -- As a professional, you'll grow in your freelance writing career. Occasionally that means increasing your rates. Often clients will grow with you. They'll pay your new rates, or you might offer them a deal in compromise for a while to help them adjust. Sometimes the client will refuse to pay a penny more. In that case, you've very likely outgrown that client. It happens, and it's nothing to feel badly about. It's time to move on to bigger things.
  2. The client doesn't respect you. -- This will usually happen early on in a relationship rather than with an established one. But if a client starts disrespecting you as the professional you are, it's time to say "goodbye." Let them find someone else to push around. It shouldn't be you. If they get too pushy or start treating you like an employee, don't be afraid to walk away with your self-respect in-tact.
  3. A better opportunity comes along. -- This better opportunity doesn't necessarily just mean one that pays better. Perhaps your dream client has an opening for a new writer, and you just landed the gig. You won't have time to give that your all with your current client load, so you have to cut back elsewhere. This is one of those "it's not you, it's me" situations and it can be a shock to the client if it was a long relationship. Be gentle.
  4. The client is too needy. -- It's one thing for a client to need a bit of extra guidance in the beginning, especially if they're new to working with a freelance writer. But some clients are consistently needy. They'll call constantly just to check in even when there's nothing to talk about. They'll email you for updates every hour or two. They'll ask you question after question, trying to milk you for as much information as they can before you break down and start charging them hourly for the consultant role you're suddenly taking on. Maybe they ask for "favors" periodically that are either related to the job (little things they don't want to pay extra for and they think they can sweet talk out of you) or even things that are completely unrelated (like asking you to give feedback on their website or recent blog posts when that isn't your job). While you might play it nice early on hoping to keep the regular work, eventually these situations can become stressful time-drains. You'll either need to have a frank discussion with the client and set an hourly rate for all of this excess communication and work, or you'll need to walk away. Otherwise you risk burning out -- not good for you or your other clients.
  5. You've reassessed your work / life balance. -- I went through this a few months back. I decided not to work five-day weeks anymore. Two days off wasn't enough to completely unwind, and the hectic work days left me exhausted and unable to pursue other interests. So I decided I would no longer work Fridays -- a three-day weekend every week to allow me to relax, pursue other hobbies, spend more time with people I care about, take day trips and long weekends, etc. To make that work, I had to consolidate things a bit. I had to get more productive in my remaining working hours. I had existing clients who wanted to order more. I also had some much older clients still on old, lower rate schedules. So I opted to cut back on a few of those clients and I took on increased work from the other regulars. In the end, I get more done now than I ever did before.  I make more money even while working fewer hours. And I have more time to pursue things that interest me. Was it an easy decision to walk away from regular decent-paying work? No. But the right decision isn't always the easy one.

How to Dump a Client

So you've decided that it's time to get rid of one of your freelance writing clients. What do you do next? Try this approach to breaking up with a client you simply don't want to hold onto.

  1. Assess the situation. -- The better you know the client, the better the chance you'll know what to expect. For instance, if you know they're the type to try to guilt-trip you into staying on, you can go into the discussion prepared. Also figure out up front if you're going to need referrals from this client. If you want them included in your portfolio, you don't want to risk them saying anything bad about you if they're contacted by future prospects. In other cases you might not want a recommendation from them, and you won't care about them being in your portfolio, so you'll simply remove them. That alone can determine the tone you take in leaving.
  2. Be honest. -- I'm not one to tell you that you have to be super-sweet all the time. In fact I think that's complete bullshit. Sometimes a situation doesn't call for it (such as bluntly telling a client that you won't be working with them any longer because they're acting in an abusive or exploitative manner -- something they should absolutely hear, so it hopefully sinks in before they do it to another freelance writer). But no matter what the tone ultimately is, you need to be honest. If there was something wrong on their end, they should know. If you love working with them but you can't pass up an opportunity, let them know that honestly too -- you might leave a door open to go back to a good client if you want to down the road. Don't lie or sugar-coat things.
  3. Be brief. -- While you need to be honest, you don't need to share every thought floating around in your head. Get to the point, and make the split as quick and painless as possible. If they want to know more, they'll ask.
  4. Give them some time. -- Don't walk out in the middle of a project unless there's something absolutely unacceptable going on (like an abusive situation). In that case, it's fine to refund their money and cut all ties. I wouldn't suggest keeping any money paid thus far, given that you're breaking the contract terms and it can make for a much messier split. Leave between projects. If you're on a monthly retainer, try to finish out your current month. Giving the client time to find a replacement can make the transition much smoother for everyone involved. You might even want to refer a colleague to take your place (assuming they're not the type of client you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy of course).
  5. Ask for permission. -- I've found that a good way to close off one of these discussions (assuming you would want a recommendation) is to flat out ask if they mind you keeping their samples in your portfolio and ask if they would consider giving you a brief testimonial for your site. You might not technically have to ask about the portfolio (depending on the type of work and rights sold), but it's a nice thing to do. It shows you still respect how the client feels about things. And you might be surprised by how many will happily give you a testimonial at that time. Besides, you might not get another opportunity to ask.

So how do you deal with a freelancer / client split? Are there other reasons you've decided to leave a freelance writing client behind? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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8 thoughts on “The Client Breakup Guide for Freelance Writers”

  1. I’ve broken up with clients I never should have taken in the first place. Sometimes, I get blinded by dollar signs and accept gigs I know better than to take. Does that make me a gold digger?

  2. Loved that post! I’ve had one corporate client I decided to break up with. There were multiple ‘bosses’ all trying to have their say about the website content and other written material. They were just a nightmare. I ended it with a firm “it’s you, not me.”

  3. Thanks for the article. I am breaking up with a client today who has crossed the line into inappropriate (and downright creepy). Your suggestions were very helpful.

  4. Some clients seem to be under the mistaken impression that they’re doing you the biggest favor in the world by hiring your services and ought to be breathing down your neck every step of the way just so you don’t forget.


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