How and When to Fire a Client as an Independent Consultant

Written by on October 2, 2019

Nobody marries with a divorce in mind. 

client wants to be just mad

Yet 50% of marriages end up in divorce.
Things will go south at a client. There will be disagreements. Passionate fights on the custody of blame.
They seldom end well, do they?
Sometimes it is vital to amputate a limp before the gangrene in it festers all body.
Hanging on a toxic client often does more harm than good.

How do I know it is time to let a client go?

I wish I could tell you the definitive answer. It is never an exact science. 
And even if there was a sure-fire answer, it would still vary from person to person. 
But the good news is that there are red flags to watch out for. If one or more of these flags are set, consider firing:

🚩The client is consistently behind in their payments.

I once got a great project from a reputable government agency. 
I was stoked, why wouldn’t I be? EU Governments always pay on time. Right?
Ever since my rule of thumb is this: if I don’t get the second payment in a row, my lawyer gets the third invoice. 
In this instance: even though they paid me afterward, I couldn’t tolerate the toxicity it created and lack of respect in my craft. I eventually had to fire them. 
Same goes for a client who tries to lower your rate in the middle of an assignment. Sometimes client would like to take advantage of a certain situation. 
Your value hasn’t decreased, why should your rate? With your rate down, you are in a downward spiral. So is your reputation. 

🚩 Company culture, work environment or relationship is toxic

You feel that you aren’t contributing to anything. Company gossip is off the roof. You find yourself spending more time with corporate politics than actual project management work.
I have recently worked with an outstanding client, and they were quite happy with my work. I was over delivering, and happy overall. 
It was almost a love story. 
However, the relation I had with the interim company was toxic. 
They tried to replace me. The client refused. 
Then they harassed. 
I couldn’t bear it anymore. 
And since I was in a non-compete, I respectfully left the assignment. I didn’t look back or try to cheat my way around. 
I may have lost a good contract but I kept my sanity. 
This type of situations almost certainly warrant a friendly farewell. 

🚩 Constant scope creep (and horribly defined requirements)

Your plumber comes to fix one of your taps. The deal was to fix 1 broken tap. 
You notice there is a second one broken. 
What are your chances that the plumber will replace the 2nd one for free?
In Western Europe, slim to none. 
Same goes for your assignment. If the earth is constantly shifting below your feet, it will be difficult to orientate. 
If the client keeps adding to the scope, they are responsible of cost increase. If you say nothing, you are. 
Especially when you have fixed payments per milestones this can deteriorate your relationship quickly. 
Even if your payments are not fixed: when the client doesn’t recognize the reason for late deliveries is their constant expansion of scope, you’ll have angry discussions. 
Your competence and good will will come into question. This will hurt your reputation and long term prospects. World is small. 

🚩 Unpaid overtimes and Risk of Burn out

We’ve all been there: rest one day everybody takes notes. Work day and night, nobody notices. 
If a client doesn’t respect your time and value, their invoice is probably not worth your respect either. Soon they will start to toss you more unreasonable work. Why not? It is free labor.
Uncontrolled overtimes inevitably lead to burnout. 
Burnout is serious. When you have one, you don’t have an employer to compensate you. It can take you years to recover. Your health is your biggest asset that the client doesn’t pay for, but takes for granted. 

🚩 You aren’t evolving professionally, even if you are doing a good job

When was the last time you had the thrill of learning a useful skill at work?
If it is more than a month, you have stopped learning anything new. The learning muscle is in decline. The work at a client is a good steady income, but you feel your time is wasted doing the chores. 
As a freelancer you are responsible for taking care of your career, skills, and personal development that got you here in the first place. 
There is no reason to accept a career setback. 

❓ Ok Sidar, so what’s the best way to fire a toxic client? 

There is no painless way.
Well, there is one. It is to not to have a toxic client at all.
But life happens. So do toxic clients.
When shit hits the fan, you want to be clear with your intentions.
It is a tough line to walk, you should not be the one causing a scene.
Your reputation is ever-more important to protect at this point.
But never ever stay in a toxic relationship. Long-term damages are too far-reaching.
Get caught up in deep emotions and poof! Hard earnt reputation is gone.

Here are the steps to break up without burning bridges:

1) Talk to the client manager in one-to-one and explain in all honesty, the problems. Talk them through the what and why.
2) Kindly tell them your intention to stop and you are willing to cooperate to make the transition smooth.
3) This is key: Don’t provide feedback if not asked. When asked, point out the problem and how they can make it better constructively. Not more. Avoiding blame games and arguments as much as possible will give you an edge.
4) After your meeting, send an email to summarize what’s agreed. State that this is your formal resignation notice.
5) Honor your promises and leave when the notice period expires. Hand over everything to your successor without holding any information back.

Want to find out more?

Check out the full guide on How To Become an Independent Project Manager

In this comprehensive guide You’ll learn: 
🚀 What you need to be prepared for an independent life
🚀 How to see your self-employed journey as a project and create your customized roadmap 
🚀 How to prepare a CV that gets clients
🚀 How to test waters BEFORE diving all-in 
🚀 How to get clients and sort out your preparation
🚀 Set the mechanics right from the beginning for a successful, satisfying, long freelance career
And more!

Are you ready? Enjoy the read! 👇👇