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For many freelancers, the beginning of their career is a time of uncertainty and sometimes – dare I say it –desperation. They will take on projects they’d rather not touch and work for clients who quickly establish themselves as a complete pain in the, er, rear end (and often a pain in the pocket too, with their low pay rates or ‘simple’ projects that quickly become mammoth  tasks).

Hopefully, these clients are a thing of the past once the freelancer is well-established. I mean, who in their right mind would put up with clients who are stubborn, vague, unreliable, uncontactable, manipulative and/or terrible payers?

If you’re blushing or have suddenly developed an overwhelming interest in an inanimate object somewhere else in the room, I’m guessing you’ve hung on to some of those clients. Brace yourself.


Who to Let Go

Take a long, honest look at your client list. See those persistently late payers and terrible communicators? You can do better. Make a note of:

The Vague Clients

If their briefs are too brief or just plain ludicrous, it’s time to bid them adieu. For example, ‘regular work’ needs defining; it’s not the same as frequent or constant. Regular work could be annual!

The Uncommunicative Client

You answer their query within a couple of hours; they don’t reply for days. You pitch an idea or send a detailed quote but hear nothing for months and presume they’re not interested; they contact you a week before a deadline and say yes, they want to run with it.

You’re part way through their project, perfectly on schedule, but need their input to proceed; they get back to you three days before project deadline, and then blame you for being behind/late delivery.

The Persistently Reluctant Payers

Often, there’s an excuse (and here’s a clue: it’s never ‘I was trying to delay payment/ I can’t afford to pay you/ I don’t want to pay you/ I’ve decided I’m paying you too much’). They blame someone else in the office, their invoicing system, their email. They claim to have lost your invoice or never received it.

They spin you a cash flow disaster story to gain your sympathy or decide to haggle on fees, the work produced or the time it took you; or they just plain ignore you and don’t pay.

The Indecisive Client

They seem to have work or a job opening, but what they really want is free advice or a probing chat; they’re testing the water and you may never see a penny. Or they propose a huge project you start to clear your schedule for, yet it’s all off five days later – and you get the impression it was never that definitely ‘on’, anyway…

There are also clients who can’t decide what they want and want you to decide that for them or those who do decide what they want, but partially or completely change the brief halfway through. Rid yourself of them.

The Dodgy Client

I’m sure every industry has them. In the writing industry, dodgy clients want fake reviews, bogus forum or social media comments, articles making counterfeit claims about beauty products or health supplements, plagiarism of books or web material, or the writing of other people’s essays or theses to gain a fraudulent qualification.

Obviously, what you do and who you work for is a matter for your conscience, but bear in mind that if things go bad, you could be implicated.

The Unrealistic Client

‘Need a detailed 5000 article on current trends in nanotherapeutics, with data tables and references, by tomorrow.’ ‘Need professional architect to produce plans for my three-storey floating home by tomorrow for approval by marina manager.’ Don’t carry on jumping through hoops for this kind of client.

The Something for Nothing Client

The project is ‘simple’; it’s ‘only a few hours’ work’ or ‘an easy task for an expert’. Some clients try to fool you, but others simply never consider how many hours their project will really take, or if they would accept the pay they’re offering you for the work. Some claim they ‘can’t afford much’ but will ‘mention your name.’ Whether they keep this promise or not, you’re worth more. Say goodbye.

How to Let Go

So how do you say goodbye, particularly to those clients who are well-behaved and well-meaning, but just can’t pay you enough or complicate your life? How do you suddenly end your business relationship with someone you’ve worked with for years and ends each email with a smiley face?

Remember they’re a client first – however friendly you’ve become, your primary relationship with them is a business one. It’s fine to mention that you’ve enjoyed working with them and even to express a little regret, but don’t grovel. Be polite and wish them all  the best for the future.


Give your client a notice period and don’t get involved in pleas or rows. If there’s no agreed notice period, then let common decency be your guide – give them a month’s notice to recruit your replacement.

For a more detailed look at how to make this process as painless as possible, see my Five Rules for Saying Goodbye to a Client.

It’s crunch time; go forth and eliminate those clients holding you back and ensure you’re back in time for another client-based freelancing fail in Fatal Freelancing Fails 8: Letting Your Clients Dictate Your Rate.



About The Author

Karl Bilby

We work very closely with our expert accountants to bring you the latest factually correct tax and accounting news. We also enjoy writing about small business news that we hope you find useful!

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