Client Red Flags (Plus Free Scripts for Firing Clients)

freelance client red flags and how to fire bad clients

Sometimes you have to make hard decisions as a freelancer. I don’t often get personal on my freelancer podcast (just kidding, I totally do), but this week needed a personal story. I recently learned from some major client red flags and said goodbye to a client of 2+ years.

While in a perfect world you’ll never need to fire a client or brand, sometimes you have to do what’s best for your business. That’s right — as a blogger or freelancer, you’re a business owner.

I’ve also covered other freelancer topics on the podcast before that might be helpful to you:

Listen to the full episode below to hear me get personal with my own recent experience with client red flags and firing a long-term client. Hopefully, you can learn from me. If you’d rather listen to the podcast on your favorite platform, you can do so here.

Client Red Flags: How to Spot Them

First, let’s talk about client red flags. As a freelancer, you’ll see a lot of sketchy clients out there. From low-ballers to too-high-expectations, you’ll really see it all.

In my experience, these are the client red flags that appear the most often:

  • Unclear Project – The client might not know what they want or how they want it done. It might be worth asking the client to get back to you once they’ve done more research.
  • Project Creep – Again, the project might start to grow because either A) the client didn’t know what they wanted or B) they hoped to milk more from you. This is when you point to your contract! Use my freelancer contract template here to avoid this.
  • No boundaries – Does your client not respect your boundaries? They might contact you at all hours of the day, expecting a quick response, or they demand last-minute work. Yikes!
  • ASAP – When a client asks for work “ASAP,” they’re acting entitled. They think they should deserve all of your focus and attention, and this usually isn’t true. This is when you either ask for more money or tell them to take a hike (metaphorically, of course).
  • Worked with past freelancers – Did your client work with a freelancer before who “didn’t make the cut?” This likely means they have high expectations or are too demanding. Ask them why the first freelancer didn’t work out to get the full picture.
  • Exposure – Last but not least, don’t work with a client who offers to pay in “exposure” or who pays less because they have “more work” for you in the future. No thanks!

These aren’t exclusive to freelancers! As a blogger, I run into these with brands all the time. It pays to be vigilant. No matter how new you are, you deserve to be treated with respect.

When to Fire a Client

When should you finally fire a client? It’s not always clear when a freelancing client has really crossed the line. Basically, you have two options. First, you can just stick it out until you’re able to finish the project. This is usually the path of least resistance, and it’s more achievable if you’ve already put some work in.

The other option is to finally fire the problem client. But this should always be a last resort! If you’re having issues with a client based on expectations, project scope creep, or communication, let them know. You can gentle explain what you need from them and how they can help you do your job better.

But sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes things legit just don’t work out. If you’re experiencing any of the following client red flags, it’s time to break it off for good:

  • They’re taking up all your time. If a client is taking too much of your time, they’re treating you like an employee, not a client. Let’s be real: you don’t have the benefits of an employee, so don’t let them treat you like one.
  • They’re disrespectful. Sometimes clients are not professional or disrespectful. They might not treat your work as valuable or you as a business owner. Don’t have any tolerance for this. Would they treat a coworker this way? Probably not.
  • You can’t meet their needs. Sometimes you legitimately don’t have the skills (or time) needed to meet their needs. In other cases, their expectations are too high. If this is the case, it’s time to move on.

Breaking up with a client doesn’t have to be intimidating! You’ll feel so relieved when you finally get it over with, trust me.

Scripts to Fire a Freelance Client

Now that you know whether you should fire your client as a freelancer, let’s talk about how to do it. Ideally, you should deliver your message via phone or in-person meeting, but this also depends on your relationship. If you’ve only exchanged emails until this point, I think sending an email is just fine.

So what do you say to fire your client? There are 3 main routes to go:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Communication

Basically, you want to be professional. You don’t want to play the blame game or point out everything they did wrong. Just be blunt and to the point, but don’t be afraid to point to an issue such as not having enough time, changing your rates, or a communication problem. Make sure the client knows why this is a good thing for them.

Time Script

Saying you don’t have enough time for your client’s project is a great way to take the blame out of the equation. This is an easy one if your client has been creeping the scope of the project or has a demanding project.

Hi [Name], Thanks for trusting me with your project. I realize [Project or Business Name] is very important, but I unfortunately no longer have adequate time to dedicate to these tasks. Because I know you value the quality of my work, I have to respectfully decline any upcoming projects. Your project deserves the right creator who can give it the focus it deserves. Thank you for understanding.

Money Script

Next, if you know your client has a limited budget, letting them know that your rates have changed could be a good way to move on from them. On the other hand, they might agree with your new rate which could also be a plus!

Hi [Name], I have very much valued our time working together. However, since I am passing a big milestone in my professional career, it’s time for me to raise my rates. My new rates will be [X], and it will be effective beginning [Date]. I will finish all of our previously-agreed milestones at our agreed rate, but I will then need to begin charging higher. I’d love to chat about whether this fits your budget moving forward. If not, I understand that you need to do what’s best for your business. Thank you for respecting my professional goals.

Communication Script

Finally, if the above scrips aren’t a good fit for you, go for the big-whammy. This is the no-nonsense script to use if you want there to be no room for negotiation.

Hi [Name], Thank you for trusting me with your project. While I think we’ve made great progress, I have realized our communication styles do not align. At this time, I think it’s best that we parted ways. I wish you the best of luck on your project, and I would be happy to recommend other freelancers who would be a better fit for your needs. Thank you.

Steer Clear of These Client Red Flags

Hopefully, you’ll never need these client red flags above! But if you do, don’t be afraid to use those scripts above. Sometimes it pays to stand up for yourself as a freelancer. You’re the one in the driver’s seat, after all. Start acting like it!

Have you ever needed to fire a client or brand? I have, and I know just how frustrating it can be. As freelancers, we have to make hard choices, but it’s worth it.

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