Sometimes freelance writers and artists just have to fire a client. Here are some of the easiest ways to find yourself searching for a new contractor.
So you want to hire a freelance writer. Or an artist. Or a graphic designer. Or a web developer. Or a drill writer. Or a “consultant.”
There are plenty of articles out there about how to hire a freelancer. This isn’t one of them. This article is about how to get the freelancer you hired to say, “Sorry, I won’t accept any more work from you.”
I’ve been freelancing for nearly a decade now, and in that time, I’ve had outstanding clients, terrible clients, and everything in between. I have been fired by a client exactly twice (both times for the same reason–see below), and I have fired more clients than I can count (every time, for one of the reasons below).
Here’s how to make sure that all the time, money, and energy you put into advertising for freelancers, screening candidates, and developing creative briefs goes entirely to waste:
1. Don’t say what you want up front.
I asked a community of freelancers what it takes for them to fire a client, and some version of this problem came up in every single answer.
To send your freelancer packing, don’t say what you want up front. Provide just enough detail for your freelancer to think they understand the project–but when they turn it in, send it back with demands you never made in the original ask.
Do you want your freelancer to fire you, but you aren’t sure this method will do it quickly enough? Do you want your freelancer to fire you and to call you out publicly at every opportunity, making it even harder to find qualified freelancers in the future (and yes, we network too)? Then I recommend….
2. Blame your freelancer for not reading your mind.
Not telling us what you wanted is provoking, but it’s not insurmountable. Provide a reasonable amount of time to make the fix and clarify whether or not you’re going to need the same thing going forward, and generally speaking, we’re happy to do the work (assuming it’s covered by our contract).
However, if you want to torpedo any chance that your freelancer will roll with the punches, blame your freelancer for failing to read your mind the first time.
Both clients who have fired me as a freelancer did so because they blamed me for something that they messed up. The most memorable one was in 2013 or so. The client had asked me to do an extended project that required me to contact their end client and get some information.
I tried. I tried contacting the end client for months, via every avenue my client would allow me to use: email, telephone, you name it. I got nothing. The end client would not communicate with me.
Eventually, I told my client about this, and was told “Okay, I’ll take care of it.” When I emailed a few days later, asking “Do you have anything else you need me to do?”, I was assigned another project. Every time asked if they had anything else they wanted done, I was assigned another project.
Fast-forward a few months. Suddenly, Silent End-Client’s project is coming due, and my client is emailing me in a panic, wanting to know where their copy is.
Last I heard, client, you were going to take care of it, and every time I asked if there was something I should be working on, you directed me to another task (at one point, to another editor!) instead of asking how this client’s website is coming. I am not the one who dropped the ball on this.
Nevertheless, I got fired. My client found it easier to cut me loose than to admit their own mistake.
I fired a different client some years later for utterly failing to articulate their expectations for copy.: everything from basic organization to what counts as “personality” in tone to when to use a serial comma. When I asked for clarification, the answer was always: “Oh, there are no hard and fast rules….”
So I’d send in the project–and get personally berated for failing to follow some “rule” the editor had chosen not to tell me was a rule when the project began.
Needless to say, I dumped that client pretty quickly.
Definitely blame your freelancer for failing to read your mind. If you don’t want to work with freelancers anymore. Or you could….
3. Presume you’re entitled to your freelancer’s time.
In truth, treating your freelancer like an employee in any way is a great way to get us to walk out. We’re professionals and this is a B2B service, not an employer-employee relationship.
But one of the best ways to treat us like employees so that we’ll walk on you is to act as if you’re entitled to our time when you want it, whenever you want it, for no additional pay.
I fired a client just a few months ago for this exact problem. I warned this client up front that I do not do the sort of copy the client sought with fewer than seven business days’ lead time (now, thanks to this client, that’s a month’s lead time). The client decided that “seven business days’ lead time” meant “three to five calendar days’ lead time, always over a weekend” and threw a complete fit when I refused to turn work around in that time frame.
Oh, and of course this client never offered to pay me extra for the rush job. Which reminds me: you will find yourself out on your freelancer’s curb posthaste if you…
4. Screw with payment terms.
Early in my career, I did $1500 of web copy once for a client and was immediately ghosted by not one but two editors on the project. Attempts to contact them were unsuccessful. I never saw that money. Meanwhile, I know the end client used the copy because I saw it on their website.
The second client who ever fired me only got the title because I was lazy about firing them. I was planning to walk because they were a stellar example of Point the First (don’t articulate what you want), but they sent the Dear John email first.
Honestly, that’s fine. It wasn’t working out, and had that email been the end of it, this client would not have made my Wall of Shame.
But they’re on the Wall of Shame now because, after firing me, they then decided to announce they were only going to pay me about 2/3 of what they had initially agreed to, based on terms they made up as they were writing the email and that had never appeared in the original contract.
Thanks for confirming my decision to stop working with you, former client!
Wait! What If I Don’t Want To Be Fired?
Naturally, the inverse of this post is also true: if you want to keep a freelancer around (and save yourself the time, money, and hassle of hiring a new one), clarify your expectations from the start, take your share of the responsibility for errors or miscommunications, respect our time like you would any other business you do business with, and pay promptly and fully according to the agreed-upon terms.
For every client I’ve fired, I have one in my portfolio who has been there for years and for whom my work is practically magic. They tell me what they want, I send it to them. Voilá. You, too, can have outstanding relationships with your freelancers–if you treat them right.
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