I did not use the words “you’re fired,” but in no uncertain terms, last month I let my freelance client know that I was no longer available to work for his company.
My decision to fire this client (my one and only, by the way) had been a long time in coming. But once I examined all possible options, I knew firing him was the right thing to do.
To the average freelance writer, my action may seem crazy. After all, freelance clients are hard to come by. Each one is worth their weight in gold. How could I, in my right mind, give one of them the boot?
Actually, it’s exactly because I am in my right mind — and want to stay that way — that I let him go. I had worked for this particular client for just over four years. He would never have won any personality awards, but his curmudgeon behavior was tolerable in the beginning. After all, on paper he was a great client. He gave me a steady flow of work, writing copy for his website, customer success stories, white papers, and product descriptions. Also, he paid my full fee without complaint and paid my invoices upon receipt. He liked my writing, so he did not demand many copy changes. What could go wrong?
What went wrong is that he went from being a gruff curmudgeon to an outright bully. When this behavior first began to change at about the two-year point, I gave him a pass, because I had heard he was going through some personal problems. As a freelancer, I didn’t have to deal with him all that often anyway. I hoped his new nasty ways would soon dissipate and he would return to his merely grouchy ways. But they didn’t. After one year, it got worse. He began targeting me every time I went into the office. At one meeting, he yelled at me in front of two of his staff members for telling him that a document he wanted to publish needed more changes.
Then came the coup de grace. In June, I entered his office to pick up my monthly check. He told me he had to talk to me in his office. He proceeded to list five or six complaints about my work. I was dumbfounded, because a few of his issues didn’t even make sense and for the others he offered no examples to prove what his allegations. For example, he said his saleswoman complained that I’d emailed her a criticism of the company’s recent user conference. However, every year I had sent over my thoughts after the annual conference. He also said that another staff member complained about my copy being full of mistakes. Yet, he couldn’t provide a single example.
To this day I have no idea why this man suddenly attacked me with bogus accusations. However, I don’t care. What I care about is that I no longer have any interaction with this clearly unhappy person. There is no amount of money worth putting myself through the ringer for a troubled, bitter person. I have felt so much better since I extracted myself from this client.
The moral of the story is this: If any client is lowering your moral, expecting more out of you than they’ll pay, or is just plain mean, there is only one thing you can do — fire them. Hopefully, firing clients will be a rare experience in an otherwise long and successful freelance writing career. But when faced with a bad situation, you’ve got to protect yourself, your time, and your reputation. No amount of money is worth the destruction caused to your psychological health by a client from hell. Just cut them loose and move on.
Have you ever fired a client? Under what circumstances would you fire one?