Launching your own startup or entering the world of freelancing can be one of the most liberating experiences of your life. It can also produce a lot of anxiety. Small business owners and freelancers often worry that they may not be able to attract enough clients–-or retain the ones they have-–to maintain their livelihood. This often leads to accepting any client that comes along, especially at the beginning.
Certain clients are more trouble than they’re worth. And those are the ones you should fire, according to the freelancers and small business owners I spoke to. Letting problem clients go may sound counterintuitive, but doing so can save your sanity and end up strengthening your business in the long run.
Here are five types of clients you should consider cutting from your life.
There’s no better feeling when a client agrees to use your services. But good feelings don’t pay the bills. As the number of people freelancing grows, a recent report from Freelancers Union indicates that income unpredictability is a growing concern among these independent workers.
If you have clients who constantly pay late, it’s better to ditch them and use your time and resources to find clients who actually do pay on time, says Samit Patel, a Kickstarter consultant and crowdfunding expert.
"Payments on time are critical. Especially if you’re running a relatively new business, a few delayed payments can cause big problems," says Patel. "I’ve had clients in the past who don’t make the payments on time," he explains. "I’ve worked with people who were so nice, but for one reason or the other just disappeared once work is complete."
To help combat late payment without laying off your client, Patel says it’s a good idea to ask for some money up front. "I now have a 50% up front rule and the rest on the dot at the end of the month or work stops," he says. "This saves me going out of pocket," Patel says, adding, "this rule needs to apply to everyone."
Abuse should never be tolerated in any area of life–-that goes for business, too. Yet some clients think that paying you for your services mean they can treat you or your colleagues however they want. Get rid of these types of clients ASAP, says Nate Gadgibalaev, CEO at Amplifr, a social media scheduling and analytics platform based in Russia.
"One morning on our team hangout, our support team member was crying. We had just one person on that team back then, and she’s great at what she does," explains Gadgibalaev. "She was crying because a client harassed her and shouted at her [via the phone helpline]."
As soon as Gadgibalaev found out what occurred he refunded the client their cost for their prepaid plan and terminated their account immediately. "Standing up for your team is a must in any business," Gadgibalaev asserts, "and is much more important than a couple bucks."
Doing right by your employees isn’t the only thing you should strive for, says Gadgibalaev. He also believes you should never compromise your personal integrity–-no matter how big the client, or how much they pay.
"The most important client firing decision I made was when we were approached by a company you might’ve heard of: RT, aka Russia Today," says Gadgibalaev. "They wanted social media scheduling automation," he explains, "and we provide a powered API just for that."
"It was a pretty good pile of money," he says explaining that as a bootstrapped, revenue-driven company, "We needed the money." Gadgibalaev continues, "It was either take the money and help the bad guys spread bullshit, disinformation, lies and speculations, or sit there without the money and move on."
Gadgibalaev and his colleagues at Amplifr decided to pass on the lucrative gig because they didn’t agree with the message and tone of the media company. "Sometimes your beliefs and integrity are much more important than your startup success speed," he says.
There are plenty of clients who try to shoehorn more work on a project without offering additional pay. If your clients don’t know what they want until halfway through a project, or refuse to pay more for work that was not agreed upon when you signed them, dump them fast, says Kelly Gilmour-Grassam, director of copywriting agency Making You Content.
"We worked with a client for several months on their content materials, and they were very happy with our efforts," explains Gilmour-Grassam. "However, the projects were very stressful and labor-intensive for us," she says. "The client had a habit of moving the goalposts, meaning that we often had to turn our work on its head to accommodate their change of heart."
Those changes of heart kept happening with a brochure "that took seemingly endless revisions," says Gilmour-Grassam. "We ended the relationship as we didn’t feel that our expertise was being utilized to its full potential."
One thing that separates a freelancer or contractor from an employee is that they take on projects with very specific terms. For example, if a publication asks a freelance writer for a piece on what the election of Hillary Clinton means for democracy and the writer turns in that story, the publication can’t go back and say "Clinton lost. This copy is no good to us now. We need the piece to be about Trump," without expecting to pay for the extra work.
"The best working relationships always happen when both parties treat it as a partnership, however I’ve had a few cases over the years where clients have started treating me more as an employee," says Jon Norris, a private editorial consultant.
"In one case I was hired to produce detailed, technical financial articles for a client’s website," he recalls. "They quickly started asking me to take on extra tasks like making small code tweaks and producing reports in Google Analytics," explains Norris. "Over time these small tasks became a big chunk of the work," he says "and I found myself in a position where I was doing a lot of work I didn’t enjoy." Or that he'd initially agreed to do.
Norris decided to be upfront with his client and helped them realize they needed a full-time digital marketing person. He stuck around and helped them find a suitable hire, then walked away.
"Since then I’ve always been very clear in my contract terms what is included in my work, and what is outside the scope of the relationship," says Norris.
While all these professionals say firing their clients was the right thing to do, they cautioned not to make a rash decision to let a client go.
"In some instances it’s wise to weather the storm," says Gilmour-Grassam. "Severing ties too rashly risks damaging your reputation, which can have terrible consequences if the client shares their experience online or with their network," she points out. "Besides, you should consider the reasons why the client is misbehaving," Gilmour-Grassam notes, "a little empathy can go a long way in improving your relationship."
That said, despite possible negative consequences, they agree you need to do what’s best for your business and personal well-being.
"At the end of the day it's up to you, if your health is being affected; i.e stress etc, then it might be a case of working out the real benefits vs costs, not just taking into account money," says Patel. "Sometimes it is better to work on your terms than other people's terms."