Telling stories

Partings, Sweet and Bitter

Posted by southwrite on June 16, 2014

Hand Thermal

As a freelancer you’ve already – or will – have to part ways with a client. Face it, some relationships don’t work out. There’s a mismatch between you and client and you need to end it.

One of my first freelance ventures was ghosting a column for a chiropractor. He was a nice guy, fun to work with, had good ideas, and gave me considerable leeway in writing. He also paid in the low two digits. While that was fine eventually my rates went up – way up. I realized he wasn’t going up with me so – with some regret – I eased out of the relationship.

Moving from a good client to a better one is a positive thing, but that’s not always how it happens. Sometimes we have to confront bad clients – the kind who can make your life and career miserable. Yet many of us put up with them for far too long.

Maybe you’re experiencing a bad client who:

  • Never responds to (repeated) e-mails.
  • Holds a project for weeks and then wants extensive revisions done now!
  • Uses you to “think out loud” making and discarding designs because they can’t imagine how something will look.
  • “Loses” invoices and other documents as you waste time sending them over and over again.
  • Always gets “held up” and is late or cancels meetings.
  • Becomes abusive.


The people who buy your articles, photos, graphic design should pay your fee as negotiated, treat you as a professional and work with you in a reasonable manner that gets the job done.

If that’s the kind of client you want, you have to work to keep good ones and get rid of bad ones. So here’s a New Rule for freelances: if you have a bad client and you know they won’t change, sever the relationship and move on.

Recognizing a bad client is one thing, but getting rid of them can be something else.

After ghosting two books with wonderful clients I was approached by a new author for a motivational book. It sounded interesting and challenging and I was eager to experience the joys of book writing again.

In my eagerness to get the job, I accepted less than I originally wanted and then agreed to spread it out over a number of months. I thought, ‘I can continue doing my other freelance work and generate the level of income I need each month.’

Then the problems began. Instead of conducting interviews by phone the client insisted we meet face-to-face requiring a two hour (uncompensated) round trip drive. Frequently, I showed up to find the office door locked because he was “held up.”

The sessions themselves were unpleasant. Almost from the beginning he would express extreme displeasure with what I had written and say things like “I don’t know if this is going to work out. I can always end this deal.”  He repeated these lines over and over again during every meeting.

Then there were the interruptions. He made phone calls during which I could hear him screaming at the person on the other end of the line. .

Not only was the deal becoming a money loser, but I was unhappy with our professional relationship. Fortunately, I had inserted a clause in the contract that allowed either of us to end it after one month with no penalty.  When I told him I was done, he underwent a remarkable change of heart and tried to talk me into staying on.

That was when I made another mistake. No, I didn’t relent, but agreed to help him find someone to take over the book. The job went to a talented author who had written several books with other motivational speakers. If anyone could finish this project, it had to be my friend.

As you might have guessed, it didn’t work out that way. She fell victim to the same pattern. The book was never completed and she had to threaten legal actions to get paid. Like me she escaped from a bad client relationship. So, one more rule: never palm off a bad client on your friends.

But do get rid of them – fast – before they ruin what should be a beautiful relationship.

2 Responses to “Partings, Sweet and Bitter”

  1. I recently had to severe a relationship with a client due to his behavior. I had not worked with him for very long, but it soon became apparent that it was going to be an abusive relationship. I am such a big baby; I made myself unavailable for a few weeks thinking that he would go away on his own, but unfortunately, I had to do it face to face. While it was certainly uncomfortable for me, as soon as I walked away, I was giddy with relief. You have to do what is best for you and your business.

    • southwrite said

      The old saying “hire slow and fire fast” also applies to clients as well. That especially true when you’re confronted with one who is abusive or bullying. You have a right to be treated with respect and common decency and if they don’t meet that standard you should get rid of them immediately. I know that’s easier said than done since we always tend to think we can fix whatever is wrong. Yet, the longer we wait to do what’s necessary the harder it becomes.

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