When Is It Okay to Walk Away from a Client?

I walked away from a client a few days ago. I won’t lie and say doing so didn’t bother me at all. After all, I worked with the client for more than a year. But just like a lot of relationships, it was simply time to let go and move on.

When you’re just starting out as a full-time freelance writer, sometimes you’d be scrabbling to land a client and hopefully keep them. You’re hungry and you have bills to pay by the end of the month. The more long-term work you score, the better the coming months will look for you.

Clients are not cut from the same cloth, though. Some clients are a joy to work with. They give you challenging projects, pay on time, and are generous with praise and bonuses for a job well done. Some will think nothing of exploiting you. And then there are others who simply don’t know what they want from you.

The exploiters and the clueless – those are the types of clients you should walk away from.

Time is your most important resource in freelance writing.

When you work as a freelance writer, the people around you will have this notion that just because you work from home, you have all the time in the world. That isn’t true. Time is money, especially when you’re in business for yourself. Every moment that you spend away from your freelance writing business when you should be working is a wasted moment.

I once had a client who loved to talk on Skype. We’d begin the conversation with an update on the current assignment. And then we’d find ourselves talking about other things totally unrelated to the assignment, like his cat. Before I knew it, an hour had already passed. I could have used that hour to write an article or read up on the next scheduled blog post.

Time is money when you’re a freelance writer. You need to be able to draw the line on how your clients can use your time. If they can’t respect your time and instead feel entitled to it, they’re not worth it at all.

Unless coaching is part of your services, it’s not your job to coach clients.

I love working with clients who give clear-cut instructions on how the project must be handled. These instructions don’t just tell me what I am expected to do. They also show me that the clients know what they are doing. Clients like these don’t waste time.

On the other hand, clients who give you vague instructions and don’t seem to have a clue about what they really want are only going to end up wasting your time. As Genevieve DeGuzman said in this post from FreelanceSwitch.com:

“As a freelance editor, you’re not there to offer “editorial therapy” (unless, of course, you’re offering a type of developmental editing or writing coaching service). Point these clients in the right direction and offer to do another consult once they have a clearer idea of what they want.”

Sometimes, it’s just time to walk away.

All relationships, even the good ones, can come to an end. No matter how much you enjoy working with a client, there will be a time when the two of you must part. It could be because the client no longer has any work for you to do. It could be because your goals have changed and your client’s projects are no longer in line with your goals.

If it’s the client who ended the relationship, find a way to keep in touch. Send them an email every month or so to check up on them and to see if they’ve got new work you can do.

If it’s you who wants to end the relationship, then be honest with your client. Tell them why you can’t work for them anymore and thank them for the opportunity they gave you. If possible, refer them to other freelance writers who can work on their projects.

It’s okay to walk away from a client. Sometimes, you just don’t have a choice in it at all. But no matter what the situation is, always try to make your exit with grace. After all, who knows when your path intersects with your client once again?

Have you ever walked away from a client? What happened and how did you handle it?

Image: pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Anna Sibal-Gonzaga is a freelance writer based in the Philippines. She likes reading books and watching movies and TV shows in the sci-fi, fantasy and historical genres. She is also a casual gamer and an all-around nerd.

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  1. Kate, RM Social Media

    Hi Anna – noticed your title on Twitter and was interested to hear your thoughts. Even running a small company, the same things apply – some clients are much more enjoyable (and profitable, although the two don’t always go together!) to work with. Yes, the ones who respect the supplier’s time, give clear briefs, and once in a while express some appreciation when you go the extra mile for them. There are definitely things that can help with this – we found developing some “working with us” engagement guidelines made a difference, for example.

    But ultimately, there is at least one client who we took on at an early stage of the business, who pays half what our other clients do, and ticks none of the boxes in terms of stimulating work, appreciation, and competence. We’re approaching the point where one or more of those issues will need to be addressed and if the client concerned responds badly, it’ll be time for both parties to move on.
    Kate, RM Social Media recently posted..How to use Twitter for a businessMy Profile

    1. Anna Sibal-Gonzaga

      Hi, Kate. I had trouble walking away from clients when I was still a newbie freelancer. I didn’t know any better, so I was willing to do what they wanted me to do. But we often outgrow the people we started with, and just as you said, one or more issues will need to be addressed for the relationship with the client to grow. If those issues don’t get resolved, it’ll be time to move on.

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