If you’ve been in the freelance game for long enough you’re sure to have come across a bad client or two. You know, the ones that pay you late (or not at all), who start adding to your scope without a second thought to how this might impact you, and who call you at all hours of the day or night. Sometimes, these clients just simply aren’t worth keeping. But before you fire them, think about how this could impact your reputation.

The last thing you need is for an angry former client to start bashing your business online, or spreading rumours about your lack of professionalism. That’s why you need to be sensitive when getting rid of difficult clients. Here are some tips for ending client relationships in a professional manner:

  • Never send an email or make a call when you’re angry. Wait until you’ve calmed down, and then deal with the situation in a rational way.
  • Always be professional. Keep things simple and make sure you don’t slip into a “he said, she said” argument.
  • Give referrals. Obviously, if you’re unhappy with the way the client has treated you, you may think twice before referring them to a fellow freelancer, but perhaps there is someone else who is more suited to the work or project. This can help leave things on good terms.

The easiest way to fire a client is to simply not accept new projects from them. Finish up the current project but then politely decline any future work from them. Whether you’re honest about the reasons for turning away the work, or you simply say you’re too busy, do it with tact and always be professional.

A lot of the time, bad client relationships can be handled before you even start. A good way to protect yourself from evil clients is start with a trial project. This means that you’ll be able to tell whether you and your client are a good fit for each other, before making a big commitment.

Another good protection mechanism is having a clear contract in place from the very start. This minimises any miscommunications and should lie out the basis for a good relationship. Remember to cover important aspects such as deliverables, revisions and deadlines, payment terms, and dealing with disputes. Make sure you also include a cancellation clause that dictates each party’s responsibilities in the event that the business relationship doesn’t work out.