Leaving a client? How sad. What a hard life you live that you get to lose clients whenever you want. To be fair, choosing to dump a client is a luxury many freelancers don’t have. Many of us take what we can get. If the client isn’t the most amenable, get over it, it’s work. At some point though, your fortunes may change, and you will be in a position where you can afford to part with clients who aren’t your favorite. The problem is, it's not always obvious which clients you should shed, and even less obvious how to do it gracefully.


There are plenty of reasons to leave a client. They email you constantly, they pay you late, they talk while they eat; but no work is perfect, and generally, we put up with behavior we don’t love because it’s not that big a deal. Work is work. When you do get to a point though, where you can be a bit pickier, these minor issues suddenly don’t seem so minor. If there’s a client who gives you a headache every time you have to deal with them, then perhaps it’s time to part ways. But there are pros and cons to every decision. Perhaps the work you do for a certain client is very fulfilling, or interesting, or just plain cool. Perhaps it’s work you know will look good on a portfolio, or comes with certain perks like access to industry events or deals on certain programs. There is plenty to think about when dismissing clients, and it could help to do a classic pros and cons list. At the end of the day though, you’ll do the best work, and be the happiest, when working with people you like, even if they’re not the most glamorous. Don’t just axe the people who lack some perceived “prestige.” You should look for diversity in your clients. Keep some high paying, high-profile clients, but also some clients whose relationship you value. The work you do for them tends to feel easier anyway.


Sometimes, it’s very obvious who to part ways with and when. You’ve had a client you wanted to drop for a long time, but were too afraid to lose. Not anymore! But sometimes, you really don’t know. You may not love all your clients, but none give you such clear reasons to get rid of them. Well you don’t have to. In no way are we saying you NEED to get rid of clients. There comes a time when freelancers naturally do shed some clients if they’re getting a lot of work. They want more free time, or just want to be pickier, but leaving a client isn’t always the answer. The simplest alternative would be to let a client know that you can’t take on as much work as you used to, but would still like to continue working with them. Perhaps they can give you smaller projects going forward.

For many freelancers, there are clients they work with continuously, but not consecutively.  They’ve had a long-term working relationship but the work itself only lasts for limited periods. You may have a client that only needs your assistance during a certain time of year. If that’s a less busy time of year for you, then you might not have to change anything. If that’s a super-busy time of year, then let the client know in advance that you can’t work for them this year, and try and recommend another freelancer they can use. This is a good way to stay top of mind and in a client’s good graces; because this time next year, you may have plenty of free time.


When the time comes, and you need to inform a client or clients of your decision to discontinue your professional relationship, do so with tact. It’s not uncommon that a freelancer, or anyone, who starts to do very well thinks the past is behind them. Just because you’re doing well now doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Now is not the time (nor is it ever the time) to burn bridges. You’re not dumb enough to tell a client to screw off, but sending a last minute, one sentence long email is just as bad. Honesty is important in situations like this. Let a client know what your situation is. Don’t leave them speculating as to what they did wrong, because it may have been nothing. Things change, they’ll understand that. On the other hand, don’t be too honest and say you found a client you like better. Let a client know what your future holds, but focus your message on them. Express your appreciation for the working relationship you had and never be too definitive. Freelancing is a transient business and you can be right back on a client’s doorstep. It’s important to stay relevant, even on your way out the door.

In the long life of a freelancer, clients can come and go like the wind; but they aren’t the wind, they’re people. It’s nice getting to pick and choose the clients you want, but treat them all with respect and don’t see them as disposable. Hopefully they will think of you in the same way.