Want to fire a content writing client? It’s not a decision to take lightly.
Writers usually have a lot of fears around firing clients, and those fears do have to be addressed before you can make a good decision. But once you unravel those freelancing fears a bit (and hopefully gotten past them), it’s time for a more business-driven analysis.
It may well be time to fire a content writing client. Or it may just be time to change tactics with them. Or it may just be time to get a little rest because burnout is starting to affect your work and your judgment.
You the freelance writer versus you the business owner
To make your decision about when to fire a content writing client, it’s a good idea to separate your feelings from what’s actually good for your business.
The best way to do that is to think of yourself almost as if you were two people, or at least one person with two very different roles:
- You as the owner of your content writing business
- You as the employee, the freelance writer
As the owner of your content writing business, you need to make sure there’s enough money coming in to support your business expenses and to pay your employee/s. You also need to make sure there’s a reasonable pipeline of work and prospective clients coming in, whether that’s by referrals or marketing or other ways you make yourself visible.
As the employee, you need to have the business parts of your business managed well enough so you can focus on creating great content that meets the needs of both your clients and their readers. You need to feel good enough about working you’re your clients so you can be a polished professional at all times, and maybe even fun to work with.
As you’ve probably guessed, those two roles will see this decision about whether to fire a client or not in different ways. You the employee may be thinking, “They’re awful! I hate them! They don’t respect me, they don’t give me credit for my work, and I’m exhausted!”
You the business owner may think, “Sure, they could be a lot nicer. But we make 35% more per hour from this client than any other. And we’re already below our income goals for this month. Hold out a little longer, and let’s make it a top priority to reach out to all of our past clients on LinkedIn this week to see if they either have work or might know of a referral opportunity. We can fire them, but I have to have a replacement client in place first.”
Being able to separate your feelings from the facts like that can save you from making a bad decision. But it’s critical to acknowledge how you the employee feels, too. As we’ll see below, if things get bad enough for your employee, you may have to fire the client sooner than you’d like.
So with all this in mind. here are seven strong, business-driven reasons to fire a freelance writing client.
1. You think – even in passing – “I don’t want to do this anymore,” when you think about this client.
The “this” here is freelance writing in general. In other words, this client is so bad you want to bail on this whole freelance writing thing, forever, because of them.
This is a big red flag to fire this content writing client ASAP. They are a threat to your business.
But ASAP may be the operative word here. “As soon as possible” could be this afternoon if your finances allow or if you have plenty of other clients to replace them with.
“As soon as possible” may also mean you work late one night this week looking for new work so you can ditch this client without putting yourself in a bad situation, one where you might have to take on another bad client simply because you’re desperate for money.
2. They pay you late.
Very late. Or they pay you “late enough” repeatedly.
Take note: It’s on you to have terms about when invoices are due. Some writers have invoices due upon receipt.” Others give their freelance writing clients a two-week pay window. But once those terms are clear (you’ve included them on your invoice, for example), then clients need to respect them.
Clients get busy, of course, and they don’t always read the terms on invoices carefully. And honestly, they may not remember that you told them your payment terms when you first talked to them. So you’re going to need to remind them.
When an invoice is more than 3 days overdue, check in and remind them about the invoice. If you sent the invoice to them via email, “reply” via the original email to check in. This will give them the thread of the prior conversation and the attached invoice.
Then keep following up, weekly, until you get paid.
There’s an awful lot to say about not getting paid, but let’s stay focused on how it fits into knowing when to fire a client.
When a client’s late payments start to erode your trust in them and yourself, it’s time to fire this client.
If you’re been working with a content writing client for years, and they’re a week late paying two invoices in one quarter, that’s not grounds for firing them. And even if they’re that late two invoices in a row, it may mean you need to talk to your contact to see if something has changed.
Late payments are especially worrisome if you know your relationship with the client is eroding. When the relationship starts to go, and then the payments start coming in later and later, well… that’s the sign of a client who just might be getting ready to fire you. Usually, the working relationship is pretty bad by this point. It’s probably time to let them go and replace them with a fresh, new relationship.
One last tip: If you know your contact/client is going on vacation, set up a plan to manage your payments while they’re gone. Someone going on vacation is probably the #1 reason for late payments.
3. They make demands that eat into your hourly rate, but they aren’t willing to pay you for them.
Maybe the client asks for too many revisions. Maybe they insist on having you at weekly meetings that suck up hours and hours of your time. Maybe they sit on each round of revisions for a week or more as your copy slowly works its way through the different layers of approval.
This is going to happen to some extent, but when it starts to get severe, you’ve got a problem.
Here are some examples of extra work that some content writing clients request, and that you should be paid for:
- Setting up a blog post in WordPress
- Getting backlinks for a piece of content you write
- Sending outreach emails to influencers to promote the content
It’s fine for clients to ask for these things. But it’s more work, and so you deserve to get paid more. Even if you charge a small extra fee, charge something. Don’t let them pile more and more work on you without any benefits for you.
If a client does start adding more and more work to each piece, but they won’t pay you for the extra time, this could be a reason to fire the client. The best way to know is if you track your time, and thus know your hourly rate. If these new requests are eroding your hourly rate badly enough that they’re no longer worth working for (because you’ve got plenty of other clients eager to work with you), then there’s your decision.
There are plenty of content writing clients available; don’t settle for the bad ones.
4. Your workload is full, and a terrific opportunity just showed up.
This is the best reason to fire a content writing client. You were fully booked, and suddenly one of your dream clients wants to hire you. You can’t work any more hours, so something has to get cut.
Hopefully, you’ve been tracking your hourly rate (your true hourly rate) for each client. And so when your Prince Charming of clients shows up, all you need to do is to identify who’s paying you the least per hour. Let your old client know it’s been great working with them, but you have this new opportunity, and you have to take it.
Give them enough notice to find a replacement for you. Or – even better – check your network of other writers, find them a great replacement, and do something awesome for someone in your network.
Reality check: It’s a pain to manage, but I’d actually want you to not fire anyone until you’ve done two pieces of content with your new dream client. Sometimes, despite all appearances, dream clients end up being not so dreamy once you start working with them.
5. They’re asking you to write about subjects that aren’t in your wheelhouse or your preferred subject area.
Agencies often do this. If you’ve created good work for one client, they may give you some additional work in a different subject area. Problem is, you don’t know that new area as well, so you have to do a lot more research for each piece. This means it takes you twice as long to write each piece. Which means your hourly rate just got cut in half.
No deal. Always protect your hourly rate – the true hourly rate of what you’re earning including time for back and forth with the client, time to get paid, time to research, and time to write.
Your true hourly rate is the most important metric of your content writing business. Longterm, it will determine whether you get to have nice financial things (a house, vacations, maybe even a retirement) or if you just end up exhausted with nothing to show for it.
6. You’re just completely sick of writing for them.
If you’ve had a client for over a year (much less three or more years), it’s possible you will get to a point when you just can not bear to write another piece for them.
You’ve said it all. You’ve run out of words. You’re just regurgitating the same thing over and over and over again.
If this has set in, you have three choices:
- Take a break from them. Maybe it’s a month. Maybe it’s just a few weeks. But just step away for a bit. Sometimes all a writer needs is a little rest.
- Go dip into the content from other industries. This is basically you going on a little creative adventure of some sort to refresh your ideas so you can see your client’s material with new eyes.
- You end the relationship with the client. Try to have this be your last option, done only after the first two options have failed. But this does happen. If you’ve started to hate writing for the client so much that your hourly productivity has fallen off, then you need to leave if only to protect your hourly rate.
7. They’re asking you to write content you aren’t comfortable with.
With this one, we dip into the ethics of business writing.
Take note that business writing is NOT journalistic writing. The rules are different. Business writing is also not creative writing. Again, the rules are different.
“Content you aren’t comfortable with” can be subject matter, or it can be overly salesy content.
Some companies will want you to do heavy selling in the content you write for them. They may want you to say things in their content that you aren’t comfortable with, like “we have the best pools,” or “no one else offers this,” or they want you to characterize alternatives to them as useless, when you feel the alternatives are actually viable.
If you’re putting your byline on content you disagree with, that’s more of a problem than writing content that doesn’t have your byline.
Once again, you may have to go back to the business owner versus employee framework. Can you afford to let this client go? Can you have a frank conversation with them about not wanting to write content like this? Can you show them examples of content that doesn’t sell as hard, but may actually be performing better in terms of links and shares?
Firing a Content Writing Client Should Be Your Last Resort
Even if you’ve got a waiting list of clients, be careful about firing a freelance writing client. Do it only after you’ve had a frank but warm conversation about what’s not working.
The trick is to have this conversation before things get bad. Have the conversation before you’re angry. Before you really want to fire them. If you wait until it’s too late, you’ll already have a foot out the door, and the conversation is much less likely to turn things around.