Breaking up with a client is not something that should happen regularly. If it does, you should be asking whether you’re in the right job. But occasionally it does happen. There comes a time when relationships break down, communication evaporates and resentment builds between both parties.
You find yourself being sent a barrage of emails with constant changes to things which have been fully agreed and approved and explained, but your client doesn’t want to pay for the extra time it takes you to implement these changes. Sound familiar?
So you try and have a ‘bash it out’ meeting to solve it. Initially, everyone feels better having said their part, the number of emails immediately reduces but as the project rolls on, the same old issues start to rear their ugly head again.
Everyone feels drained, bored of the project and the debate about ‘cutting your losses’ goes round and round inside your head. All in all, this is not conducive to a healthy relationship and sometimes the best thing to do is to part ways.
The main question that I’ve had at this point in the very few times this has occurred, is ‘have I done everything possible to resurrect this relationship?’ Its a tough question as, depending on your personality you can sometimes feel that its naturally your fault for not communicating properly -and of course it may well be. You can bash yourself up for taking on the client in the first place when there were immediate warning signs when the client started haggling over the cost of an inconsequential part of the project and they didn’t want to talk to you on the phone, only via email. You also just had a hunch it would not turn out well, but you needed the money so you went ahead with it anyway. Bad move.
Could try harder
Some key things I would advise thinking about in answering that, ‘have you done everything…’ question are;
1) Have you made every effort to communicate -via phone or face to face? If not then don’t quit yet. You cannot beat direct communication. Email is not good enough. I had a situation recently where a client was quibbling over the cost of making a phone call to sort things out -even after I’d offered to call him! Definite alarm bells. Eventually he called, but by then it was too late.
2) Have you clearly explained the issues to the client? Never assume the client realises the effect of their actions. For example, don’t assume they understand that they may be sending 10 times more emails than anyone else and thus this takes you ten times as long to go through despite the project being much smaller than most.
I had one client once who for some bizarre reason sent most key communication about their project via email, fax and post! Yes, you read that right. It was around 10 years ago, but still. I can’t honestly remember whether we mentioned anything to them about the waste of time and paper, but if no-one clearly explained the issues to them why would they think there was a problem?
3) Have you offered a compromise? When there are sticking points with both sides digging their heels in, offering a compromise can help move things forwards. Only do this if it does not conflict with your values. Hopefully it should go without saying that if a client is expecting you to do something immoral or illegal, exit stage left.
If money is involved i.e you haven’t been paid everything owed to you a compromise may be called for. If this is not easy to instigate due to the client being incommunicardo you may have to seek professional advice via a lawyer. This may result in the case going to the small claims court.
4) Have you run it past an external party? Sometimes it can help to discuss with a colleague or someone not connected. Its easy to get wrapped up in the situation and thus to be clouded by issues where a clear head external to the situation can help you see things differently. If the person knows you well they may be able to advise on whether its your own issues coming through in the situation or whether you do have a genuine grievance.
Making a clean break
So when you have done everything you can, its time to write that final email or letter. Keep it brief and to the point -and positive. Almost always there are positives to draw on. Saying things like I can see that we are obviously going in very different directions and we have both tried very hard to get this to work, but we have to recognise that sometimes it just doesn’t. We are not a good fit.” This is better than a slanging match calling each other names. That doesn’t help anyone.
Be the better person by encouraging them that you still want them to have the best project possible but its not going to happen with you. This shows you are thinking of what’s best for them.
If you have been paid everything that’s owed you, it may simply be a case of passing across files to the client. Some people charge for this but as you’re already having issues it might be better to just get rid.
The more astute of you will notice one key word missing from all of this so far. Its the ‘C’ word. No, not that one. Its contract. Its nice to think that every job you take on has a fully written up contract but the reality is if you deal with very small sporadic projects you may not think its worth the effort.
If you do have a contract, make sure you update it to cover all eventualities should the client relationship break down. There are several good contract templates. I especially like Andy Clarkes contract killer. It relates to web-design, but it can easily be tailored to your specific situation.
The small print
I have to get on record here that I am not a lawyer, thus none of the information within this post constitutes legal information. It’s just here to hopefully help you from my experience as a freelancer of many years. You take it at your own risk!
Over to you
Have you had any reasons to end a relationship with a client? How did it go for you?