As your freelance or consulting business grows, not all of the clients you have today will stay with you forever. Some won't be able to keep up with your fee increases. Others won’t want to wait when you have a significant backlog.
You may also have clients you simply don't enjoy servicing anymore, but you still hang on to them because you need the work.
If you’re continually marketing your services, over time you'll be able to replace these clients with those that are better suited for you.
But how do you shake off old clients who still want to use your services, even though you're ready to move on?
Well ... you need to come right out and "fire" them!
Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. So when that time comes, here's how to fire a client with professionalism and integrity:
Be honest. Give them an honest reason why you're moving on. Not only is it the courteous and professional thing to do, it also helps your contact communicate the reason to others. "We can't use Joe for graphic design services anymore because ..."
Be clear. Do not waver in the language you use. Make it absolutely clear that you won't be servicing them anymore.
Be professional. If you can, offer to connect them with another freelancer. At the very least, thank them for their business in the past.
Temper any emotional language. This is a business decision, so watch how much emotion you inject. It's okay to be human, but if you're too emotional ("I'm really, really sorry!") you'll actually make it sound personal, causing the client to have a personal reaction to being fired.
Can you fire a client via email? You can, but I’ve found that it’s best to phone the client. It’s much easier to recognize and correct misunderstandings and confusing statements immediately when you’re having a phone conversation. Email can be easily misinterpreted, especially when you’re trying to communicate something this important.
Although you should always try to end relationships on good terms, realize that some clients may take offense to being "let go."
If a client reacts negatively, despite your best efforts to sever the ties amicably, there's nothing you can do about that. There's no need to feel bad or guilty. And the client who reacts negatively is typically the one you didn't particularly love dealing with anyway.
Bottom line: Make sure to examine your client list regularly and measure each client against your own set of standards. And keep marketing your business, even when you’re booked solid. A steady stream of prospects leads to more and better clients. Which gives you the freedom and courage to fire the ones that that are holding you back.