Learn what it means to get fired as a freelancer, how to handle being let go in good and bad situations, and how to make getting fired a positive experience.
Getting fired. It happens to nearly every service provider at one point or another. It’s happened to me several times over the 14 years I have been freelancing and running my own business. And just last week, I was talking to a friend of mine who owns an agency and they had just been fired by a significant client.
When I was young and inexperienced, I took it personally — I wanted every client to love me and getting fired felt as if the client didn’t like me, didn’t think I did a good job, or didn’t like my work, or I didn’t do enough, be enough, show up enough, or give enough.
Now, I’m definitely not perfect, so a couple of times, getting fired was 100% my fault.
I was overworked, I hadn’t yet learned effective time management, and I had no onboarding systems, client care systems, or really any documented business processes to lean on. As a result, I dropped the ball on client care. I didn’t pay enough attention to these clients and because they didn’t feel appreciated, they moved on to work with someone who made them a priority.
While it’s important to own your mistakes, recognize shortcomings, and make the necessary improvements. It’s also important to understand that not every business relationship or client relationship is meant to last forever.
Reality is that in many cases, getting fired by a client actually has nothing to do with you.
There are all sorts of reasons why clients fire service providers. Some of the scenarios I have encountered include:
- Your work helps the client build their business, attract new clients, and increase their revenue to a point where they are able to hire a full-time, in-house person.
- Your client gets acquired by or merges with another company that already has people in place doing the work you were doing.
- The project that you were hired for simply ends and they either don’t need your services anymore or don’t have the budget to engage you for more work.
- Your primary point of contact leaves the company and their replacement, who doesn’t know you, has an established relationship with another provider.
- Your client folds their solo/freelance business to join an existing team.
- An invisible stakeholder you didn’t know about suddenly decides to take the project (or even the business) in a new direction.
- You become a scapegoat — like when someone on your client’s team drops the ball or makes a mistake and throws you under the bus because it’s easier to blame a third party than own the mistake.
- Your client simply outgrows your skillset and capabilities.
- Your client loses a big contract or client, their financial situation changes, and they can no longer afford to hire you.
- Your client makes outrageous, out-of-scope demands and can’t take no (or sure, but pay me for it) for an answer.
That last example is one I’ve experienced a few times.
A clear scope of work is defined and agreed to, a contract is signed, work begins, and suddenly demands are made for work-intensive scope changes and additional work. Scope creep, if not managed properly, can kill morale, motivation, and profitability. Unfortunately, not all clients respond well to being told that additional work requires additional investment.
In fact, some clients — crazy ones I call trolls, meanies, and haters — lose their minds.
- I’ve been screamed at, cussed at, threatened, hung up on, relentlessly berated, and fired for not agreeing to do free work.
- I’ve had a client’s boyfriend threaten to “hunt me down,” ruin my business, bankrupt me, and physically harm my children when I refused to provide a refund.
- I’ve had a crazy client follow me around the internet and trash my name for two years.
For freelancers without recurring revenue built into their businesses, getting fired by a client for any reason hurts because it often creates an unexpected dip in revenue.
Sometimes, however, getting fired is a blessing in disguise because it makes room for new great clients and exciting opportunities. It can be hard to think positively in the moment, but every time I have lost a big client, I’ve been able to replace the revenue (and earn even more) with very little effort and often in less than a month (thank you branding and marketing).
What To Do If You Get Fired
When a client tells you they’re letting you go and parting ways, it’s easy to let your emotions take over and let your imagination get the best of you. Your mind begins to race, you immediately think of every negative reason they could possibly have to fire you, and you start to get sad, angry, frustrated, worried, and worst of all, defensive.
Don’t assume the worst and always keep your emotions in check when speaking with the client. You can’t let your emotions guide your response and get in the way of professionalism — and burning a bridge is never a good idea.
Again, it’s important to remember that getting fired is a normal part of running a services business. As a freelancer, it’s something you’ll have to deal with because not every client is destined to stay with you forever. If you haven’t been fired yet, you will be at some point — and it doesn’t mean you did something wrong.
When A Client Ends The Relationship Nicely
Ideally, when a client decides to cancel your contract or terminate the relationship, advanced notice is provided. You may even have a termination clause written into your freelance contract that requires a 30-day notice of cancellation.
Sometimes the client knows that a merger, acquisition, or big change is coming and they can give you a heads up and time to prepare for the transition. Other times, Firing you isn’t their choice and they are simply the bearer of bad news. They may even be stuck between a rock and a hard place and they’re nervous and sad to be letting you go. In these cases, the client is often just as bummed out about ending the relationship as you are.
- If you get advance notice, show appreciation for the notice and help make the transition as smooth as possible.
- If the client is nice and making an effort to part ways on a good note, do your part to wrap up the relationship well.
- Consider asking if they know of another person or company that needs your services and if they would be willing to make a referral or an introduction.
When A Client Ends The Relationship Badly
Not every client will behave as a calm, rational, professional adult when they don’t get their way, a project hits a speed bump, or things don’t go perfectly. Some clients will treat you like crap, act like children, and throw tantrums. Others will toss around wild accusations and threats.
As a hard-working freelancer trying to help clients succeed, it feels like a punch in the gut, a stomp of your foot, and a slap across the face at the same time. You’ll be tempted to argue, fight back, and defend yourself. But honestly, that rarely changes anything because you can’t argue with crazy and you can’t rationalize irrational behavior.
Instead of letting your emotions run wild, separate yourself from the madness and do whatever you need to do to blow off steam:
- Address an email to yourself, write it as if you’re baring your soul to your client, then delete it.
- Scream and shout and vent to your significant other, friend, partner, or team member until you have nothing left to say.
- Share what happened with peers who “get it” and can offer sage words of wisdom. If you don’t have a community like this who has your back, join one like Profitable Project Plan.
- Try boxing (I love 10 Rounds from Beachbody of Demand) and work through your rage with a sweat-inducing, exhausting workout.
If this happens over the phone, via video chat, or in-person, politely end the conversation by saying something like:
“Thank you for sharing that with me and letting me know how you feel. I heard everything you said and need some time to process this and put together a response. So let’s stop right here and come back to this tomorrow.”
Stepping back from a volatile situation and pausing the conversation helps you and your client calm down and think fore clearly.
Once you’ve released all of your emotions, take a deep breath and think about what is best for your brand and business long-term. This usually means working toward a mutually beneficial solution or wrapping up the relationship as quickly as possible so you can both move on.
Getting Fired And Learning From It
When you get fired by a client, use your final conversations as opportunities to learn, improve, and make your future projects and client relationships even better.
- How did we get here? It’s okay to ask for some more insight into the events that drove the client to this point.
- Why am I being let go? If the client didn’t give you a reason for letting you go, ask. Let them know you’d like to better understand the reasoning so you can prevent this situation from happening in the future.
- What could I have done differently? Make sure the client understands that you took everything they said to heart, you care about the quality of service clients receive, and that you want to do better.
- Is this decision final? Don’t be afraid to ask if the decision is final or if there is an opportunity for you to fix things, mend fences, and move forward positively together.
Freelancers who keep their emotions in check when dealing with client conflicts create positive client relationships and valuable brands. Freelancers who overcome tough client situations and recover from getting fired become stronger, smarter, more experienced business owners.
Getting fired isn’t the end of the world if you’re freelancing.
It simply means you’re parting ways with a client who is no longer a fit so you can welcome a new client (or two) that are a great fit to your business — and that’s better for everyone.
It also means you’re being given the opportunity to handle a tough situation with grace and respect. If you can do that and avoid burning any bridges, it keeps the door open for future opportunities. I’ve had clients who treated me both terribly and unfairly later refer fantastic and highly-lucrative clients my way because they knew they behaved badly and respected how I kept my cool and remained professional.
Oh, and if you diversify your freelance income with recurring revenue (like by offering website support plans) and move away from reliance on a dominant client, losing that client won’t have such a drastic effect on your business. But that’s a topic for another day and a different blog post…