How to Break Up With a Client: Tips & Advice

You’ve got a bad client. Make that a really bad client. They weren’t always that way, but things changed. You grew apart. You need to break up. But how do you do it?

You can gracefully end a client relationship. It might not be easy, but if you have thought about cutting ties with someone who contributes to your income, it is likely time to part ways.

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It’s Time to Break up When…

There are some situations where a client break up is inevitable. If you have a client that does not pay on time, for example, that’s an easy relationship to end. But what about all those gray areas when you know things aren’t working, but they aren’t really bad either?

You have to listen to your gut on many of these. How will it impact your overall work and creativity not to have this client? How will it impact your overall business?

Common situations that result in a client breakup include:

  • Ignoring or disregarding contract terms, such as fees and payment schedules or other conflicts.
  • Always asking to for a better rate. Maybe the client can’t afford you. (It happens, but you don’t want to sell yourself short.)
  • Every conversation is just negative.
  • You don’t have enough time or they don’t give you enough work to justify your time.
  • You are moving on to other things because the business has grown. As you develop as a freelancer, the kinds of jobs you take on might change over time, older clients may not fall into the new paradigm.

Now that you understand those situations when a breakup is coming, just how exactly do you do it without burning bridges? The first step is to think long and hard about the decision; don’t rush to break a client relationship because of one bad meeting. Once you know the choice is right for your business you can start by talking with the client.

Have a Conversation

Breaking up with a client starts with an honest conversation. You need to let the client know the relationship is not working and why.

And you should probably avoid the phrase “break up” when you are talking with a client.

Rehearse a simple conversation if you need to. Let the client know what expectations you have and how they are not being met (if that’s the problem) or how the relationship has changed and why it might be best for both sides to move on.


Give a Proper Notice

You need to finish ongoing projects and provide a reasonable notice so clients can find someone else. You don’t have to stay on board for another six months. In most instances two weeks or to a natural project stopping point is sufficient.

Personally, I have found that just after the completion of a project is a good time for this handoff. The client feels like they are caught up on work and you don’t have a long list of leftover tasks to account for.

Offer Options for the Client

Help create a smooth transition for clients by providing options for how to move forward. This can be especially important for long-term clients or those that you have outgrown, because they might not know where to go.

Here are a few of the suggestions you can provide:

  • Other freelancers that do similar work
  • Help interview a replacement
  • Provide tools that they can use in the meantime
  • Turn over all files, passwords, etc. that belong to the client
  • Touch base with a replacement and brief them on the work you’ve done

In addition, you can remind clients that you do have their best interest in mind and will continue to refer their business.

Don’t Waffle

Occasionally you will come across a client that does not want you to go. Don’t waffle. If you are breaking up for a reason – it should be a deal-breaker situation, right – don’t change your mind because you feel guilty.

This is a vicious relationship cycle that’s not good for anyone. In fact, you will lose what little control over the situation you might have if you give into client demands when the end goal is to stop working with them altogether. Know what you want and stick to it. Be confident and in control.

Thank the Client

It is important to break up amicably. You don’t want to burn bridges with any client.

Thank the client for their business. And move on.

If a client asks, be honest about the reasons for the breakup. But it is tricky territory. Don’t criticize the client or point fingers. Speak in general terms about why you are leaving if necessary, such as “the work isn’t a fit for my business anymore. Thanks for the experiences you have provided me with along the way.”

Put It in Writing

Once you’ve had the conversation and mapped out a transition plan, put it all in writing and send it to the client. (Email is OK for this.)

You want to make sure that you and the client are on the same page. Think of this as the termination contract. It outlines what you still have left to deliver to the client and any associated deadlines, any outstanding payments they owe you and any other terms that you discussed, such as your last day of “work.”

The email can also include your “thank you” and potential references you are providing to the client for future work. Try to keep the email simple and short; it should not be overly complicated.


Keep it Professional

All client-ending communications should be professional. You never know when your paths may cross again or when another potential client might call for a reference.

This is a business relationship – even if it is an ending one – and should be handled with utmost care.


Finally, there’s one more way to break up with a client. Some relationships just fall off or end naturally. You’re caught up on everything the client has asked you to do, all bills are paid but they just aren’t brining in additional work. These relationships sometimes just fade away in a manner that works for both parties.

But chances are if you clicked on the title of this article, you are looking to break it off with client. Good luck!

Freelancing 101 is an occasional series to help the increasing number of freelancers in the market. Whether you are a designer, writer, developer or wear multiple hats, we will share tips, resources and ideas to help you make the most of your small business. Is there something in particular you want to know? Let me know at [email protected].