How to politely fire a client?
June 15, 2009 12:03 PM   Subscribe

How to politely fire a client?

I'm trying to get out of the freelance web design/programming biz. My 'real' job in enough.

I have a client whose project started small, but is turning into a scopecreep nightmare. The originally requested work is completed and invoiced, and now I would like to bow out.

Please help me compose a polite message that will definitively end the parade of feature requests, but not result in an angry client. I'm sure from his point of view, we are in the middle of this project, but we are *well* beyond what I signed up for.

I realize this is a sort of silly question, but I've not had to do this before, and I'm unsure of the etiquette involved.

Throw-away email if you have questions:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You can't control whether the client gets angry. All you can do is behave professionally and know that you did all you could.

Tell the client that due to other demands in your business, you must set a deadline beyond which you will no longer be able to work on the project. Tell them that you will not be accepting feature requests after X date, and that you will not be able to continue to work on the project after Y date. Outline the documentation of your work that you will provide if they wish to continue the project with another designer. Be firm and clear. The client may get mad, but this is all you can do.
posted by decathecting at 12:09 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Tell him the scope of the job has expanded beyond your capacity to carry it out and that you will be unable to work on it after x weeks. Where x is a number that gives him enough time to secure support elsewhere.
posted by IanMorr at 12:11 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

You can't control whether the client gets angry. All you can do is behave professionally and know that you did all you could.--posted by decathecting

Eponymsterical, but also great advice.
posted by OmieWise at 12:11 PM on June 15, 2009

"I'm taking my business in another direction, so I don't plan to continue with this project. Since we're at a good place for a handover, let me introduce to this guy to take over."

It's like breaking up. It can seem awkward, and it can go very badly if you fumble it. But if you're very straightforward and reasonable about the fact that you're getting out of the freelance business, and so want to hand the customer off to someone else, then there should be no hard feelings, especially if you promise to be available to the next guy if he has any questions. If the next guy is someone you're providing to them, so much the better because you can ensure it's not some incompetent twat who's always bugging you.
posted by fatbird at 12:13 PM on June 15, 2009

Having had to do this in the past, I'm not sure you can guarantee that you can do so without pissing the client off, but saying exactly what you said, effusively, is a start - that this is far beyond what you agreed to do in the first place. I mean, what was agreed upon is all they can count on you for, and unless future work was part of the agreement...

The only sure (ish) way to ensure that they won't be annoyed is if you can line up someone else to continue the work for the site...

But I decided to take on a design job for a client, who upon finishing the work, then continued to call me to help themdo other work, including at one point trying to get meto help upgrade their computer, and persuading them that that wasn't what I signed on for, and the fact that unpaid it certainly wasn't, was far easier said than done!
Needless to say, after a few months of repeated (unpaid) hassling from them, I stopped worrying about whether they were upset with me or not. But that's an aside.
posted by opsin at 12:13 PM on June 15, 2009

"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with you on your recent project. I believe that I have fulfilled the originally agreed terms of the agreement, and hope it was in a manner that you found satisfactory. Unfortunately, personal circumstances make it impossible for me to handle any ongoing work requests related to that project."

If you can hand them off to someone else and refer them, you should be covered.
posted by adamrice at 12:14 PM on June 15, 2009

You could always offer a bid or a change order in line with what the expected effort is for the next part of his project and then make sure that change order was significant enough to make it worth your while, it becomes a numbers and funding game at that point and if the client doesn't want to accept the change order they don't get access to you any longer...this is pretty typical for consulting arrangements.
posted by iamabot at 12:18 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, I'd do it via letter. Works better. Explain to him that you are closing up shop and as you have completed the requested work, you are going to close up shop. Finally, give the client the name of a reputable person who could serve the client should he require anything else.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:20 PM on June 15, 2009

You could also just raise your rates for all future work so high that they'll quit. But that may be more likely than firing them to make them angry.
posted by decathecting at 12:26 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have just been through this. You have my sympathies. Here's what I would send:

Dear John:

As you're aware, this project started out back in March as a moderate sized job. If you check our emails / contract / statement of work, you'll see the agreed deliverables consisted of:

* A
* B
* C

Now that the originally requested work is completed and invoiced, I need to set a one week deadline for any bug testing and bug fixes for this phase so that handover is complete. After those fixes, however, I will unfortunately be unable to work with you on additional feature requests, as my time from 21 June is already committed to other projects.

I would be happy to refer you to another developer if you would like to carry on adding to the original spec after the 21st. Please let me know how you'd like to proceed and I'll do everything I can to make the transition as smooth as possible.

All the best,

posted by DarlingBri at 12:35 PM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]

I believe this was asked before. Their were many good answers, one of the best was to raise your prices.
posted by chairface at 1:22 PM on June 15, 2009

Just say that your workload and demand for your services has increased so much recently that your rates are going up to $X*2 (or whatever you think is well beyond their budget). Thank them for the past work and say you hope to continue to work with them in the future and that if they can't afford your new rates you would be happy to recommend someone else more in line with their needs.

Works for me. If they continue to hire you, the increased rate makes up for it. If not, you can do another freelancer or friend who needs the work more than you a favor (of course warn them that they routinely go over spec or whatever so they can plan and deal with it accordingly) that they will probably return in the future when you need it.
posted by bradbane at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2009

I know I'm coming in late here, but I highly recommend having this conversation live over the phone or in person rather than in an email--or even worse a typed letter. You can certainly follow up with an email, and it will likely be helpful to have your points written down, but it seems from your question that preserving the relationship is important to you.

I've had to do this a few times myself, and while they're difficult conversations to have, your client will be much more appreciative that you took the time to "face them" directly. It is, as Fatbird mentioned, like breaking up with someone. No one wants a breakup letter, email, post-it... You want to handle this with class. And that means having the conversation over the phone at the very least.

Best of luck. These aren't easy conversations to have!
posted by ohyouknow at 5:17 PM on June 15, 2009

I'd suggest raising rates is not a wise strategy if your goal is to get out, as opposed to making it worth your while to continue. Once you've decided what you want, don't open a negotiation you hope will bring that about. Just don't go down that road. It that leads everyone off in the wrong direction. Your client may, for instance, meet your rate demand. Or they make a counter offer that isn't quite what you asked for but not way below it, either. Now you have to either appear totally inflexible (making you look like a jerk) or admit you were hoping to outbid yourself instead of having to tell them outright (makeing you look like a jerk).
Much better to clearly state what you need or can accept (which means you have to know that up front!) and let everyone deal with the fallout and get over it, than to let them discover the negotiation was a sham all along, and that in addition to losing their contractor, they've just wasted a bunch of time into the bargain.
N-thing an in-person, professional statement to the effect that you've appreciated their business, you now need to go in other directions, you'll finish (or have finished) what you've started but won't accept any new work, and would be glad to recommend someone or otherwise assist them in the transition. Then wish them well and thank them again for their business.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:44 PM on June 15, 2009

Seconding not raising rates as a wise strategy to get out. You may not anticipate well whether that cost raise is a deterrent or not. Besides, chances are you can't raise your rates enough to cover the scopecreep nightmare factor. And if it's not your 'real' job, then it's not really a rate issue.

As an aside, I am in the identical position you are now. I tried the rate approach, and it failed (for the above reasons) and it became even more nightmarish. At this very moment, I am procrastinating writing that same letter by surfing AskMe, only to find this thread. Sigh. Time for writing. And for what it's worth, there's no way in hell I'm phoning or meeting with my news. I will lay it out as suggested up thread, in writing, so that there is step by step written directions for moving on without my assistance. Best of luck.
posted by kch at 8:32 PM on June 15, 2009

I've dealt with this a few times. Repeating what a few have already said:

1. Do it with a phone call or in person. Email is easier but it's not the right way.

2. Chances are the client will get angry anyway. It's not your fault, it's simply how many people react to change.

3. The #1 way to reduce the anger is to have someone else to recommend to them to finish the job.

4. Don't try to end the relationship by raising prices. It's a great way to avoid new clients, but you'll make an existing client even more angry by raising prices.

The important lesson I've learned over the years is not how to avoid angry clients in this situation, but how to understand that they will be angry, but I have to do what is best for myself anyway.

Most clients are able to understand this after the initial anger/confusion passes. Many have even ended up happy with me because I referred them to someone who had time to give them better service than I was. But some are just going to be knee-jerk, irrationally, unprofessionally angry, and you just have to deal with that.

Also, when this is all over, file the experience away and consider it next time you're about to take on a new freelance gig. This has helped me say "no" a few times.
posted by mmoncur at 9:33 PM on June 15, 2009

All you have to say is that you're focussing on your day job, closing down your side business, and so won't be able to work on their project any more. No need to explain beyond that, and just give some basic documentation that will allow another developer to continue the work.
posted by malevolent at 12:55 AM on June 16, 2009

I have some new projects that are taking up a lot of time. I've gone really far from the scope of work we started with, and I'm not going to have the time to keep expanding your project. You're a terrific client, and I'd like to help you recruit someone who will be able to give your site the attention it deserves. I've got 3 prospects for you. You can look at their work at these sites: a, b, c. I'd like to arrange some introductory meetings when you've had a chance to look at some of their work.
posted by theora55 at 10:12 AM on June 16, 2009

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