Letting go of a freelance client because of mental health reasons
September 20, 2017 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I need to stop working for a certain freelance client for my own mental health, and I'm not sure what to say to this person.

This question is a followup on my recent question about quitting a brand-new job -- that situation, which I agonized over, worked out well in the end. I'm talking about the same client in this question.

A huge project this client gave me this summer is completely stressing me out, but not a typical "Hmm, this is stressing me out" kind of thing. Until a month or two ago, my psychiatric meds were working very well, and recently they haven't been, and it affects my work. (Yes, I have an appt. with my psychiatrist next week, but I'm not sure how long it'll take to get back to a good place.) I'm doing OK with my other clients, and they're happy with my work, but whenever I think about this project, I get really anxious and have zero desire to work on it. My heart just sinks when I think about it.

I don't enjoy this work required in this project, either (which, yes, I do realize is sometimes just how work goes!). It doesn't help that the client has been disorganized in getting me the tools/info I need to complete projects (like, I need her to send some initial emails to certain businesses before I can start working on this project, and she said she would, and even after I talked to her again about it, she still hasn't, and seems like she's totally forgotten about it). Also, I'm not 100% clear on what she wants me to do with the parts of this project, even though we've talked about it a few times. I realize I should ask, but I just haven't... I don't have the motivation/mental energy.

Most of the items in this project should have been done already (like, in 2016, for example -- that's before I came on board), but mostly because of her own disorganization and busyness (and her hesitation to delegate), they haven't been. So with all this, I don't think I will do a good job for her on this project -- procrastination is the main thing I'm anticipating -- and it would be a BIG relief for me to cut this client loose, and a very positive thing for my mental health, if I can bow out. (It would be the same relief I felt when I ended up quitting the staff job with this client (see question linked above).) Also, I know I can replace this work with current or new clients' work -- and this client doesn't pay really well, just "OK." There are no immediate deadlines for this project, just stuff that needs to be done "soon."

What could I possibly say to this person to tell her I don't think I can do well on this project and maybe shouldn't freelance for her anymore? I am fine with mentioning my mental health, but I really don't know how to do it. I am also pretty anxious about her being unhappy with this news (of course). And I am very tempted to do this via email, because I'm also really anxious about talking to her on the phone about this, and I can't imagine that. We were acquaintances/casual friends before she even became my client, so that seems to make it worse. Could really use some advice here.
posted by trillian to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "I won't be able to complete the work you're asking for and I want you to have time to find someone else, so I wanted to let you know as soon as I realized that I am not the right person for the scope of this job. I apologize for the inconvenience and if you need any recommendations for other freelancers, I'm happy to give you some names. I wish you the best."

That's all you need. Email is fine.
posted by cooker girl at 8:20 AM on September 20, 2017 [37 favorites]

Yeah, less is more here. Cooker girl's script is perfect. If you go into any detail you risk giving your client entry points for arguing with you, or at worst you might unintentionally slide into unprofessionalism. Just politely tell them that you will not be able to continue working for them, period. Apologize and move on.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:23 AM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You might look for scripts on "how to fire a client". Here are a few that look pretty good -- #2 might be your best bet for this situation. Email is absolutely the best way to do it -- it'll allow you to get your thoughts together so you can communicate clearly -- but it's worth coming up with some plans for the phone call you're likely to get after the email. A couple of general communication tips for difficult professional situations:

- Don't over-explain or apologize too much. The wording in the #2 example I linked above is ideal -- you'll notice that instead of apologizing, the writer thanks the client for their understanding. That's a good technique in general.
- Focus on next steps, not on analyzing the past situation. Ultimately, the client's biggest priority is how to get the job done in the future -- no need to overanalyze. Recommend a competitor (if you know of a good one) and offer to help with the transition.
- If you get a phone call or in-person questions, don't get into details or a point-by-point debate. If you get a lot of "why?" and "can't we fix this?" type questions, be a broken record: "I'm sorry, that won't be possible. Thank you for understanding. I think [recommendation] will do a great job and I'm happy to send them all the job materials directly to make the transition as seamless as possible for you."
- Take a deep breath. It's ok. You're not the first nor the last to be in this situation, and it is possible to handle it professionally and be better off for it. Good luck!
posted by ourobouros at 8:24 AM on September 20, 2017

No need to mention your mental health. It is none of her business (and you don't need her gossiping). Also, imo you can absolutely do this via email. This is a business decision. It has nothing to do with your personal relationship. It can be handled in business ways.

A formal email stating that although you have enjoyed working with her, it seems that this project is outside of your scope or beyond your skillset and you will not be able to move forward, but you can recommend X companies who would likely be a more productive fit. Regards, etc.

And absolutely do not waver if she starts using your casual personal relationship to try and pressure you into changing your mind or a detailed explanation.

Obviously she doesn't care very much about this project/your work or she would be putting in more effort to see that you can complete it. So if you worry about making her mad consider that she could be acting this way because it's not that important to her.
posted by windykites at 8:25 AM on September 20, 2017

Best answer: If I'm reading this and your last question correctly, you went from being an employee of hers to freelancing over the summer. And now she hasn't gotten you the things you need to do the job without you riding herd on her? I think that's a doorway to client firing without even thinking about your mental health (which, sorry, that is never any fun even without crappy clients) so I might even phrase it as an "I'm sorry I'm going to have to let you go" email. You had time over the summer to really dive into the project, she didn't get you what you need, you've filled up your current calendar and just don't have time. Keep a door open to working with her in the future (where you can decide to accept or not accept work) but don't at all feel bad about saying you no longer have time to work on this.
posted by jessamyn at 8:53 AM on September 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with the above that there is no reason to mention your mental health. And I want to also say that I don't think this is a mental health issue. This is a bad client issue. That sinking, anxious feeling? It's a direct result of your client setting you up for failure. It's taken me years to learn to listen to my gut in these situations. Absolutely fire this client and congratulate yourself for noticing when a project is going to be much more trouble than it is worth.
posted by mcduff at 9:15 AM on September 20, 2017 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Adding my voice to the chorus of "Do it, don't feel bad, don't overexplain, don't open the door to negotiation." Do it via email. If you can't avoid taking a call, have a piece of paper near the phone that says:

"That won't be possible."
Be polite. Be firm.
Maintain boundaries.
Don't argue.
End the call.

I wrote up such a page when I was going through a similar thing, and just having it to look at when I had to take a call really helped me remain calm.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:52 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My next question, as your client, would be, "Crap, can you recommend somebody else?" so you should have an answer for that ready. Preferably two names with accompanying phone numbers.
posted by radicalawyer at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

A compromise could be that you tell her you're going to have to stop work with her until she can get you the materials you need and tasks completed, and that you're going to have to move on to other clients until that happens, and once it does you can work out a schedule for the remaining work.
posted by rhizome at 2:57 PM on September 20, 2017

Head over to Clients from Hell and read a few incidents (or a few hundred) to get a sense of what's reasonable-if-flakey client behavior vs what's "client hires freelancer; insists it is now freelancer's job to fix all of client's problems."

They've also got some scripts for how to quit a client - it comes down to not giving out information, and sticking to polite variations of, "I am sorry for the inconvienience, but I can no longer work on this project."

The friendly version is giving a week or two's notice and an offer to transfer whatever info you have to the new person; that doesn't involve discussion with the employer. If you're only paid for direct time work, then that becomes, "I can wait up to two weeks, [date goes here], for you to find a new contractor, and I'll be happy to hand over my working notes to them. Otherwise, I'll transfer the info to your [email/dropbox/whatever] at that time, and I will no longer be available for consultation."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:42 PM on September 20, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the advice and encouragement. I've marked a bunch of best answers, and really, all the answers were helpful to me. I am going to email the client today ... probably right now.

Also, I kinda think it's a sign that just this afternoon, a day after posting my question, I got an offer of a new freelance project from a past/occasional client (one who is a good client to work for).
posted by trillian at 2:11 PM on September 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, I did it! Again, big thanks to everyone who commented. You can probably tell that this was such a big thing in my head -- it was making me so anxious, both the client and ending the client relationship, and now a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And she didn't even call me after she got the email (yay), so it must have been clear it was final. I'm sure she's pissed, but I had to do this.

Big thanks to cooker girl for that script and to ourobouros for the link to other scripts. In case it'll help anyone who comes across this in the future, I'll copy my email here:

It's been great working together, but I won't be able to complete the work you're asking for regarding the contractual deliverables, and I want you to have time to find someone else, so I wanted to let you know as soon as I realized I'm not the right person for this job. It probably makes sense to end our work relationship there, because without that project, there isn't a lot remaining.

I apologize for the inconvenience, and below there are a few recs for freelancers who might be able to help you out. Here's what you can expect from me in the coming week:

[5-item list of stuff I will send her]

*Here are 3 freelancers I'd recommend as a good match:

[list of freelancers with phone numbers, locations, specialties, and websites/LinkedIn]

posted by trillian at 5:52 AM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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