Sign in

How to break up with a client the right way

As you probably already know, managing clients can be harder than managing the actual project they want you to do for them. Ending a working relationship with any client, old or new, can have a lot of nuance depending on the context.

break up with a client

We've broken this process down in to 6 simple steps to help you cover your bases and end this relationship the right way.

  1. Review your contract
  2. Decide if you want to go through with this
  3. Choose a method of termination
  4. Plan
  5. Terminate
  6. Follow up (or not)

Step 1: Review your contract

Before you go through with ending a client relationship, check if the contract you have with them allows this. Often times, contracts will have exit clauses spelled out with clear expectations. There are often stipulations though, like you may need to buy your way out, give a certain period of notice, or hand over all existing work and not be paid for it.

In any case, it will be a business decision you'll need to make. If the exit clause has no unreasonable demands and you can get out cleanly, go for it! However, if you end up taking a large hit, or the contract has any stipulation that hurts you, you may want to re evaluate the decision.

Step 2: Decide if you want to go through with this

Value of freelance services

Have an honest conversation with yourself and really drill down on why you want to fire this client. There may be ways to alleviate whatever the issue is without actually firing the client. Are they really a bad client, or are they a great client client that has unused potential? Let's drill into that a bit more.

Signs of a problem client

We all want to have a great working relationship with our customers, but sometimes we have to deal with nightmare clients. What are the signs to look out for?

  • They are micromanaging you, asking for full details of every moment you bill
  • They keep asking for do-overs of completed work
  • They ask you to reduce your rate
  • They give unreasonable demands around timing or feasibility
  • They do not treat you with respect in your interactions with them

If any or all of these relate to your specific case, then yeah - for your own mental health, it's probably a good idea to cut this client from your freelancing business.

Signs of a client relationship that could be repaired

Maybe there isn't an issue with the specific client, but just something abstract that could probably fixed. These are a few examples of things that can be fixed:

  • You want to make more money. Fix: ask for more! We have an entire article about negotiation, before losing the client entirely, you may as well ask.
  • They have unreasonable expectations. Fix: communicate! Be very transparent about what you can deliver with them in the future, and set the expectation from the get go to be a realistic one.
  • You are having a hard time delivering. Fix: ask for help! Hire a second freelancer to work alongside you, use them as a subcontractor. You of all people should know how good freelancers are as a resource. It would be pretty easy for you to charge your client a set amount of money, take a small cut, and pay the rest out to the subcontractor. Who knows, you could end up creating an agency inadvertently.

Think about what it would take for you to stay

Alright, so you've gotten to the point that you've more or less decided you don't want to work with this person anymore. For an interesting thought exercise though, really think about what it would take for you to stay. Say you have a client that epitomizes difficult clients in an almost satirical form. You currently earn $50 an hour by working with them. What if they were to pay you $500 an hour? Would that be enough for you to stay?

Whatever the number, it's worth a shot to ask. Sometimes freelancers don't want to work with a certain client, but they'll do it anyway if the money is right. Ask for more money, see if there is any wiggle room on your current pay. If they say no, no hard feelings - proceed with firing them.

Step 3: Choose a method of termination

When it comes to breaking up with a client, there are a few ways to do it. Some are better than others, some are pretty much horrible ideas that you shouldn't do. Among the horrible ideas are things like ghosting - don't do that. Remember, you're a professional - it's a small world, seemingly meaningless interactions can end up playing an important role in your future. Never burn bridges. Let's go over the two main options for terminating a client.

fork in the road

Verbal: In person, on the phone, or over video

Back in the day, this was pretty much what you were supposed to do. When ending any relationship, be it romantic or business, you should do it verbally. Times are changing though, and this isn't necessarily the only option anymore. It's still probably the most respectful way to fire good clients, especially if you care abut looking like the bigger person.

If you want to be as personable as possible, and maybe you really want to maintain a good relationship with this client, this is the recommended way to go.

Text based: Email, chat app, etc

It's 2023. At least half of all breakups occur over text message. It's just kind of normal now, so clients won't really give it any thought if this is the route you go. I don't recommend sending a text though, you should probably send an email.

If you just don't want to face this client head on but still want to be respectful and explain why you are ending this relationship, email is a good option. It sometimes is even better than verbally ending the contract because it's a lot easier to get your full thought process out when you have all the time in the world to get an email together, rather than thinking on the fly during a call.


We've all been there. You're at the point where you don't care about burning bridges, you just want to move on with your life and rid yourself of problem clients. I absolutely don't recommend this, but if this is what you need to do for your mental health, I can't fault you too much.

Just know, sending an email can take less than 2 minutes. It will also remove any ambiguity - your client will know the relationship is over. If you just ghost them, they may still try to contact you and ultimately add to the stress you may be feeling. It's so much better for both you and the client to send the email. You don't need to lie and say you enjoyed working with them or anything like that, it's fine to just send 1 or 2 sentences getting the message across that you're done.

If you go the ghosting route, it's a surefire way to ruin any chances of keeping that door open. You never know what the future holds - maybe you find yourself in a desperate situation where you need business desperately. That's my pro tip for the day - avoid ghosting no matter what.

Step 4: Plan

Now, depending on which option you chose above, it's time to get your plan together. Let's go through it.

Planning to fire a client verbally

So! You've decided to use your physical voice to let the client know that you're out. Good for you! Sometimes, this can feel like a pretty intimidating conversation going in so it's best to just prepare a script at a high level. Personally, I like to refer to bullet points when I'm giving presentations or anything like that, so I'll give you a solid outline to use.

  • Conversation starts. Hi, hello, how are you doing?
  • Client asks what the call is about.
    • Get to the point. You are calling to let them know you can no longer work on this project.
    • Give them an excuse. You don't have enough time, you don't think you are a good fit and they could find a consultant that is better fit for the project, etc.
    • Give them an exit date. Try to help them out by ensuring a smooth transition period and not leaving them high and dry with essentially no notice.
  • Client sounds surprised
    • Apologize and empathize
    • Wish them wealth, health, and happiness
    • End the conversation

Now, with this client breakup script, you can prepare pretty well. Have a general idea of what you're going to say based off of this script and you're golden.

Planning to fire a client over email

It's perfectly acceptable to send a message to a client to end the relationship these days. In fact, they may prefer it - it's a lot less awkward.

When crafting a breakup email for a client, there's a few things you'll want to add.

  • You can no longer continue working with them
  • Why you want to end the contract (best to sugar coat here, if they were a bad client, just say you have other obligations and not enough time)
  • End on a positive note, like how you enjoyed working with them in some form
  • Ask them to keep in touch (this is basically code for "remember me if one of your friends is looking for somebody with my skillset")
  • Thank you and goodbye

With those bullet points listed, lets just put together a client breakup email template that you can use for your specific scenario.

Dear [CLIENT],

I'm just writing to let you know that I won't be able to continue working with you and the team on this project.

While I've absolutely enjoyed working on this project, there have been some recent changes to my schedule that significantly reduce my availability.

My last day will be [DATE].

I hope this didn't catch you too off guard or affect your timelines too much! I hope we can still keep in touch.

All the best,

Step 5: Terminate

fire a client

If possible, do this as soon as you possibly can. There's no point kicking the can down the road, it's best for you and the client to get this information out there as soon as possible.

If you're sending an email, use the client breakup template above and send it over. It should only take a few minutes.

Otherwise, if you're doing it verbally - I recommend the "Hey, [CLIENT] - have a minute to chat?" approach. Get their attention and ask to chat. Drop the news during said chat, use the script outline from above. If they don't have time, get a meeting set up on their calendar. Schedule it as soon as you can, get it over with so it's not weighing on your mind and you don't leave the client hanging.

Step 6: Follow up (or not)

Congratulations! You did it. Good job - was that so hard?

After a few weeks or month, you may want to send a follow up email. You could even give them a phone call. Absolutely not required, but it's just a nice courtesy thing to try and get your name to the top of the clients mind should you be looking for a new client to take on.

It's good to just keep that relationship going, they can recommend you to new clients that need similar services. Business relationships are everything, a lot of freelancers meet other clients by leveraging former and existing clients. This is why it is so critical not to burn any bridges.

Bad clients can be bad to work for, but maybe they're a great networking resource to meet your ideal clients. Take lemons and turn them in to lemonade. Take a problem client and use them to meet good clients. Be a professional.

Avoiding this situation in the future

Anybody that has been self employed for a few years has dealt with this at some point. It starts with a phone call, you start the contract thinking you're on the same page - next thing you know, they become one of your less than ideal clients.

How can you avoid problem clients and similar situations the future?

  • Draw up an exit strategy within the contract. Give yourself an easy way to get out of a bad situation.
  • Do outstanding work. Be amazing at what you do - if you outperform expectations, clients will start treating you really well, financially and personally.
  • Leverage existing great clients for future business referrals. It's not always the case, but generally good clients will recommend other good clients.

In conclusion

Hopefully this helped you navigate another tricky situation. If you have any questions - ask us! We want to be the worlds most helpful resource for freelancers, this is a new website, we are all ears.

Interested in getting our monthly state of freelancing newsletter?

One email each month where we outline freelancing trends, do a monthly freelancer spotlight, and give you tips to grow your freelancing pursuit.


All rights reserved.