I have found myself in a situation where I am working on a project that I want to get out of.

A quick overview of my situation is that I underestimated the effort. Was also giving a good price before that fact. It was supposed to have a quick turn around but it has become clear that the client is still not 100% on what he wants. It looks to me as it will be open ended and will be next to impossible to extract profit from.

My client paid me the deposit up front along with the deposit for the first milestone, which admittedly was my mistake. I shouldn't have accepted the payment until milestone complete. There has been nothing in writing except a few emails. No formal contract. I have also carried out a nice chunk of work, which I am willing to write off.

So, to my question, what is the best way to cancel this project? Unfortunately, it will be difficult to met so it must be over telephone. I am thinking of opening with something along the lines of "I cannot commit to doing this project any longer." I'm unsure about how much of an explanation I need to give. I think I will say the delivery date is much further down the line than originally expect and no longer works for me. It is better to cancel now rather that both of us putting in more work and having complications down the line.

Have many of you been in this situation before?


2 Answers 2



Looks as if you've kind of blew it on this one. When a client reserves the right to make changes to requirements, then you CAN'T do fixed price and expect to make a profit.

Your only saving grace might be that you've set milestones, thereby making portions of the project severable. If I were you, I'd turn over the work for the first milestone, if it's done, and keep your payment for the same (which you've already received). For anything beyond that, either negotiate hourly terms or drop out.


You have a tough decision to take here. The good thing about freelancing is that you are more or less able to bail on projects if you 'change your mind', but it can be dangerous for your career.

A few factors to take into account :

- How much can your reputation be hurt?

If you've been hired through one of the main websites, canceling the project is likely to land you a nasty feedback. Be prepared to explain yourself to future potential clients, and also to be a bit less likely to get jobs in the short term, until the bad feedback is pushed down by new ones.

- Can you give the paid money back?

If you decide to cancel anyway, you have to pay the client back fully, no matter the amount of work you've put in already. Getting over a bad feedback is annoying, but if it involves money, any potential employer will see so many red flags that you won't be able to get a job anytime soon.

- Could you outsource the project?

Instead of losing the money, and to make something out of the work you've put in, maybe you can outsource the project, or parts of it? There's plenty of low rates developpers who can handle the most tedious bits of a project. Just be sure to not invest more money than what the client paid you already. In addition, you'll get an interesting experience on managing people/projects, which is always a plus.

Piece of advice : If you do decide to cancel, I would recommend that you do it in writing, to keep a record of the agreement. Some clients may feel frustrated and start getting nasty when you bail out on them. Keep things professional, offer to bring the next guy up to speed on the part you've done already, and everything should be fine.

The naughty way : I must mention it, because I've done it in my younger years, but I wouldn't recommend it. Remember school times? Kids were so inventive when it came to not do homework... Well, most of these tricks still work, and nobody will give you a bad feedback because your mom died/you lost a leg, or whatever you can come up with. It doesn't mean that they'll believe you either, but you can get away with the benefit of the doubt.

As an example : Last week, a client paid only half of my invoice, 15 days late, and told me "My pet just died and I was too upset to think straight". So I empathized and told him that everything was fine... School time never ends.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.