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Yesterday I met with a potential SEO client. We verbally settled on a price and both walked away happy, but now I'm having some serious second thoughts. I don't think that I can meet the promised results for two reasons:

  • First, I'm realizing more and more that the required work is outside of my skillset (I know, it was a pretty hasty decision).
  • Second, I'm already foreseeing friction between us. The client isn't willing to make necessary changes to her website due to her personal preferences.

All in all, I think that it would be best to end the relationship. I want (need) to handle this gracefully, especially because this client is a very close friend of another one of my clients, with whom I am currently in good standing.

How do I best explain this to the client? Over the phone or in writing? (It's a remote job, so I can't meet face-to-face.) Should I include my second reason listed above? Thanks in advance.

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You say you 'met' with the client and agreed terms. You will need to 'meet' the client again at the same 'level' at least - meaning if you agreed on the phone, you cannot decline by email.

The client will probably be mildly annoyed at the very least. If possible, a way to mitigate that, would be referring the client to another provider who you know will de able to deliver.

On the other hand, freelancing often requires going outside and even adding to one's skill-set. As long as the job is done, clients will not care that you actually learn on the job - as long as you are upfront and honest about it and do not claim to be an expert. So, perhaps you should view this as a chance to expand your skill-set?

Client friction is also pretty common when freelancing. Since you already foresee it now, you could attempt to address it by creating a contract or 'project description' where you agree to the process in the potentially troublesome situations. No need to involve lawyers to create a length document; a page or two is sufficient, as the most important aspect is having the client sign off on the process pre-argument.

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Sensitive topics are always best discussed ideally face to face. If that's not possible, then video chat or the phone is the next best option. Email and chat are fraught with all kinds of issues, such as lacking body language and eye contact which is important to convey the tone of the message.

With that said, you have two reasons for not wanting to take the job. One of them revolves around you, the other involves the personality of the client. The first reason should be enough of a reason to end the business relationship. I'd say mention that only, as there's no need to leave a bad taste in this person's mouth. You may want to work with her in the future.

One thing to make sure is that you didn't have a contract prohibiting you from terminating early without some kind of compensation. If the client insists you do the work, and if you signed anything in writing, you may want to speak to an attorney to find out how to proceed, but there's nothing wrong with having the conversation with the client to see where she stands.

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You need to stop the project. An inadequate skill-set is reason enough. You need to tell the client you made a mistake and have to cancel the project. You can find another reason for your second point of 'personal preferences'. The bottom line is that the longer you drag it out the harder it will be to disconnect from the project and the end result will be failure.

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Sounds like an opportunity.

You could either learn the required skill set, or involve a third-party to help you. If the money is right, collaborate a little. Perhaps you could even refer them to another freelancer who has all the required skill sets who might in-turn refer clients to you someday.

Whatever you decide, provide the client with an alternative and be as helpful as you can be. That way instead presenting the client with a problem, you're presenting them with a solution.

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