I have a Web & graphic design client that I've been working with since July of this year. Initially, the project was supposed to be completed, and launched, in full at the end of September.

The client gave me several red flags that lack of experience (and need for money) at the time caused to me to look past. Needless to say, it's November and we're still working.

My frustrations have grown out of their complete lack of trust in my skill and ability; they push past my recommendations for what their friends "vote" on, despite any facts, studies, "proof," etc. I send to justify my choices.

Additionally, they continually revert back to working on items they have already approved and confirmed are completed. As if that wasn't enough, their emails have become increasingly harsh in tone - even to the extent where they send follow up emails to apologize a day or so later.

As you can see, my questions here isn't whether or not to fire them but how, what wording to use, method, etc.

Our terms state they are to pay my hourly rate for each round of revisions beyond the standard 3. When beginning this project, I didn't have a solid method for tracking time (I use Basecamp and Pancake now), so I don't have a lot of proof and numbers to back this up, aside from a mountain of emails. I'm OK with letting this go. My terms also state that if the contract is dissolved at any point in time after designs have been presented, then 50% of remaining balance is owed. As previously mentioned, we have not launched their site, nor is any aspect of it on the client's servers. My plan is to deliver all of their files - code, design, etc. - to them once I receive that final 50% payment.

My real challenge here, is how do I get all of this across to them without having to engage in a back and forth dialogue of why? Might I encounter any legal trouble? I'm sure they are going to be upset and angered, what is the best way to navigate these waters?

I have terminated a few contracts and I have always agonized about it. However, termination goes smoothly because the client usually hasn't gone through the mental anguish over the project that I have. They usually are pretty calm and professional about it, despite whatever shenanigans happened during the project.

I always use the timeline as a reason for termination and that I have other clients waiting. Usually I give a good amount of notice before terminating and usually time it around the invoicing cycle. Not only is giving notice a professional courtesy, but it also prepares them for the work that is involved in closeout, which includes final payment. So far, I haven't left money at the table in termination, but I am willing to take that chance. I'd hate to lose the opportunity for better clients because I stayed in a bad situation.

For the agony I have had in deciding to terminate, I am rewarded with the great sense of relief that it is over. We are freelancers and our work is "at-will" and the only person coercing us to stay is ourselves.

If you need to cut them as a client, you need to do it sooner rather then later. Doing it later lets the problem build and build, and you carry more emotional weight when you finally do it. If it was a small problem brewing from a while ago, I'd talk to them about it, and possibly try to salvage the relationship. It sounds like you tried (showing proof, explaining reasoning, etc), so let's skip that.

(This section is 'in general') Did you sign any contracts? If so, check what the contract states about terminating the agreement. Hopefully, you wrote it (or had a lawyer write it for you), and there is an exit clause that gets you out of everything clean and dry. If not, there may be a penalty. Since you actually did have a contract, check it over for what you can do with their data (if you can hold it till they pay, etc). Definitely worth checking with the lawyer about it.

If there is no contract, then I would draft up a letter explaining that you cannot work on the project as agreed, and that they need to find another expert in the field. Explain that you are giving them one copy of any and all data you have regarding the project, and promising to destroy any other copies after giving them the backup, so they know it's not getting leaked to other clients. You do not need to give a reason for dropping the client, but it's up to your discretion.

IF you decide to explain why to your client, you need to make sure you remain calm; just like talking with someone who just saw their mom get hit by a car, they are going to want to blame everyone else, and will likely flip out. They may yell, they may fight, they may call you names or threaten you; remain calm. I dislike confrontation, so I usually stick to a letter, and explain that my workload has changed, and I cannot continue with this work relationship anymore.

Always thank them for their service, if you got any; if they have been a royal pain in the you-know-what, then just a simple "Thanks and Good Luck" at the end may be all you need. Remember, you need to be respectful at all times, because anything in writing can come to bite you. Before submitting the letter, have a family member or trusted friend read it over.

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    Thanks for your input. Thankfully, we did sign a contract and terms of service with an exit clause(the 50% payment). I have a pretty solid idea of the logistics, it's just the wording of the letter/email that's troubling me.. I don't really know how much detail to provide, if any. – AMC Nov 5 '13 at 3:21
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    Glad to hear it! Good luck, feel free to let us know in Freelancing Chat how it went – Canadian Luke Nov 5 '13 at 5:54

Although it may not be nice, you can always mention "your future projects which cannot start because of this one". You also mention how "you promised other clients that you will do their projects and you managed to prolong them for X days, but not anymore". You can also suggest another person to continue the project or a website where the client can find another contractor.

Am I understood that they still owe you 50% of the money? You should think of that money as well when terminating contract. I am not sure if you will be able to get some percentage of those 50%.

And as @Canadian Like said (there is also a saying in my country): "Never use you a*s to close the door", meaning that no matter how horrible he was, it's smart to remain in good relations with him and leave the job like a gentleman.

About the unpaid hours they may owe you payment for

There's an easy way to ask to get paid and not go back and forth; you can simply tell your client that your accountant needs to do the paperwork (or you're doing it) of the month, and you're sending your invoice before "closing" the month.

About completing the project

If you don't like working with that client because it's draining you, just don't. If your contract clearly has a clause about this then respect it and end your misery there.

You can simply send them the invoice for the 50%, and mention the files will be sent after this is paid. You shouldn't get in any legal trouble if you respect your contract but you should expect some drama and frustration though.

OR

If they're really a lot of trouble to deal with and you can easily find work with your new energy, just send them the files and mention that you no longer want to work with them, that the contract is dissolved in good faith. You don't need to justify anything, just make sure to clearly mention and have proofs that the files were delivered. For example, you can use Hightail and get a receipt when the files are downloaded.

Future projects

It's never too late to "update" your terms, and change the way you offer your services for your next projects. If you want to change the terms for the next projects, you can do it on your NEW contract.

If your client asks you why it's different, you can simply explain that due to the workload you got lately due to your extreme popularity and referrals, you have no other choice but to change the terms.

You can also set a hourly rate higher. It can be very VERY high if you don't want to work with the client anymore.

By updating your terms on the new contract and adding a higher hourly rate, your client might simply decide to wait before going further with this. You can read this, maybe it will help you getting paid more easily for the multiple revisions, and this answer to get some tricks about how to deal with clients or teams who send you a lot of emails or call you too often.

One suggestion for your time tracking

Freshbooks is a very good invoicing and time tracking system. You can install a timer on your computer and track down the time spent on each project, when, what, etc. Then you can use this to invoice your client. A real time saver and not messy as Basecamp. It's not for project management but you might not need Basecamp if you use Freshbooks and your email.

If you want some ways to easily track the number of proofs you sent and the revisions, you can have a look at my answer on this question.

  • FYI, this question is two years old. – user45623 Jun 26 '15 at 21:07
  • Well, the question is very specific to the individual that asked it. On the other hand, your answer doesn't address his question ('how do I tell them I'm no longer going to work for them?') at all, so it might work better as general purpose advice – user45623 Jun 26 '15 at 21:34

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