Should you fire your problem client?

Maddy Beard
Aug 5, 2019 · 4 min read
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Image for post
Edited from Unsplash

This week we wanted to share a story about a ‘first’ that we had here at Golden. Aaaand it wasn’t a good ‘first,’ but we learned from it and I think it’s something that should be more common to talk about, freelancer to freelancer.

A couple weeks ago, we had to fire one of our clients.

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We were being taken advantage of on a lot of levels and honestly it was affecting me mentally. I think a lot of people can relate to being “people pleasers,” inside and outside of business. That trait of mine is what kept this client around long enough to reach a breaking point.

I found myself spending hours answering angry email from this client about things that didn’t even have to do with design or our role. This person would call me at any hour of the day and rant to me. I had become their punching bag, probably because I was the only person who would listen and try to help.

But now I realize that wasn’t the right thing to do. In doing this I was unknowingly opening the door even further for them to overstep. They started to ignore the process that we have in place at Golden — Instead of requesting work and waiting for an estimate and an invoice, this person would send me random sums of money that they thought was adequate for the work requested. And I just went with it…


In trying to be easy-going, flexible and understanding, I allowed this person to manipulate me and our business that we work so hard for.

It finally took about 5 out-of-the-blue venmos(!!) and one last angry email (this time directed at me) to make me snap and end the client relationship.

I tell this story not to glorify the drama of it, but to tell you that this stuff can happen pretty easily if you’re not careful, prepared, and confident in yourself and your process.

Below I’m going to share some tips for recognizing that a client is taking advantage of you. These red flags might seem obvious, but in our experience it’s really easy to write them off and overlook the warning signs until it’s gone way too far.

1. Do they expect you to be at their beck and call at any time — outside of your working hours?

2. Do they fail to follow the processes you set in place?

3. Do they often pay you late… or not at all?

4. Do they fail to respond to you in a timely manner, constantly pushing back deadlines and affecting your schedule?

5. Do they expect things from you that were not originally agreed upon? (This is referred to as “scope creep” in the biz.)

6. Do they show a lack of respect in the way that they speak to you?

7. Do they fail to listen to your recommendations time and again? (This is something that bothers me so much — it makes me feel like I’m just an adobe illustrator robot who gets paid to crank out thoughtless, meaningless work. Blah.)

8. Are they NEVER happy? No matter how much you bend over backwards for them, are they never satisfied?

The number one thing we learned from this is that communication is everything. If you notice any of these red flags, bring them up immediately. If you nip them in the bud, they don’t have to lead to drama or client “break-ups.”

Be honest about what you expect from your client and what they can expect from you. If you catch it early, the conversation can be light-hearted and friendly! I don’t think clients always mean to take advantage, they just need to understand the boundaries and see they you’re drawing them with strength and consistency.

That being said, your business is stronger than one client. And you deserve to have a pleasant work experience!! So if you feel like you need to end a client relationship for ANY reason, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s done fairly. Just like any relationship, both parties should be providing value for the other. And if that’s not happening, it’s okay to move on.

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