As your copywriting business grows, you will inevitably outgrow clients. Now, I’m writing this in part because I’ve done this poorly in the past, which I later regretted. The idea behind all of these methods of firing a copywriting client are sound, but only you know the right way to graciously move on from a client.
First, How Do You Know You’ve Outgrown a Client?
It’s important that you have an assessment criteria for this. Because, let’s face it, we all have clients we just kind of don’t like. They push too hard. There’s always scope creep and boundary resetting. They underpay or feel like they’re doing you a huge favor for what they do pay. It’s all kind of icky and unpleasant and you don’t really love it.
However, at the end of the day, they’re one of your copywriting clients and a source of income for you. And if I’ve learned anything in my own copywriting career, it’s that you want diverse sources of income. You’re the disposable one, and freelancing is inherently unpredictable. So, you can’t just be like, “bye, Felicia” to people who rub you the wrong way. You need to thoughtfully consider two things:
Can you afford to lose this client?
Do you have something to replace them?
You wouldn’t quit a “real job” without having another job in the pipeline (I hope). You should think of freelancing clients the same way. As long as those two criteria are met, you can assess whether a client is the right fit for you anymore with the following questions:
Can I make significantly more money doing this work for someone else?
Does this work add to or strengthen my portfolio?
Am I learning something from this work that I can use with other clients?
If any of those three aren’t the right answer (yes, no, no), you should reconsider ditching the client. Even if it’s unpleasant, a lateral financial move, a missed opportunity to enhance your portfolio or a missed chance for paid training for a marketable skill is a good reason to stick with a client.
At the end of the day, you ultimately decide if you’re ready to move on from a client. When you do, here are a few options for ending the relationship without burning the house down.
Ways to End a Client Relationship
Here they are:
Raise Your Rates to What You Want Them to be
There’s an important qualifier. Typically, you’ll raise a client’s rate incrementally over time. I do it once a year usually, and usually only by a couple cents a word. Even if you have new clients that pay you way more, it’s unfair to go to a client who’s invested in you and be like, “hey, I’m doubling my rates.” Unless, that is, you actually want to get rid of them. So, think about what you’d like to make with them, offer it up, and if they’re unwilling, that’s a clear mismatch and you can move on with grace.
Turn Down Work
Now, this will depend on the type of copywriting contract you have with a client, but you may be able to phase out a client relationship by simply turning down work. You don't always have to draw a line in the sand. You may even do this because you truly lack the capacity to work for them anymore. Unless you’re locked into a specific production cycle, you can turn down additional work. Especially if your client’s business is growing, and you don’t want to grow with it, this is a good way to underscore the need to part ways.
Don’t Renew the Contract
This is… self-explanatory, right? Just don’t sign when you’re up for renewal. Tips on that in a second.
Just Say It
It can be hard, especially if you do like a client and you’re leaving for purely financial reasons, to just say that you aren’t going to work for them anymore. But especially if it’s been a good client that has helped you grow, you owe them this. Just say it:
I’m so grateful for this season, but I am pursuing other opportunities.
You can keep in touch. You can keep in your radar, in fact, I have some advice around how to end in a way that preserves the relationship.
Tips for Ending a Client Relationship Well
Remember that reference to “burning the house down.” Applies to bridges as well. Unless the client is abusive or just absolutely triggering to you, it’s never going to be a good idea to leave poorly. Freelancing is a referral based business. If people like you, even when you leave them, you’re not only a good human, you gain the chance of them knowing someone who knows someone… and speaking your name in a room of opportunities. This is always a shot worth taking, and here’s how you leave well:
Offer to refer them to someone else, and even onboard or train that person, if you’re willing.
Make sure they have access to and ownership of all files and documents.
Over-communicate, both in terms of timeline (“In 3 months” is way better than “next week”) and in terms of expectations (“I will finish X, Y, Z and then I will be done”).
Be gracious. Even if you’re straight up over it, control yourself, control your tongue. Be gracious both to the client’s face and behind their back. Don’t be foolish or cruel.
Sincerely thank them. Regardless of how you feel right now, at one point you were excited to get an interview and land this client.
A lot of feelings come up when you make this kind of move. I implore you to exercise the utmost professionalism, remembering that clients are humans, leaving them is an inconvenience, and you aren’t just leaving a trail of half-done work or unkept promises.
Meet all of the expectations, set expectations, be firm with boundaries, be clear with communication, and get out there and grow your business and reputation with integrity and kindness. It’s the best way to ensure each season of growth is a good one, and you’re always moving forward doing things you’re proud of.