8 Signs to Drop a Freelance Client and Move On


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New freelancers think losing a client will always reflect poorly on them, but that’s not the case. Putting up with toxic clients hinders you from achieving your full potential. You’ll miss out on better-paying, less demanding opportunities if you blindly focus on improving customer retention rates.

Weed out projects that are bad for your freelancing business. In this article, we’ll discuss the most alarming signs that indicate you should consider dropping a client soon.

1. The Client Keeps Making Unreasonable Demands

Like most professionals, you probably try to accommodate every request from your clients. Although customer satisfaction is important, you must also learn to turn down challenging, unreasonable demands.

Know your limitations. Haphazardly taking on everything that your clients request yields negligible results. You’ll only end up exhausted and overwhelmed. To make matters worse, your client will only get disappointed at the tasks you didn’t finish on time.

Set your client’s expectations right from the get-go. Project management tools like Asana or Trello can help organize your assigned orders. If the client doesn’t listen to reason and stubbornly pushes their demands, consider dropping them altogether. Leave those who can’t meet you halfway with project goals.

2. Your Daily Tasks Are Always Beyond the Scope of Your Signed Projects

Two People Signing a Contract

Newbies should learn what to put in a freelance contract before accepting clients. Set the tone for your projects by explicitly itemizing your project goals, daily deliverables, expected responsibilities, and contract duration in this document. Leave no room for error. Poorly explained details will muddle agreements and create misunderstandings.

Just note that not all clients will respect contract specifications. In these instances, you’ll have to remind them of the project’s initiatives and your role. Assert your rights, but stay professional. If they continue ignoring your signed agreement and assigning out-of-scope tasks, consider terminating the contract yourself.

3. You Feel Like the Client Doesn’t Respect You or Your Time

Time zone differences will make it more challenging for you to communicate with overseas clients. Expect a few adjustments to your work schedule. You can also download time zone converters for more accurate conversions when scheduling appointments.

Create a schedule that suits everyone, and set clear boundaries regarding communication past work hours. A few urgent messages now and then are understandable. However, clients can’t outright disregard the established schedule and expect you to be on call nearly 24/7.

Stick to your work hours. Turn off your notifications, set your messaging platform profile’s status offline, and only reply to urgent concerns. Likewise, avoid disturbing clients during their time off from work. If your client continues messaging outside work hours and demanding immediate replies, then consider parting ways. Find someone who respects your time.

4. The Output You Produce Is Potentially Damaging

The internet is filled with unscrupulous people. Some crooks do more damage than others, but as a freelance professional, you’d do well to avoid them altogether. Avoid any task that involves potentially damaging output—regardless of the pay.

Let’s say a high-paying client is involved with politics. There’s nothing wrong with common strategies like writing campaign jingles, running social media ads, or producing short commercials. However, once they resort to negative campaigning, take your leave. Helping spread output like fake news articles and fabricated images is a serious red flag. No decent client would work with you afterward.

Note that unscrupulous clients aren’t limited to political campaigns. They could need to execute various immoral tasks, from black-hat SEO strategies to illegal dark web transactions.

5. Scheduled Payments Are Consistently Late

Tracking Payments on Transferwise or Wise

Regardless of the payment processing system you use, there will be instances wherein your clients send payments several days past the due date. Unpaid invoices are a part of freelancing. Although following effective payment collection systems minimizes the risks of late payments, you can’t avoid them altogether.

Learn to handle them appropriately. Apart from charging overdue fees, send your invoices via widely trusted apps like PayPal, Wise, or Payoneer. They can even help with debt collection.

To further minimize the risk of getting late payments, transact with clients through freelancing websites like Fiverr or Upwork. They mediate payment collections and releases. Just expect a 10% to 20% earnings deduction for the platform’s fees.

6. You Work Long, Uncompensated Hours

The Dashboard and Employee Insights on a Demo of Work Examiner

Before putting in more hours for a project, discuss the deliverables and compensation with your client. Individual contractors don’t always get overtime pay. Your expected output should align with the number of hours your client paid for, or else you’ll end up doing unpaid work.

Also, track your hours. Use project management platforms and employee monitoring tools so that the amount of work you do is always quantified. Some clients might accuse you of slacking off during work hours. If you’ve already done these things yet still get stuck with long, uncompensated hours, drop your client. They just want you to work for free.

7. An Overall Toxic Work Environment

A Working Woman Breaking Down While on Her Bed

As a freelancer, you have total control over the projects in your pipeline, so there’s no reason to retain an outright disrespectful client. Immediately quit if the client manipulates, gaslights, or insults you. Maintain professionalism by keeping a level head and leaving the project before things get out of hand.

Also, save your conversation. Should they twist the truth and report you to the freelancing platforms you use, you can use screenshots and recordings as proof of your innocence.

8. The Client Can’t Provide a Steady Workload

Not all freelance clients can regularly assign tasks. If your freelance agency or company has enough work to go around the team, you could request as much as you want. However, smaller startups and individual clients might not have enough projects in their pipeline.

Although freelance gigs are typically short-lived, you’d do well to focus on long-term, high-paying ones with daily tasks. A steady workload makes your income more stable and predictable.

With that said, you can still retain small clients—especially those that treat and pay you well. Just limit the time you spend on their tasks. It would make sense to prioritize clients that guarantee at least several months’ worth of work.

Learn to Spot Clients Who Are Bad for You

Don’t hesitate to let go of toxic clients. Just as they can quickly terminate contracts, you’re free to drop projects that negatively impact your finances, mental health, and career progression. But make sure to explain your decision. If the client really needs your services, they might try creating a healthier work environment.

Also, understand that your freelance clients will come and go. Instead of desperately trying to keep one or two major projects, develop a system that lets you meet your monthly income goals, regardless of which clients leave. Losing gigs won’t hurt as much if you always have enough work in your pipeline.

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