Fire your client? Sounds drastic, doesn't it? After years of global recession, shouldn't you feel lucky just to have any work?
Quite simply, no. The economic situation is changing and it's time to take back the power.
As a designer and creative freelancer, you have valuable skills. You're part craftsperson and part consultant, with a unique value reflecting your experience, skills and knowledge. That's why you're able to sell the fruits of your labour in an open market, instead of tethering yourself to one employer.
But when exactly should you hand your client their pink slip?It's not always easy to know, but we've been talking to designers and other creatives who've told us when they think it's right. Here are the seven types of client you should consider giving the sack.
In the early days of your freelance business, you'll take any work you can at whatever rate you can get. That includes work from clients who don't pay as well as you might expect.
As your business grows, that should change. You should end up with more work than you can handle and that's when you can start to pick and choose. The first clients to fire? Quietly let go those who don't pay your going rate.
But before you swing the axe, try to renegotiate. "I figure the best and rarest clients are loyal," says photographer Mark Likosky. "If they're willing to work with you to get the right rates, then hopefully you'll have a long lasting, lucrative relationship with them." But if the negotiation doesn't end the way you want, you have to be brave enough to walk away.
02. Clients who always want more
Photographer Ruth Ellen Brown tells the story of a client who would set a fee and then add in other demands. She ended up unable to cover her costs. "I started out shooting simple product work for the client," she says. "Later, they wanted creative, staged shots but didn't understand the additional work involved.
"I was able to negotiate upwards a little but it didn't even pay for my studio," she adds. "I was turning other work down so I had to, politely, let them know that I couldn't work with their budget and move on."
03. Clients who really need someone else
Thinning out your client base may seem scary, but every job that doesn't pay your full rate loses you money. The same goes for work that regularly takes you outside your comfort zone.
When you work outside your area of expertise, you spend extra time doing research and acquiring skills. That's fine when you're starting up or in a fallow period, but when your business is in full swing it will sap your capital.
"I've moved on from clients with projects that are not directly matched with my skills," says illustrator Cora Hays. "Usually, I move on because I've found other work that better suits my skill set.
"I tend to be very upfront with my clients," she adds. "So when I don't have the right skills for the job, my rates have increased, or if their project is outside my area of interest, I'll tell them so."
04. Clients who think you're on call 24/7
Sometimes clients forget that freelancers are people who need to eat and sleep. Journalist and IT contractor Nigel Whitfield told us the story of a client of a demanding client who really tested his patience.
The problems had been going on for some time, with evenings and weekends regularly disrupted. "I finally decided I'd had enough, after an email sent just before midnight with a complaint about something on the website and a demand that it be fixed immediately," says Nigel.
"I decided that it was time to give the client notice, and sent a letter and email giving two months."
05. Clients who breach contracts
Always plan your exit on your way in. Make sure you have a full letter of agreement or contract detailing your responsibilities every time you go into a new job. If your client asks you to significantly go beyond the brief, then you can call their attention to this agreement.
Having that letter of agreement will also give you a much smoother ride if you have to take your dispute to the Small Claims Court. Not every breach of contract is a reason to ditch a client, of course, but you'll be glad it's there if you really need to end a relationship quickly.
Bullying behaviour that is threatening or abusive is an unfortunate fact of the workplace. But here's one example where the precarious, commission-to-commission nature of freelancing actually works in your favour.
Investigations into bullying in an organisation can take forever, are hard to prove and can, ultimately, damage the victim as much as the bully. As a freelancer, though, you can simply stop working with a bully and just move on to another client.
"I had a client who would call me at all hours, insult me and my team, and claim we were behind schedule, even when the numbers showed we were well on track," says illustrator Marc Scheff, "Of course, this was after he insisted we move the launch date up well past my recommendations."
Life's too short to put up with people who shout at you down the phone or who send snarky emails. You have a right, as a professional, to be treated in a professional manner.
07. Con artists
Some clients are just plain dodgy. Technology writer Gary Marshall has a tale that beats them all.
"My worst client goodbye was due to theft," he explains. "The client asked to borrow some valuable equipment to photograph it and then refused to give it back. I tried to keep that one amicable but you can't really do that when you're telling director-level employees that if your property isn't returned you'll be calling the police."
Another respondent, who didn't wish to be identified, told us about a client whom she witnessed lying to suppliers about outstanding payments. "She would deliberately not answer her phone when she saw who the call was from. Or while the phone call was in progress she'd pretend there was a call on another line."
When clients are engaged in any kind of dishonest activity, it's a good call to get out. If they're willing to bend the law to make a profit in their business, chances are they're willing to bend the law with you.
Leave the door open
Whatever course of action you do take, it's important to stay professional.Don't lose your cool: remain businesslike and polite.Therest of the world may be dog-eat-dog but, as a freelancer, you have to be held to a higher standard - because your reputation is the most valuable thing you have.
"As a freelancer, I'm obligated to fulfill my contracts," says Cora Hays "Completing projects is very important for developing a reputation of reliability, so I work hard to avoid breaking a contract mid project."
Firing a client is never a decision that should be taken lightly. But ultimately, as a freelancer you don't have to work for anyone you don't want to. So as long as you do it in the right way, jettisoning nightmare clients can save your sanity, make you more productive and in the long run boost your happiness and profitability.
Words: Karl Hodge
Karl Hodge is a technology journalist who teaches Digital Journalism at Leeds Met and writes books. Follow him on Twitter @karlhodge.