update: how to fire your oldest client

Remember the letter-writer last year who was trying to figure out how to fire a frustrating, high-maintenance client who was likely to take it personally? Here’s the update.

It went down as I didn’t expect – she got in a snit over a project (and by snit, I mean borderline abusive) and it made it easy for me to cut the cord, which I did as politely as possible, giving her everything she’d need to finish the project with another writer. And just like that, she was gone. Yes, I took the coward’s way out and waited for her to do something so bad it pushed me into action.

But that’s not the update. Firing that client was such a spiritually and financially liberating action, I went on kind of a client firing-spree last year. I asked all of my clients if they would pay my new rate, and some did, and some didn’t, and I left the ones who didn’t with oodles of referrals to other writers I hoped they’d love. Positive partings on all sides, though each one was just as hard as any breakup. I really love my clients, guys!

Now I’m making FOUR TIMES as much as that initial client paid, working with clients who highly value my work and with whom I love working! No more abuse. No more feeling like an indentured servant. Literally days after I made space in my schedule, clients poured in as if they’d been waiting.

So, to people who say “never turn down a job” – I politely disagree. Turning down jobs below my price point was the best decision I’ve ever made for my business and my quality of life.

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. A Non*

    *does the happy dance* Good for you! We’re trained so hard not to stand up for ourselves, it’s life changing when we do.

  2. Mike C.*

    My mother cleans houses and this worked for her as well. Much less stress and much more money.

    1. Artemesia*

      And often the serving person whether a writer or a housecleaner will discover people are happy to pay more if asked. I think people are often timid about advancing their own interests politely and are surprised that people find it reasonable to up their prices every few years.

      1. Blue_eyes*

        Yes! This year I’ve given myself raises for two different kinds of work that I do, and no one has balked at the rate increases.

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Yep. We just raised our (low!) rates for clients and were afraid that people would balk. A more common response was “we thought your rates had been the same for a really long time. This makes sense”

    2. SanguineAspect*

      I sent my mother (who also cleans houses) this article. I’ve been telling her for the last couple of years that she really needs to raise her rates!

      1. Sarahbeth*

        For what it’s worth, if it’s any comfort to your mother, my experience (being from a large family where my folks generation all hired cleaning ladies so the women could work after children) is that clients totally understand rate increases – their own salaries are often adjusted for inflation, if not with other raises, so it’s not unexpected that they would need to pay a bit more for continued good service the same way we pay more for gas and milk today compared to five years ago. A good, trustworthy, cleaning person has more value to a home than just the cleaning – it’s such an unusual employer/worker relationship that my experience is that families will happily pay more to retain someone. It’s just that the purchaser very rarely offers – for the exact same reason that I don’t offer to pay more than is asked for at the farmers market/grocery store etc. In my experience only the families where the hiring adults are managers offer automatic raises/bonuses – I think because they are used to worrying about employee retention and happiness.

      1. Jessa*

        Yes especially if it’s been more than one year since the last increase. Even if it’s just costs of living.

  3. Stranger than fiction*

    Very inspiring! I’ve never worked for myself but assume Id have the same reservations if in your shoes. So glad it worked out

  4. Betty (the other Betty)*

    From one independent business person (AKA freelancer) to another, congratulations! You did what you needed to do to grow your business and reduce your stress. Wooohooooo!

  5. Kristine*

    I don’t think you took the “coward’s way out” at all. It sounds like you gave both her and you an “out” and improved your business at the same time. Good for you!

  6. Artemesia*

    I think this was handled brilliantly although I think for the really difficult client I would have simply resigned and let them figure it out. However good Karma has followed the OP so her approach was probably the wise one.

  7. Vancouver Reader*

    Good for you! I think it’s important to price your services based on what you’re worth, and you’re worth a lot. My dad used to teach tai chi, but he never charged much and I think people felt if it was cheap, that’s the sort of teaching they’d get.

    1. Ariadne Oliver*

      True that! When I used to temp, my agency would sometimes tell me that my minimum pay rate was too low. I told them “if people pay minimum wage, they will get minimum performance”. I interviewed at one office, very small, they had no secretary at all. They told the agency that I was asking too much money, and they asked for another younger woman who was willing to work for less. Shortly after she started, they asked her to make hotel reservations for someone who was coming in from out of town, and she asked if that would be for just the evening, or the whole night. They called the agency and hired me.

  8. NickelandDime*

    This is a great story. I wish more places would do this – it’s just not worth having one client cause this much grief. I know a business owner that allowed an abusive client, the client eventually left and because they spent so much time catering to this one client, they didn’t grow their business the way they should have. It ended in disaster.

  9. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    I’m a huge fan of firing customers. It’s something I teach to all of our reps. It doesn’t come naturally to people whose job otherwise is to take care of and please but it’s a vital wise business practice.


  10. AFT123*

    I love this update! This is the kind of thing people like to hear on a Friday :) Go out and celebrate; you just gave yourself a raise, financially and mentally!!

  11. Dawn*


    B: Carol Tuttle (who’s a bit of a cult personality I know) has a thing called “Ask for what you’re worth (even if it freaks you out a little)” and this is the EMBODIMENT of that! You stood up for yourself and finally said “Hey all y’all, I kick butt and I know it, get on my level!” and now you’re so much better off for it :)

  12. Menacia*

    Perfect example of the Law of Abundance. You opened yourself up to what you wanted, and you got it! Good for you!

  13. penelope pitstop*

    Heart swell! On Fridays, happy updates make me walk a little lighter into the weekend. Thanks for the lift.

  14. louise*

    LOVE THIS UPDATE! Yes, I’m shouting that. And sharing a kit kat with you from my super-secret stash.

  15. MsChanandlerBong*

    Wonderful news! I’m a freelance writer, and I’ve had this problem several times. I used to be under the misguided assumption that “[Low sum of money] is better than nothing,” but it turns out it’s not. When you’re slaving away on low-paying projects, you don’t have the time to look for good clients who pay fair rates. So glad to hear you fired the people who weren’t paying your desired rates.

  16. TootsNYC*

    It’s amazing how letting go of something that’s not quite optimal can create a vacuum that pulls in something better.

    You can’t go looking for better-paying clients when you’re busy solving problems with poorly paying ones.

    One another forum recently, someone said that while she was working for an abusive boss, the abuse was an absorbing problem to solve–it sucked up a lot of time and energy and focus, with her trying to fix it. Once she said, “Forget this,” and got a new job, she’s amazed at how much more energy she’s got. In general.

    Or, as Dallas says: “No is a password to the next level!!” (love that!)

    Good for you@!

    (And I totally get the “waiting until she’s crossed a line so you will feel stronger ‘breaking up.’ ” One reason I think you were willing to wait is that in the back of your mind, you knew that moment would come, and pretty soon.)

  17. K2015*

    I feel hopeful reading this. Yes, hard things happen… and sometimes… AMAZING, beautiful and fair things happen. Congrats, LW, you knew your worth and created your own good fortune! Nicely done.

  18. SallyForth*

    Because of “Ask a Manager” I set my prices high when I started freelancing. I learned to firmly say “$40 an hour” and not blink or uptalk and sound uncertain. I would have charged $25 an hour tops if not for the advice I’ve read here.

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