how to break up with a client

A reader writes:

Several years ago, I left a full-time job in order to freelance, and my most recent employer has remained one of my clients. I have been handling an ongoing series of projects for them, with the understanding that my contract will be renewed each year for the foreseeable future. However, the work has become tedious and I don’t really enjoy it anymore. I’d prefer to focus on other, newer clients who are a better fit for my schedule and business goals (and I realize that I’m fortunate to have a large enough client base to be able to make that decision).

My current contract with the company ends in a couple of months, and I’ve decided not to renew it. I’d like to notify them now to give them time to plan. But for some reason, I’m stuck for a way to word this notification gracefully. I respect the folks at this company and would like to maintain a good relationship. Any guidance you can give?

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 7 comments… read them below }

  1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    As they say in the Nike ads – just do it.

    It is no different than leaving a regular permanent employment situation. Just explain that you have chosen to go along other paths, professionally – and you’d like to assist them in transitioning to someone else — you can even offer to extend your contract a month (if possible) to facilitate that.

    Don’t forget, the reason this could be a contractor position is that your client doesn’t want to commit the slot to a full-time employee.

  2. LBK

    I really loved the update we had recently from someone who cleaned house on her clients and ultimately ended up much happier (and getting paid a lot more!). It was just such a clear illustration of how something that seems so painful at first can reap huge benefits, and ultimately isn’t as hard as it feels as long as you do it in a straightforward, professional way like the article suggests. Link in the reply.

  3. JessaB

    Just remember not to use the raise the rates thing unless you really are willing to fully and cheerfully say yes if they agree to more money, because otherwise you really burn a bridge.

  4. Hornswoggler

    If you are in a job that gets a bit dull, you look elsewhere. If you feel you’ve been in a job too long, it’s time to move on. Freelance workers need to have a bit of this attitude so as not to get stuck in a rut. If your client’s work was a paid job, you’d probably have moved on by now, be doing something more senior, be giving way to a younger and less experienced co-worker who would find the job just right for them.

    I’ve been freelancing a long time in a sector where you have to be very responsive to where the policy and funding is, and I look back over the past 12 years and see a path that changes direction, broadens or narrows in places, goes off the beaten track and darts back on. Hey, it may not always be great planning, but it’s interesting and I’m my own boss!

  5. OPforthisone

    I’m the OP here. I followed Alison’s advice and it was all completely fine. In fact, a year later they came back to me for help with a very different type of project that I enjoyed much more. Happy endings all around!

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