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When to Let a Client Go

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Back when I was running Copyediting, a reader outlined the following client situation to me:

She’d been editing a client’s periodical for years. Then the publisher’s policy changed to allow writers more freedom and to ignore house style and common sense. The result was a publication that no longer looked professional, in her opinion.

The reader had been trying to keep in mind the copyeditor’s mantra: “It’s not my publication” and checking her ego at the door. But when was enough enough?

It’s easy to say that you won’t allow an author to plagiarize, even if the original source is Wikipedia or the author themselves. It’s easy to say that there are certain subjects you won’t copyedit, such as something that goes against your spiritual or political beliefs.

But how comfortable should a self-respecting editor be with throwing quality out the window? The answer, predictably, depends on the editor.

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If you have a client you no longer love, who irks you every time you work on the copy, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How aggravated am I? Do you avoid working on this client’s projects at all costs? Do you turn in sloppy or late work because of your resistance? Does working on the text ruin your day? If so, it might be time to let the client go.
  2. What am I getting from this client? Do you get more than a payday that makes it worth the irritation? For example, does this client send you a lot of new clients that you love? Do you get other benefits that you wouldn’t otherwise get, such as free training or software, and is it valuable to you? Do any of those things make keeping the client worthwhile? If not, let them go.
  3. Can I afford to lose this client? Even if all you get is the money, how desperately do you need that money? Maybe you need to replace the client before letting them go.

You became a freelancer at least somewhat because of the “free” part. You want the ability to pick and choose clients and projects and to run your own work life. If a client situation is no longer working for you and it can’t be fixed (you did try to fix it first, right?), then it may be time to let the client go.

Give your client advanced notice on when you’ll terminate the relationship. You don’t have to explain yourself, if you don’t want to. Tell the client in broad terms that the situation no longer works for you. Give details, if you think someone will listen and take the criticism well. But be cautious; it could burn a bridge you don’t want to burn.

Unless you want to burn it. Then, by all means, do.

Why else be a freelancer?

A version of this article originally published on August 18, 2015, on Copyediting.

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2 thoughts on “When to Let a Client Go

  1. Thanks, Erin. I’ve warned a client this week that I am close to ceasing work with them, and this just reinforces my determination to do so. I get paid well and promptly, but the stress of working with them just doesn’t make it worthwhile.


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