How to Gracefully Quit a Client before they Quit You

It’s the situation you dread the most… You get excited about a project, feel like it’s a great fit, and slowly the whole cookie starts to crumble. Eventually, you’re left with a big ol’ mess of crumbs and it’s time to decide if you’re going to spend the time trying to mash pieces together to put the cookie back together again, or decide if it’s time to wipe the plate clean and move on.

Writing this blog today because this just happened to me.

With 5 years of brand design under my belt, I’ve got a pretty good feeling when I talk to a prospective client whether or not we will work well together. However, sometimes there are projects that start optimistically, and end up not working out.

In this blog, I am outlining how to identify when a project is going south, how to approach quitting the project with your client, and how to end things gracefully so you, the freelancer, come out unscathed.

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Identify Red Flags

This can be easier said than done, but nonetheless is an important part of the process. I have a running list of red flags (that change often) that I keep close to the vest when speaking with a potential new client. My new project process goes a little like this…

If I get contacted for a new project via email or social media, I will direct them to my contact form. In my contact form, I have some pretty specific questions about the business/business owner regarding their brand. These questions include: mission statement, vision statement, ideal client avatar. If these three fields are left blank then it is a note to me that this person may not be completely dialed in on their business.

After I receive the contact form, I respond back to said client and send them a link to book a video call (via Calendly + Google Calendar). This is another quick test — how are they with technology. My ideal client knows their way around Google Drive, so making sure they know how to login, get set up on, and SHOW UP for a video chat is a major test.

During the video call, I also try and get a sense for what they know about branding. I ALWAYS give them the chance to talk first, and crosscheck their answers against these red flag Qs:

🚩 Do they struggle to talk confidently and consistently about their business idea?

🚩Do they say their ideal client is ‘everyone’?

🚩Can they accurately describe the aesthetic they’re after?

🚩Do they have a realistic budget and timeline?

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Know when things are Getting Rocky

Say one slips through the cracks… Now you’re in the thick of it, so how can you tell when things are starting to get rocky? Here are the warning signs that you may not be the best fit:

🚩 Feedback is slow - when I notice that a client takes a long time to respond to an outstanding message this is usually a sign that they aren’t sure what they want, or are unclear on their business mission or goals

🚩 Feedback is contradictory - On this project specifically, we worked together on a brand design questionnaire where we came up with brand adjectives. When the first draft feedback came back, I was a little shocked to hear that the client was looking for something completely different than what she outlined in the questionnaire. This is a great time to have the questionnaire to circle back to.

🚩 You’re backsliding - if you’ve already locked in steps 1, 2 and 3 of your process and the client wants to go back to 1 when you should be on 4, you’ve got a problem

⚠️ BIG WARNING: Micromanagement
I notice that clients who micromanage do so because they don’t trust my expert opinion. Famous micromanagement statements are:

  • “Can you just try______?”

  • “Can I just see what it looks like if you ______”

  • “I saw this online, can you copy that?” (uhhh no way jose)

It is my goal to present the BEST POSSIBLE solutions to my clients at every point in the process because I am a professional. Someone who wants to do your job for you doesn’t trust your expert opinion.

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The Graceful Exit

If you get the sense that a project should be over, give yourself the opportunity to quit that client before they quit you. I know personally that I tie up a lot of my self-worth in my work (my love language is words of affirmation, through and through). Being in a creative field on the one hand can be so exciting and rewarding, and on the other can be totally crushing when things don’t work out. When you sense that a project is NOT going to work out, here’s how you can make a graceful exit.

✔️ Point out the friction - identify where the pain points are and offer a solution to talk things out

✔️ Remind them of the terms of your contract, why those terms exist, and why they hired you in the first place - sometimes a gentle nudge to why you started the project is a good reminder

✔️ Give them the out - explain what it looks like to quit the process at the current stopping point and what you can do make the ending easy on them. Will you issue a refund? Provide them with files? Connect them with another professional? Do what is right here, without selling your soul, and your conscience will thank you for it.

✔️Sign off Politely - end things positively! Try your hardest to bite your tongue, and keep emotions out of it.

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Brush yourself off, get back in the saddle

Best thing to do when you’re down and out on a project is to channel your energy back into what you ARE good at. For me, that was taking the time to write this blog for all of you. Channeling the feelings of less-than-ness into creativity helps you to get back on the horse and ride off into the sunset.

Just a reminder that no matter where you are in your business, there are STILL projects that don’t go according to plan. Learn the lessons that you can, reconnect with the clients and projects that you DID succeed at/with, and then move on. Now, it’s your turn:

🤔When things don’t go according to plan, how do you get back in the groove?

🤔What can you learn about projects that don’t end up the way you wanted?

🤔 How can you ensure your client stays happy even when you’ve stopped a project?

🤔As a creative, what are your tips for checking your ego at the door?

Sound off in the comments or participate in the discussion over in my facebook group, Kiss my Aesthetic!