Freelancers aren’t like regular employees but when it comes to that time where you need to fire one, there are still basic rules you need to follow, especially if you want to stay friends with them and possibly work with them again in the future.
I’ve been hiring and firing freelancers for over a decade. It’s never fun to fire. It’s uncomfortable. It feels bad for both you and the person you’re firing. But if you know it needs to be done you must do it now and not avoid it. I prefer the ripping-off-a-Band-Aid approach to the avoidance-and-delay approach.
So here are five top tips for how to fire a freelancer and stay friendly with them.
1. Get straight to the point
A common aspect of freelancing when it comes to dealing with difficult clients is after months of harmonious working, being suddenly faced with radio silence.
Speider Schneider describes the whole process of this and it’s certain that you couldn’t remain friends after treating a person in this manner. No one likes to be the barer of bad news, but the situation will only worsen as time goes on.
The bottom line is, don’t string your freelancer along.
As Todd Rambilas states in his article, all you need is a quick five or ten minute call to let them know that the relationship has come to an end. If it’s only been a short working relationship, even a quick email would suffice. You need to pick the best form of contact that reflects your working relationship. If you only talk on Skype, don’t send them an email for example.
(And PLEASE, for the love of Pete, don’t fire someone by text!)
Following on from that, if it’s possible for you, giving the freelancer notice before ending their contract is a great way to keep a positive association. Not only is it thoughtful but also more importantly it will allow them the time to find another client according to Alicia Rades.
2. Be honest and respectful
If you still want to remain on friendly terms with your freelancer after your contract is over, the best thing is to be truthful and respectful when ending it.
Alicia Rades points out that by giving them honest feedback and telling them the real reason for letting them go, they can’t take it too personally. Even if it is something they take to heart, as long as the feedback is constructive then at least they can learn something from it in the future.
She also suggests that if you were happy with your freelancers work but have had to fire them for a reason other than their performance (e.g. budget) then to offer them a testimonial. Freelancers are “grateful for this because it helps them build their credibility to help land other clients.”
Treating your freelancer with respect will in turn allow them to respect you and your relationship can remain a decent one. Being rude and “slinging mud” as Elizabeth Prybylski describes it “will reflect poorly on you for a very long time”. Always be polite and respectful.
3. Pay what you owe them
There’s nothing that sends a client - freelancer connection south quicker than non-payment. When you’re ending a contract with a freelancer, make sure you pay everything that is owed. Don’t try to avoid it and make excuses. This is a common occurrence especially when it’s for a service and not a tangible product.
Elizabeth Prybylski believes that “I just don’t like it” is not a valid reason to avoid payment.” The freelancer has done the work so they need to be paid for it. The sooner you pay them, the less stress and hassle there will be on both sides. You can have a clean break.
However, freelancers should be mindful to represent themselves accurately, establish clear expectations, and have explicit agreements.
Some clients may differ with regards to "I just don't like it" being a valid reason not to pay for the work. Personally, I have chosen not to pay for work performed by freelancers or contractors. I’m not proud of it. I don’t like doing it. I have done it only a handful of times out of perhaps a hundred or more engagements.
Several times I perceived that the freelancer or contractor I hired misrepresented what they could and could not deliver and then expected to be compensated for work that did not satisfy the client’s requirements. (As a client I'm not really paying for hours, I'm paying for results.) It’s never a good situation to feel like you have to not pay someone and I don’t recommend it unless you have a strong stomach.
4. Keep an eye out for red flags beforehand
Most people tend to drag on working relationships longer than they should and this can create friction. (Remember the previously suggested Band-Aid approach.)
Elizabeth Gast writes that you have to “Keep an eye out for red flags before your relationship gets to a boiling point”. This can be spotted by communication breakdowns, mood, and simple gut feelings. When there are red flags in a client-freelancer association, the key is to get out of it as early as you can, to avoid a major meltdown. (Again, take the Band-Aid approach!) Particularly when you wish to remain friends afterwards.
5. Make sure you have a contract and follow it.
For every project or client-freelancer relationship, there must be a contract. They keep things civil when barriers to communication have broken down and allow working relationships to be affected as little as possible. Once a contract is settled, there is an obligation for it to be followed by all parties involved.
Freelancers, in my experience, are notoriously bad with setting up agreements with clients. It puts them and their clients at risk. Written agreements exist for a reason: Protection for both parties. Use them or suffer the consequences.
Many freelancers avoid agreements because they’re not confident to propose one. Maybe they’re worried that the client won’t work with them if a contract is required. If a client won’t work with you under contract, that’s the client you should be very afraid of working with!
Elizabeth Gast describes a must have “Escape Clause” otherwise known as a termination clause in a contract. It’s there for both the client and the freelancer’s protection and because it was agreed upon during the original negotiations of the contract, it can’t really be argued upon when the time comes to use it. The Escape Clause is literally a way out of the contract that keeps the transition as smooth as possible for both sides.
Whether you’re a freelancer, client, or both remember these tips before you begin your next project and you’ll enjoy a smoother, safer experience.
What have you learned from hiring and firing freelancers? If you’re a freelancer, what could your clients do better to improve the working relationship?
Click the book cover below to get the first three chapters of my book for free...
Adam Dudley is an author, coach, mentor, and consultant. He writes. He mentors. He adventures. Explore, learn, grow, repeat.
Carrie Scherpelz says...
"I can't say enough good things about my colleague, Adam Dudley. He's a joy to work with--uniquely gifted and absolutely reliable. Out-of-the-box brainstorms and big successes have resulted from our collaboration. In fact, I consider Adam a rare master of the give-and-take communication that is essential to effective teamwork. Best of all, he's willing to share his secrets with others through his Mindful Business offerings."
Personal Growth from SelfGrowth.com