When and How to Fire a Freelance Client


    Freelancing allows medical writers to take command of their careers by establishing and managing their own businesses. Owning a freelance medical writing or editing business empowers you to set your rates and schedule. As a freelancer, you’ll experience an equal mix of freedom and responsibility.

    One of the most challenging aspects of owning a freelance business is knowing when and how to end a relationship with a client. At first, it seems counterintuitive to turn down work. However, experienced freelance writers can attest that not every opportunity is a good fit. If a project or client seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

    Of course, avoiding bad clients is one thing. But what about clients you’ve worked with for months or years? Below, we discuss signs that it's time to discontinue a relationship with a client — and how to do so professionally.

    When to Fire a Freelance Client

    According to experienced freelancers Cynthia L. Kryder and Brian G. Bass in Pencil Points, v1 n6, “Anytime is a great time to review your client list and evaluate whether any of your clients are holding you back from achieving greater success.”

    Here’s the process they outline:

    • Make a list of clients.
    • Circle your slowest paying client.
    • Circle the client that demands the most and expects to pay the least.
    • Circle the clients with which you experience the most scope creep.
    • Circle the clients that offer work you simply don’t enjoy.
    Use these insights to determine which clients to let go of so that you have room in your schedule for more lucrative opportunities. 

    3 Reasons to Fire a Freelance Client

    Here are three common reasons for ending a professional relationship with a freelance medical writing client. 

    1. The client does not respect your boundaries.

    As a freelancer, you own your business. You set your hours and arrange your benefits package. You also get to choose your clients and contracts.

    A client who does not respect your contract, work hours, or requests for professional communication is not a client with whom you want to work. Discontinue your relationship with clients who are

    • Dishonest
    • Vulgar or demeaning
    • Unethical in any way

    2. The client does not pay a fair rate.

    It’s challenging to set your rates as a freelance writer. Fortunately, there are industry standards. You can research rates by checking AMWA’s 2019 Medical Communication Compensation Survey results. According to the 2019 Survey results, medical writers charge an average of $113/hour, while editors charge $93/hour. 

    If your clients cannot or will not pay a fair rate, stop working with them. Find clients who are willing to pay the rate you deserve, then let the low‑paying clients go.

    3. The client does not pay on time.

    Freelance medical writers only make an income when their invoices are paid. If you find yourself “hunting down” checks by reminding your client or contacting someone in a position above them, take note! 

    Professional clients take responsibility for your payment. They will pay you fairly and on time. Slow payments could indicate carelessness, disorganization, or even inexperience. One late payment warrants a conversation about deadlines. Multiple late payments are a clear sign that you need to reconsider whether you want to continue working with the client. 

    How to End a Professional Relationship with a Client

    Telling a client you no longer want to work with them can be intimidating. It’s helpful to remember that this is a business relationship. Just as employees can move to different positions or companies, you can move on to better clients.

    Ending a professional relationship can take place face‑to‑face, over the phone, or by email. Just remember to follow up in writing.

    Regardless of how or when you fire the client, keep it professional. Focus on your business needs rather than what you think the client has done wrong. Some examples:

    • Instead of saying “You don’t pay enough,” say “I’m pursuing projects that pay X or more” or “My new project minimum is X.”
    • Instead of saying “I don’t enjoy this work,” say “I’m shifting my focus to other projects right now.”
    • Instead of telling a demanding client that they are disorganized or disrespectful, you could say “This project won’t work with my schedule” or “I’m rebalancing my workload.”

    Choosing to end a client relationship can feel deeply personal, but it doesn’t have to be fraught with emotions. Remember that you are a business owner. You can take command of your work by choosing the clients and projects that help you meet your financial goals and advance your career.



    March 1, 2021 at 8:00 AM

    American Medical Writers Association

    AMWA is the leading resource for medical communicators. The AMWA Blog is developed in partnership with community members who work every day to create clear communications that lead to better health and well-being.