Take Back Your Time by Ditching Bad Clients


Are you tired, worn out, overworked? Apparently, so many of us are that a major U.S./Canadian initiative called Take Back Your Time has been formed to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health and relationships.

Lately I feel that my time has been eaten up by a non-ending series of administrative and client maintenance tasks that take a lot of energy to complete, aren’t satisfying and don’t necessarily move me in the direction of my goals – personal or professional. As part of my taking back my time, I’m doing a serious re-evaluation of where I spend it.

One thing I’ve noticed in the past two weeks is that 80 percent of my time-suck on these types of tasks is coming from 20 percent of my clients – the bad ones.  It’s likely that most of you have one or two bad clients, too. And while every client comes with their own challenges, these are the ones whom you dread dealing with. They take up your time and energy and make you wonder why you ever got into being a web worker in the first place. When you see their name pop up on your PDA or in an email message, you reflexively think, “What’s wrong now?”

Fortunately, I only have a few of these folks on my client roster – but not for long. I’ve decided that in the name of taking back my time, I’m going to politely fire them. By conservative estimates, this will free up about four hours a week I spend dealing with their drama. But more than that, it will make me happier. I’ll enjoy the clients I like and will be better able to serve them, because I won’t be beating my head against a brick wall with clients who aren’t a good fit.

If you’re feeling drained by a dud and wondering if you should dump them, here are a few things to consider:

They don’t appreciate what you do and complain constantly: Did you move mountains for this person, come in under budget and over-deliver, but they still aren’t satisfied? If so, it may be that you have a disconnect between what they expect and want and what you think they do.

Start by inquiring as to exactly what their expectations are and what they specifically aren’t happy with. If their expectations are something you can’t deliver on, be up front about it. If you can and do meet their expectations, and they are still unhappy campers – cut your losses and leave.

They always want things done on the cheap: It’s one thing for a client who gives you a lot of work or books you for a big assignment to ask for a discounted rate on a particular project; it’s another to be nickled and dimed to death.

It’s often the case that the clients that pay your lowest rate are the biggest pain and the least loyal. If a good client who gives you steady work and is easy to deal with asks for a break now and then – accommodate them. If it’s a constant battle over cash, politely tell the person, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do what you want for that price.”

They don’t pay on time: In a difficult economy, you can expect some slow pay issues – especially if you’re a freelancer. But clients who repeatedly pay late, promise to send you a check by a certain time and don’t or outright stiff you – are a no-win.

Professionals get paid for the work they do, period. That having been said, if a good client is behind once in a while, cut them some slack and extend them some additional time to pay.

They don’t take your advice: Nothing is more frustrating than being hired to help your client achieve a goal and then not having anything you say be taken to heart.  Clients who won’t listen to your professional advice, insist on doing it their way, argue with you at every turn and then complain when they don’t get the results they want are bad clients.

My standard line with these people is, “If you are going to hire someone to coach you, it’s not a good use of your money not to listen to them.” If my pep talk about empowering me to empower them does not work, I nicely suggest they would be better off hiring someone else whose opinion they trust.

While it’s never fun to fire a client – and most of use want to avoid the conflict when we can – holding onto bad clients carries with it a huge opportunity cost. The emotional, physical, mental and even spiritual drain of a bad client can keep you from enjoying your job and even your life.

So, go ahead — politely fire a bad client today. Who knows, you might just take back enough of your time and energy to create some great new ones.

Have you fired a bad client recently? How did it go?



I would always finish the job and get paid before making the decision to fire a client. Actually, firing is too strong a word. The next time they call tell them you are too busy to take on more work.

Jonathan Fleming

Constantly have to be firing clients, however my favorite word since I do work in sales is “NEXT” when someone needs to be fired, if they don’t respect you they won’t listen you will loose, fail and waste so much of the company’s resources, thanks for writing a great article.

Don’t marry yourself to the money nor the outcome, it will make firing a client much easier!

Jonathan Fleming

Tim Colling

We have done this before and we have never regretted it. The only time it produced a negative result was one time when the client poached one of our employees to come work for the client afterwards. Our Service Agreement provides penalties for doing this, but we did a poor job of proving that the poaching occurred (we took action after only a few days, before the ex-client had paid the ex-employee) and so we could not prove our case. If that happened again, the lesson that we learned was that we should wait a month or so, in order for money to have changed hands, proving that the poaching had taken place.
Tim Colling
A Servant’s Heart Senior Care

Reeta Luthra | Stress and Health

I’ve been lucky with my clients, they’ve been great!

Only time I had to fire one was about 10 years ago – he was enthusiastic and had all the right words. However I never got any information etc from him and weeks after starting the contract, I was still waiting to properly begin the project and growing tired of his excuses.

When I fired him, I explained my reasons and he was actually very nice about it and agreed that he hadn’t done his bit. I’d not taken any money up-front but he even reimbursed me for my expenses thus far even though I hadn’t asked for payment!

Erica Mueller

I feel very fortunate to have such wonderful clients! I did s similar thing recently, but it was cutting back how much free graphic design/theme modification work I do for friends. I’d started spending way too much time and effort giving things away, and it left little time to earn money. Fortunately, my friends were understanding, and they are all paying clients now. :-) Ah yes, and still friends, just without the benefits. haha


It’s so good to know I’m not alone on this one. I’ve even had clients wait until the project is completed and they’ve had the bill for over a month before they start to ask for a discount on the price.

I also refuse to do jobs that would involve anything illegal!

J Munro

I’m not even a web worker, I’m a virtual assistant & I recently fired my first client.

Despite her being one of my highest-paying clients & always paying me within my terms, she was an utter pain in the backside. Nothing was ever right & her comments started making me feel I was terrible at my job. When I looked at my other customers, I realised they were more than happy with my work & that it was just her.

I felt that the more she made me feel like I was failing (despite procuring the moon on a stick weekly, her phone calls at 8am on Sundays & frequent discussions on how we could fix our ‘communication issues’) the more my self-esteem & business would suffer. She seemed to think she was my only client & that I was constantly poised & ready to assist her.


I did this recently and it was the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. I hadn’t realised until I did it quite how much of a drain this person was on me. I’d gotten to feel quite ill when I saw her name pop up in my inbox. And I’ve subsequently discovered that I was the third developer to do this to this same client, so I can only conclude we all did the right thing.

The only problem is, she isn’t taking “no” for an answer. She knows I “don’t have time” (haha) to do the work for her but could I just advise… and could I just look at… and could I just find her someone else. Absolutely not on that last – I wouldn’t wish her on my closest competitor :^O


I had a similar experience to Becky. I had a client who – as bizarre as it seems – did not realise she was a client. She thought we were friends. She was harassing me from first thing in the morning to late at night, both work days and weekends, with endless rants, personal problems, and only very occasionally things pertaining to the actual work she’d hired me to do. Payment? It was always coming “very soon”, when they had enough revenue coming in from the business to do it. But none was coming in, because she was spending all her time on her personal soap operas. One weekend I’d had one multi-text rant too much and put her in her place. What then ensued, like Becky’s experience, was an impressive display of the true colours the client had been hiding all along. The client’s furious reaction was so juvenile, outrageous, and over the top that I could only laugh out loud. In a situation like that, there’s no harm done to you or your business whatsoever. I only wish I had brought it to an end sooner.


I fired a client about two days ago. It was much easier, since it was during a trial. He disrespected my time, my efforts, my pay rates and my professionalism. In short, he was just a pain to deal with and I didn’t want to continue. So, I terminated the trial.

How’d it go? After roughly 15 minutes of begging me to change my mind, he switched to mean mode and began to verbally abuse me. I’d started to feel bad, thinking maybe I should give him a second chance, until he turned on the personal assault. I don’t need to work with that.

Jeff asked how you handle finances. It depends on the contract. Usually, if there’s still work to be done, it’s best to wait to fire the client until the project is at a usable point. Sometimes, you can refund the deposit less the time you put in the project. If they’re unbearable and the work done thusfar isn’t usable, you may need to fire them and eat the cost. It really all depends on the industry, the project and the circumstances surrounding the parting.


I love most of my clients but there have definitely been some new clients recently that want me to do things for $10 an hour or less…it’s almost insulting!


Great post. But question: What sort of clause do you put in your initial contract to allow you to do fire them? (I’m a noob). Also, how do you handle the finances after you fire a client, i.e. if they’ve paid you a deposit, and you’ve done some work, and you fire them–what happens to the cash they already gave you, and what about the pay for the work you’ve done? Thanks for any thoughts!

Have Pack, Will Travel

I would refund them 100% if you decide at any point they aren’t worth your time. Of course, if you’re 90% through the project, you’ll probably have to stick it out.



I enjoyed your post. This is the wording I use in my contracts:

Right To Decline Services
Developer, in its sole discretion, reserves the right at any time to cancel this agreement and decline providing services to any Client it finds unresponsive (does not return phone calls or e-mails), or with whom it feels the business relationship is abusive, uncooperative, unproductive, disagreeable or objectionable in any way.

Also, Clients do not get a refund if I have already done work for them. Either party to an agreement may cancel the contract at any time, but upon this happening the Developer is due compensation for the work performed. If this amount is greater than what they have already paid, then the Client gets a bill.



Yea, did the same thing recently as well. The client was constantly sending me long emails about small details here and there and every time I tried to explain that this has to wait or give advice, the conversation went into some long ramblings about hell knows what.. duh..

I have to admit he even offered extra pay for the stuff, but as you pointed out, I could become extremely frustrated for the whole day after reading one of his emails in the morning, to the point of snapping at other clients, friends and my girlfriend.

Bottom line is, no money is worth this really, if the communication is bad and your advice is being constantly ignored, just ditch em!

Have Pack, Will Travel

I did this about two weeks ago. Client was quiet angry but it took over 6 months to BEGIN work on his site (after paying his initial deposit). Once we got started, I realized he had no idea what he wanted and what’s worse? He’d give me very rude and bitter responses at my suggestions… that were asked for!

I cut him loose. Tried to be nice about it but he was angry anyway. Not much you can do other than apologize and try to explain.

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