Numerous students have asked me: “I motivate myself to work on marketing by looking at my bottom-rung client, and thinking that I wouldn’t have to work for them anymore if I brought in a better client to replace them. But once that happens, how do I actually fire the bottom-rung client?” Definitely worth discussing, so here are some thoughts.
First, if a client acts unethically, repeatedly harangues you to take on work you’ve told them you don’t want, does something really egregious or is highly unpleasant to work with, just fire them. “Please remove me from your list of available freelancers,” or something like that. But here we’re talking about something more nuanced: this is the client you’ve been holding onto only because you really needed their work, and now that situation has changed. For a lot of translators, I think that anxiety about this kind of situation is wrapped up in fears about their business overall: what if I cut the cord and then my work volume from other clients decreases, and I really need that client again? In my experience, that rarely happens, but that’s why the situation is stressful.
If you’re really and truly done with this client but you don’t want to burn a bridge with them, take the “firm but kind” route. “I’ve really enjoyed working with you over the years, but over time I’ve also started working with other, higher-paying clients. In order to save your time, you don’t need to contact me for work that pays less than X cents; but if you ever have projects with that type of budget, definitely keep me in mind.” That lets the client know that the issue is purely money, not that you don’t enjoy working with them. If the client still sends you low-paying work, with a request that you consider it “just this once,” you may need to get firmer. “As I mentioned, my minimum rate is now X cents per word. If you contact me for future projects, I will be happy to consider them, with the assumption that that rate is fine with you.”
If you want to leave a crack in the door, try something like this. “I’ve really enjoyed working with you over the years, but over time I’ve also started working with other, higher-paying clients. In looking over my accounting, I noticed that the majority of my clients now pay X cents per word, so I am prioritizing my work with them. I may be available to work with you occasionally when I have breaks in my work with other clients. If that works for you, feel free to continue sending inquiries, and if not, of course I understand.”
Or, if you really don’t want to get into the specifics of the situation (which, as a freelancer, aren’t really the client’s business), just become “too busy” whenever the client contacts you. “That project looks interesting, but unfortunately I’m busy with something else right now.” “Thanks so much for contacting me, but unfortunately I’m not available.” Try just leaving it at that, and I can tell you from experience that sometimes the client will never ask for more information. For example I recently spoke with two translators who took extended (months) periods of time off, and successfully used the “not available” explanation the whole time.
Readers, any thoughts on this?