How to “Fire” a Freelancer

I had a friend post a very frustrated and sad status on Facebook yesterday about an editing client who refused to pay her for services rendered despite being contractually obligated to. They claimed they “weren’t happy” with the edits, without explaining why they found them unsatisfactory. I have had nightmare clients like that in the past, and I wanted to bring that behavior to the foreground.

This isn’t just about writing, either, it’s about business in general, a subject many people struggle with. I took business courses in college (a lot of them), but I often forget that many folks don’t have the benefit of growing up in that environment or receiving a good education on business practices themselves.

As a publisher and editor, good business is something I need to keep my focus on. I need to make sure my authors, clients, and customers are all receiving the best possible behavior from me. I need to make sure I treat them fairly and well, even if that means muzzling myself when I want to bark at them. This also means, when I am purchasing professional services (editing, cover design, whatever it is) I must also behave professionally.

So what do you do if the work you’ve hired someone to do is unsatisfactory? What do you do when you are done working with someone because of whatever reason? Maybe they haven’t paid, maybe the two of you just don’t work well together as a team. Regardless of why, you need to tell the person why. In polite, but complete detail. In addition to that, there are a few more things you should remember when “firing” someone.

  1. The person you’re trying to part ways with might surprise you and fix the problem or apologize and revisit their behavior. This is rare, but it does happen.
  2. You do not receive a reputation of hopping between professionals for what they will probably perceive as no good reason.
  3. Unless there has been a gross breach, don’t share their name around. There are times when I have shared the name of a particularly dangerous client with other editors to warn them of the person’s unhealthy nature. Don’t complain about people by name, though. And particularly not in public.
  4. Be honest. If the reason is that you just don’t get along with them as a person that’s actually okay. You don’t need to invent reasons.
  5. Pay what you owe. Work like editing, ghostwriting, etc. is not a product you can return to the store; it’s time rather than physical product. Unless the editor has dropped the ball so egregiously that they should be hit with a catfish, don’t try and get out of paying what you owe them. This is also why many editors insist on payment before product delivery. Many of us have clients who squawk and squeal about our work (even if it is on point and correct) and try to weasel out of paying us. “I just don’t like it” is not a valid reason to avoid payment.
  6. Be respectful. Even if your freelancer (or, conversely, client) is driving you up a tree, be unfailingly respectful to them. This will go a lot further for you than slinging mud and becoming rude. That kind of behavior will reflect poorly on you for a very long time while polite but firm language isn’t going to come back to bite you as hard or as certainly.

Having to part ways with someone is tough. There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to be upsetting someone because that’s just how life goes. However, the more polite, honest, and up front you are about it, the easier the whole process becomes.



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