So I was bewildered finding myself in a situation where I had to end a relationship with a client. The first time it happened, it was actually rather comical, looking back. I had been doing a fairly high volume of writing for a client in Pakistan, who evidently had many, many writers working for him. It wasn't the most enjoyable work, but he paid in full on time every Friday, and I needed the money.
At one point, he somehow had me mixed up with another writer and started sending me a series of increasingly irate emails complaining about content that I had not been assigned. I tried to convince him that he had the wrong writer, but he would not be convinced. Eventually it turned into one of those "I quit!" / "Well, you can't quit because you're fired!" situations. I was able to add another client soon and moved on. About a week later there was an email from the Pakistani client in my inbox with the sheepish title, "Are you still available to write?" I didn't respond.
A couple of years later I parted ways with a client for two main reasons: he was asking for way too much for the flat rate he was paying me; and he asked me to write what amounted to extremist political propaganda that I had a fundamental disagreement with. I like to think I wouldn't have written the content even if he had been paying me generously.
The only other client I "broke up with" was one who simply never paid in full or on time. I was tired of getting partial payments, and though this client would try to catch up when I complained, I could eventually tell it was never going to happen.
It's hard to turn down work when you're starting out and trying to make ends meet. But you have to remain true to your core principles, and one of those core principles should be that your work and your time are worth money and you deserve to be paid for them. That doesn't mean you cut off a good client the first time she's a day late with part of a payment. Giving a good client the benefit of the doubt occasionally is OK, as long as that client is willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if, for example you wake up sick or have an emergency that causes you to miss a deadline. You and your client are both human, and it's good to have a courteous professional relationship.
But don't be afraid to cut a client loose if they present significant problems by paying late, stringing you along with small, partial payments, or asking you to do something that you believe in your heart to be wrong. Consider the situation carefully. Ask a trusted friend or fellow writer for advice. Mull it over. And if you conclude it's time to part ways, do so unambiguously, but professionally. If you consistently produce high quality content on time, you'll be able to easily replace the occasional client with whom things are not going to work out.
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