In a freelancer’s work life, the only constant is change.
While some freelancers enjoy working for a small number of reliable, well-paying clients, others work on multiple small projects drawn from a large client base.
Yet, for freelancers used to client-churn—and even those who aren’t—every now and again a tricky task arises. Namely, the need to terminate a contract with a client.
Why is that tricky? Well, it can be a delicate situation to negotiate.
So how best to go about it? What issues should someone planning to end a contract with a client mull over before they take the leap?
What should you consider when ending a freelance contract?
Here are five points to think about carefully before you contact your client and terminate the contract with them.
1. What does the termination clause say?
Asking yourself this question is crucial because a work contract isn’t drawn up just to satisfy best practices. It also stands as a legal document for freelancers and companies using consultants.
Should the contract contain a termination clause (if both parties involved are contract smart, it should), then we strongly advise you to follow what that clause tells you to do when ending the contract, to avoid any legal fall-out.
In many cases, a termination clause will specify that the party ending the contract should send the other party a written confirmation—an email or even a physically written letter through an online fax (yes, people still use them). That way the latter has it on record that the contract’s been terminated.
Moreover, the party responsible for ending the contract then has evidence they’ve done things correctly, per the termination clause. That serves as protection against any potential litigation.
2. What if there’s no termination clause?
Unfortunately, not all work contracts include a termination clause. When bringing a contract to a close, this can make things a little trickier. What to do? Simply follow best practice—that is, exercise common sense.
Of course, if a work arrangement comes to an end due to it being a fixed-term project of some kind, then, should there be no termination clause in the contract, ending the contract should be relatively simple.
Both parties are likely to be able to part working together fairly smoothly, as the arrangement itself has ceased due to the completion of the project.
Otherwise, if you face ending a contract without a termination clause, then how you address the following, final three points becomes very important.
3. How much notice should you give?
Again, unless a termination clause defines how long the notice period must be, the length of notice may well be informed by the nature of the work itself. Whether that work is, say, an email copywriting position, an editing gig, or anything else, really.
That said, notice periods of a month or two weeks tend to be the most common. Either tends to serve as a decent amount of time for both parties to satisfyingly conclude things and, of course, for an employer to find a replacement.
It’s advisable, too, to give a date for your final workday—even if it’s mandated by the length of your notice period. You want to be clear and clarify anything that could be wrongly assumed or misconstrued.
4. How to explain why you’re terminating the contract
Not only is it respectful to explain why you’re looking to move on from your contracted work, but it’s also important to make sure your client is clear about the reason, so as not to damage your reputation and career. No freelancer can afford to just quit a contract with no explanation.
In your explanation, then, you should aim for a polite tone, while being unambiguous and concise. Your client shouldn’t be left confused about why you’ve made this decision.
Try to avoid language that hedges, such as “I don’t think I want to…” or “I think it best.” Instead, be decisive with phrases like “I have decided” or “The best course of action for me is…”
You don’t have to hide the truth either, even if you feel a little reticent in stating what’s best for you in a client exchange. Your client works in the same industry as you; they understand what people need and want in their careers.
For instance, if you’ve reached a point where you need or want to earn more money, simply suggest that you need to seek more competitively-priced work. Again, there’s no need to overdo any explanation; brevity and clarity are the order of the day here.
Hi [Client name],
I’m emailing you today to let you know that I won’t be able to take on any new work from now on. Due to my financial circumstances, I need to seek more competitively-priced work.
Of course, I’ll be happy to complete the projects we’re currently working on. Also, I’ll be happy to assist you with the transition once you’ve found a replacement.
Thanks for the time working together.
5. Try to part on good terms
It’s quite possible, of course, that pay isn’t the reason you’re breaking the freelance contract. Instead, it could be because things have turned sour with the client.
However, that’s no reason not to be professional and to ensure that the parting is congenial. Once more, it would be best for your reputation and career as a freelancer—as you seek your next job and the next one after that—to part on good terms.
So, you may consider using a line or two in your letter/ email or going on a call to thank them for the work opportunity. This can put a positive spin on the end of the relationship.
After all, the scenario could be different—you may need to end the contract but not want to end the working relationship because it’s been beneficial for both parties. In that case, you’d definitely want to part on good terms, so you can work with the client again.
Don’t be shy, then, to make clear you’d like to stay in touch. Follow this up by connecting on social media (i.e., LinkedIn), if you’ve not already done so, and take the effort to reach out now and then.
Hi [Client name],
I’m emailing you today to let you know that I will be unable to continue working with you on [details of the project].
I very much hope that we can stay in touch and that we will be able to work together in the future.
Thanks for the time working together.
Tread softly—it’s a long road ahead
When a freelancer terminates a contract with a client, it doesn’t have to feel like they’re tearing up the contract.
Treading softly, even if the relationship with the client has been testy, goes a long way. Doing so should benefit the freelancer’s reputation and, therefore, their career in the long run. It can be worth looking at a freelance contract template and ensuring the next one you draw up has you covered if you find yourself in this situation again.
After all, a freelancer’s work life isn’t just the next job and the next contract with the next client. A freelancer’s work life is constant change—it’s the next job after the next job, and so on, into the future. It’s important to be confident in your ability to terminate contracts, and sure of your rights in doing so.
About the author
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration that offers features like Dialpad business call routing. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Grace has also written for other domains such as Causeartist and DivvyHQ. Here is her LinkedIn.