The internet is lousy with posts about how to find freelance jobs and how to get them. But how to quit a freelance job? That’s not something we talk about very often. If it’s so much effort for us freelancers to even find and land jobs, how on earth could we think about quitting them?
Turns out, it actually happens quite a bit in the freelance world. I’ve been full-time freelance for almost two years and in that time I’ve quit a freelance job, or two, or three. And I’ve picked up new jobs. It’s the ebb and flow of freelancing – getting new gigs, losing gigs, leaving gigs, finding gigs, and so on.
So how do you actually quit a freelance job? Let me walk you through it.
Step 1 – Why are you quitting?
Before you actually quit a freelance job, you need to be clear on your why. Are you quitting for the right reasons? Is there something that can be changed about the job that would allow you to keep working? Is this a gut reaction to a new job or has it been a long time coming?
Spend some time figuring out exactly why you’re quitting and make sure it’s an answer that feels right to you. Some reasons why I have quit a freelance job in the past include not having enough time to dedicate to the workload, not being comfortable with the pay rate, and not connecting to the material.
Step 2 – Make sure the timing is right
With freelance jobs, it’s not the same as a full-time job in an office. You likely won’t go through weeks of training, shadowing and on-boarding. Nine times out of ten, you’re jumping right into the work on day one.
So you want to make sure you’ve given it a good crack before you decide to throw in the towel. It’s natural to have some tension at the beginning of a new freelance job as you work out the kinks with your new client. Don’t quit a freelance job because the first day of work was confusing or stressful.
On the other side of the coin, you also don’t want to waste your client’s time, or your time, if you know this job isn’t a good fit from day one. Don’t wait until you’re weeks or months into a project, with significant time and resources invested, to quit a freelance job.
Like a full-time job, you want to be aware of busy times for your client. If you’re writing website copy for a client, it would be very poor form to quit the day before the website launch. Similarly, it would be bad to quit a freelance job with an e-retailer right before their Christmas rush.
Another important aspect of timing your departure: have you been paid yet? More on this below!
Step 3 – Have an exit plan
Create an exit plan. There are no rules when you quit a freelance job – you don’t have to give your client two weeks notice or do a formal exit interview. But I believe you should take the initiative to create an exit plan. Outline for your client how much notice you’re giving them, how you will finish up your projects, and any other loose ends you need to tie. Your client will appreciate your initiative and professionalism.
It’s also important to create an exit plan for yourself, especially if this is a long-time client or a job that took up a lot of your time/provided a lot of your income. What is your plan for replacing this client? How will you make up this loss of income? What will you do with your extra time?
Step 4 – Choose your medium of communication
In a traditional 9 to 5 job, general wisdom is that you would email your manager to arrange a time to meet in person so you can give your notice. But it’s not the same when you quit a freelance job. For some clients, you may have never met them in person and might not even live in the same country.
I suggest you quit a freelance job via the medium you most often use to communicate. So if you’re regularly calling your client, you can give your notice during a phone call. Email is my preferred form of communication. Email gives you time to prepare and fine tune your words, it’s more formal than other channels like text or Slack, and it provides a paper trail. If email feels too impersonal to you, you can also offer to do a follow-up phone or Skype call.
Step 5 – Craft your quitting message
Here’s the basic template for your quitting email:
- Start with quick pleasantries
- “Unfortunately, I believe it would be best if I left the project because….”
- Introduce your proposed exit plan
- “Thank you for….”
You want to be polite, but firm. If your mind is made up to quit a freelance job, that needs to be clear in your message. Saying, “I think I should probably quit, if that’s okay…” helps no one.
Get to the point. You don’t need to go on and on about why you need to quit a freelance job. Provide your client with enough of a reason so that they can understand what’s happening and accept it. But don’t write out your whole sob story.
For example, if you want to quit a freelance job because it’s low paying, it would be sufficient to say, “At this time in my career, I have to prioritize jobs and clients that match the income level I am hoping to attain.” You don’t need to explain how you barely made your rent last month because of the poor pay.
But do be sure to include some kind of a reason as to why you have to quit a freelance job. If you quit without a reason, you’re leaving your bewildered client to speculate. They may take it personally. And if the reason you are quitting is negative, try to find a way to make it sound more neutral. My example above is the neutral version of, “I’m quitting because you are paying me peanuts!”
Introduce your exit plan, but understand that your client may have something else in mind. Your exit plan is just what you’re proposing. Your client may push back on some of your suggestions. But creating an exit plan allows you to take charge, if they won’t, and shows that you put thought and care into your decision.
Always, always, always end with a thank you. I don’t care if you had this job for less than 24 hours. I don’t care if this client was a jerk. You can think of something to thank them for. Thank them for the opportunity, mention skills that you learned and wish them all the best. Even though freelancers work in all corners of the world, the community is small and many jobs come from referrals. You want to maintain a good relationship with every client, even if you quit a freelance job with them.
Step 6 – Follow up & final days
In the uncomfortable situation where you don’t hear from your client after sending your quitting message, follow up in a couple of days. Eventually, they will get back to you. Ensure you have tied up all of the loose ends on your side and that you have addressed any concerns they have. You also want to make sure you’re both on the same page about your final pay and projects you’re wrapping up.
Even though you have given your notice to quit a freelance job, you still need to do good work. In fact, you might want to do your best work in those final days. Your client is likely already upset that you’re quitting; don’t leave them with a sour taste in their mouth by phoning it in for the last few days.
- Whatever you do, do not just ghost a client! You need to quit a freelance job with as much care and professionalism as you would approach anything in your career. Ghosting a client (disappearing without letting them know) is incredibly unprofessional and will hurt your freelance career. You always want to be professional and polite, even if it’s an informal job.
- When you quit a freelance job, it’s not as formal or procedural as quitting a 9 to 5. There’s no HR or mandatory two weeks notice. But it still puts your client out. They have to find someone new and train them to do your job. Respect that this impacts your client negatively, even if it seems minor to you.
- Understand that there is more bouncing around in the freelance world. One day you’re going to quit a freelance job and the next you’re going to pick up a new one. Because the work is more fluid and most freelancers have multiple small gigs, quitting isn’t as monumental as it would be in a 9 to 5. It happens and is something you need to get comfortable with. At some point, you will need to quit a freelance job.
- Ideally, your client does not take your decision to quit badly. But it is entirely possible that your client could withhold your pay, badmouth you in your industry or never respond and ghost you. Hopefully, that’s not the type of client you’re working with. Luckily, that’s never happened to me anytime I have quit a freelance job following the steps above. But it is a risk. If something like that happens, you can speak to a lawyer about drafting a message with stronger language or look into taking your client to small claims court. Of course, both of these options can be expensive and time-consuming. If you’re worried about your client reacting negatively and withholding pay, try to time your quitting for once you’ve been paid all or most of what you’re owed.
- Most importantly, you should learn something every time you quit a freelance job. I’m not saying you’ll learn enough to never have to quit a freelance job ever again, but hopefully not for the exact same reason. For example, if you quit a freelance job because the pay is too low, you now know that you need to discuss the pay rate in detail before you agree to take the job. You may also want to consider working for a new client for a trial period or on a trial project, allowing you both to reassess whether you want to work together more permanently after the trial is over.
Ever quit a freelance job? What advice do you have?