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Ending a working relationship: Don’t burn your bridges

Working relationships come to an end all the time. That doesn’t mean you have to burn your bridges. Since starting freelancing, I’ve had plenty of working relationships come to an end. Sometimes they were out of no fault of my own but other times I chose to drop the client.

If you’re thinking about ending a working relationship as a writer, you may panic that you’re going to burn a bridge. This isn’t like dumping someone and never talking to them again!

So, whether you’re a business looking to move on from a freelancer or you’re a freelance writer looking to find new clients, here are some tips on ending a working relationship without burning bridges.

Be polite

Try to do it over the phone if you can. You’ll have the chance to hear the other person and it makes it more personal. However, this can be hard, not just emotionally but physically. If you have clients around the world, you may find it harder to contact them via phone.

And you may not even have a phone number. Email is your next choice.

Whether you’re ending a working relationship by the phone or email, remain courteous and polite. Don’t go on a rampage about how low the pay is or how poor quality the work is.

When I’m ending a relationship, I tend to use the line “it seems like we’re not the best fit”. It takes the blame off the other person and puts some of it on me. There may have been things that I could have done differently to help make our needs fit together.

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Be honest about why you’re leaving

Don’t lie about why you’re bringing an end to this working relationship. However, you want to be careful with this part to avoid burning that bridge.

The first client I had to drop was due to a number of unpaid invoices. Despite my annoyance, I remained polite and explained that I couldn’t keep writing until all invoices were up to date. The client understood and I did eventually get paid all the money that was due to me.

However, I made a conscious choice not to work with that client again, even after that. It wasn’t just the late bills. I just didn’t have the time in my schedule for the writing or the potential chasing in the future, and I explained that.

The second client I had to drop was due to pay and I explained that in a polite way. I stated that I needed more to be able to afford my own outgoings. She tried her best to accommodate my minimum needs but that wasn’t possible. However, I agreed to do a few pieces until she found someone more permanent at a slightly lower rate to the one that I needed.

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Suggest another freelance writer or client

When ending a working relationship, you may leave the client or writer with an empty hole to fill. Clients need their work completed and may have been relying on you. Meanwhile, freelancers will have a number of clients but could find them all disappearing (or dropping their own) at the same time.

If I can, I will try to recommend someone else to write for them. I never guarantee that it will work out but I see it as a sign of respect. It prevents bridges being burned because you’re not leaving them in the lurch.

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Don’t just disappear

I’ve had two clients do this to me and I really hate it. Don’t just disappear when ending a working relationship. This really is a way to end the relationship for good. At least with the others there are ways to come back if necessary.

Disappearing makes people wonder whether something has happened. A few years ago, while on maternity leave, I did find out that a client had passed away and a family member was taking over the company and trying to find his feet. That could have ended with never finding out the truth.

Just a polite email explaining the situation goes a long way.

Politeness goes a long way when ending a working relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’re a multinational company hiring writers or a freelancer looking for new clients; you need to remain polite and courteous so you don’t burn your bridges.

I still have recommendations and have asked clients to act as references despite us not working together. There are some who even come back after long months away with new projects. Communication and politeness have kept that communication open.

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How do you go about ending a working relationship? Are there any tips that you suggest or things that people shouldn’t do? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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