Breaking up, ending relationships, severing ties, no matter how you say it, ending something can be both a burden and a blessing. Freelancers just starting out might not want to stop working for a bad or difficult client. The money might be OK enough to keep going, but is that really what matters? Being your own boss means you're in control. The times you work, what you work on, and who you work with. When a client becomes too much, it's time to break up.
Before you fire, or dump, your client, try to address your issues with them first. Are they emailing you too often or during your off-work hours? Are they asking more than what agreed upon in the creative brief? Are their demands simply too much for you to handle? Before you send the final email, talk to them about your concerns. Most clients aren't aware of how disrespectful they are being and need to be informed of it. A misunderstanding can be addressed and you can continue to work together. Blowing up at them won't help either of you and makes you look unprofessional. If you have exhausted all these options, here's a break down of your break up:
When you've been pushed to your limit by a client, it's time to let them know you just can't do it anymore. Either have a meeting face to face with them or a voice conference. It won't be easy, but it's the best way to do it. Have examples of when you tried to communicate your frustrations with them, print outs of emails or other exchanges, and explain to them you cannot continue to work this way with them. Stay professional and never point fingers. You want to break up with the project, and possibly the client, for good. But you still have to represent your business in the best possible light.
There are clients that were difficult to work with in the past, but at least their assignments were quick in regards to time. They come back with a new project but want you to work for less than what you quoted them. They might mention they have another designer willing to work for less, but they would rather work with you. If you stand firm on your price, they might try to phish for assistance. This is when they want you to tell them what, and possibly how, you would complete their project. All speculation of course, but who is to say they won't take your information and pass it on to their cheaper designer? Never accuse your client of anything, but do mention it feels uncomfortable sharing that information without a contract in place. If you charge for consulting services, this is the best time to bring it up and remind them you will consult but not for free. The best practice is to say it FEELS wrong for you to share that information. This isn't accusing them of phishing and might enlighten them to how their actions are being read. It might not be their intent at all. You don't know for sure, but it's better to just not go there.
Once you've made your stance on your professional relationship with your client, next is paperwork. Whatever contract you had with them needs to be terminated properly. Send an email with the termination section highlighted and state that this is your formal termination of your contract with them and list the reasons. Mention the meeting you had and with whom, and include those people in the email. Invoice whatever they owe you for work done to that point, deliver whatever was promised with work already completed, and get clarification on everything. This is the tedious part as ending a contract half way makes for messy clean up. It is your job to make sure everyone is clear on what has been done, what is being delivered, and what is still owed in regards to payment.
After all that is done, you can walk away knowing you ended a toxic partnership and can now focus on other work. Standing up to a client is never easy, but it gets easier to recognize the difficult ones as time goes on. Being a freelancer means you hold power in who you work with. Don't be afraid of wielding that power when necessary.