How to Quit a Freelance Job Gracefully


Freelancing isn’t all about constantly adding new clients to your plate. Sometimes—as counterintuitive as it might seem—you actually need to end relationships.
Maybe you’ve outgrown that gig or their rates are no longer competitive with what you can make elsewhere. Or, perhaps you need to free up more of your time or working with the client was always a headache that you no longer want to put up with.
Needless to say, there are plenty of different reasons why you might need to step away from a gig. And, approaching that delicate situation in a way that’s polite and professional can be tricky.

Here are eight steps to quit a freelance job—without totally burning bridges:

1. Check your contract.

This is an important first step that’s far too easy to miss. When you took on that gig or project, did you sign a contract? If so, it’s important to return to that document and look for any rules that apply to the termination of that agreement.
Are you required to give a certain amount of notice? Do you need to put something in writing? Are there particular loose ends you’re required to tie up before moving on?
Remember, freelance contracts aren’t just formalities—they’re actually legally binding documents. So, make sure you’re clear on what will be expected of you before firing off an “I quit!” email.

2. Provide plenty of notice.

Even if there isn’t a notice period outlined in your contract, providing a little heads-up before walking away is still the respectful thing to do. Sticking with a two weeks’ notice the way you would in a traditional job is a safe way to go. This gives you and your client a chance to wrap things up appropriately, and also gives them some time to figure out where they’re going to go from here.
Put simply, just because you aren’t working a standard full-time role doesn’t mean that you can expect to quit and wash your hands of that client altogether in the very same day. It takes some time.

3. Clearly explain that you’re moving on.

Breaking up is hard to do, and that can lead to a lot of sugar coating and wishy-washy language. You might think you’re saving your client a major blow to the ego, but it can actually just confuse your message.
You need to explain—in unmistakable terms—that you no longer plan to work on their projects. So, rather than saying something like, “I don’t know if this is the right fit for me anymore,” you should remove the uncertain language and state, “This project is longer the right fit for me, so I need to move on.

4. Give a brief reason.

You don’t need to give that client a long-winded explanation of why you’re heading toward greener pastures, but they do deserve at least some sort of justification so they aren’t left wondering where they went wrong.
You can keep this short. If you think they pay too little, explain that the rates are no longer competitive with what you’re earning elsewhere. If you’re simply burnt out on their assignments, state that you need that time to dedicate to other projects.
Again, you don’t need to dive into the nitty-gritty—just one line to shed some light on why you’re heading out the door is enough to provide some much-needed closure.

5. Provide an end date.

It’s also helpful to provide a date when you expect everything should be wrapped up (especially if there isn’t one mandated in your contract).
This ensures that you and your client are on the same page about the timeline and can work together to get necessary items taken care of before you officially move on.

6. Express gratitude.

Even if things went sour and you can’t wait to wash your hands of that gig once and for all, that client still gave you an opportunity—and that’s worthy of some genuine gratitude.
Make sure that you explain how much you appreciated that job and the chance to work with them. Injecting that little bit of positivity can go a long way in making sure that you leave on good terms.

7. Offer a referral.

If you’re concerned about leaving your client in a lurch, provide a referral for another freelancer who you think could take over the reins and produce awesome work for them.
Not only does this give your client somewhere to go from here (without too much of a lag after you’re departure), but providing referrals is also a great way to strengthen your relationships with other freelancers.

8. Keep in touch.

Was that client a total nightmare to work with? Well, then nobody can blame you for moving on and never looking back—that’s probably best for the both of you. But, if that client was actually decent (and it’s just other factors that are pulling you away from the gig), it’s worth keeping that relationship intact.
Express your desire to keep in touch, and then make a plan to actually do so. Connect on LinkedIn or mark a reminder in your calendar to email and check in every now and then.
Even if you don’t need that relationship right now, there’s no guarantee that you might not want to come crawling back some day. Freelancing can be feast or famine, and building positive, solid relationships is an effective way to prepare for those inevitable slow times.

Here’s how to pull it all into an email:

Depending on your relationship with that particular freelance client, you might choose to end things over a call—or even in person.
However, rest assured that email is an acceptable way to get that conversation started as well (particularly if you’re worried you’ll be way too nervous to break the news to that client live).
When you pull all of the above tips into one message, here’s what the email looks like:
Hello Susan,
I hope you’re having a great week!
These types of notes are never fun to send, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll no longer be able to take on any freelance assignments from Company XYZ after March 15.
I recently landed a huge project that I couldn’t pass up, and I need to free up some of my workload to dedicate to that.
I’m so appreciative of the opportunity you gave me here, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed working with you and the Company XYZ team. It’s been a great experience!
I’ll be sure to wrap up any assignments we currently have pending. If there are any other loose ends you need me to tie up in the meantime, please let me know ahead of March 15 and I’ll get those taken care of.
Thanks again, Susan. I’m wishing you all the best and I’m looking forward to staying in touch.
Best,
Kat
Breaking up with a freelance client or turning down work is never easy—and it will probably never be something that you look forward to doing (no matter how truly terrible that client was).
But, here’s the good new: it’s possible for you to move on from that gig without torching your reputation and your relationships. Put these eight tips to work, and you’ll quit that freelance job with as much poise and professionalism as possible.