Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s twice-monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists. Send us your questions!

Help! I Need to Fire a Client, But I’m Worried!

Dear Content Therapist: I’ve recently found myself in a challenging situation with a client that has become increasingly difficult to work with. Their actions and behavior have reached a point where I want to fire them, but I’m worried about my reputation and legal risks.

To provide some context, this client consistently fails to make timely payments for our services despite clear contractual terms. This is made worse by repeated delays in reviewing and approving content, which causes missed deadlines and additional costs incurred by our team. Despite our efforts to address these issues and communicate the importance of timely collaboration and payments, the client’s behavior remains unchanged. The missed deadlines would be bad enough, but I can’t pay my bills without getting paid. How can I fire this client without opening my small business to further risk? THE FED-UP MARKETER

Paul Chaney: I’ve been there, and it’s an uncomfortable position. While we all want vendor-client relationships to go well, sometimes, we get a bad actor. 

In your case, it’s time to take action. After all, this client is costing you money, jeopardizing the future of your business and your ability to pay your bills.

I am not an attorney so don’t take this as legal advice but here are some steps you can take to reduce any risk and liability: 

Review Your Contract

You could incur risks, including legal implications, but it depends on the contractual stipulations. What does your contract say regarding parting ways? Typically, contracts contain a clause that states either party can end the relationship with a 30-day notice or something to that effect. Does yours? 

Also, does the contract say anything about actions you can take if the client fails to pay on time, such as extra fees, termination of services, or even small claims court? If so, you’re in the clear. If not, then the situation is murkier. 

Have a Frank Discussion With the Client

You indicated that you communicated the importance of timely collaboration to the client. Now, it’s time to take the gloves off and tell them you will terminate the relationship if they don’t pay. Be courteous and professional but assertive. It may be a tough conversation to have, but don’t shy away. You have a contract. They owe you money. It’s time to pay up! 

Prepare for the Conversation

The freelance management company Harlow recommends making a list of what you want to say so you don’t forget anything, especially if you’re feeling nervous or anxious. “The client will likely have questions, and a set of reminders written down can ensure you get all the essential points across no matter how the conversation goes,” writes Harlow co-founder Samantha Anderl.

Cover Your Rear With Paper

By that, I mean documenting every interaction, communication, and payment transaction (especially missed payments) — in a word, everything. This includes:

  • Speak with an attorney. If you don’t have an attorney, get one. That’s the best way to ensure you don’t run into any potential legal risks. They can advise you on the best way to terminate the relationship without breaking any terms or laws and how to protect yourself against legal action. 
  • Send a termination letter. If the client still fails to address the problems, send a formal termination notice that outlines the reasons for ending the relationship. Cite specific contract clauses and breaches. Be professional and factual, and avoid emotionally charged language. 
  • Consider business liability insurance. As unbelievable as it may sound, if the client attempts legal action, having liability insurance can be the difference between staying in business and losing it. 

Take the Client to Small Claims Court

You may have to take the client to small claims court as a last resort. Small claims court is a relatively inexpensive and fast alternative to a full lawsuit. It’s typically the least expensive and least time-consuming legal option for small businesses looking to collect on debts. 

According to Freshbooks, you may be able to file a claim in small claims court if your client owes a small amount of money — capped in the range of $2,500 to $25,000, depending on the state. For higher amounts, talk to a lawyer before doing anything.

Learn From the Experience

Let this experience be a learning opportunity. Do you need stricter payment terms? Should you vet prospective clients more thoroughly? How can you adjust the contract to protect your interests? Again, that’s where speaking with an attorney can help. 

The singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka said it best: “Breaking up is hard to do.” But sometimes it’s necessary. It’s your business. Do whatever you have to within the law to protect your interests. 

How Can I Ask for a Raise in This Economy?

Dear Content Therapist: I haven’t had a raise since being hired as a junior content marketer nearly two years ago. Some of this was bad timing — raises were frozen before I hit my one-year mark. But some of my colleagues are also saying they aren’t getting raises on their service anniversary. I know this isn’t a merit issue because I have positive performance reviews. But whatever the reason, I’m looking at a second anniversary without a raise, and my expenses are going up. 

I’m not sure what to do. I know I should speak up, but I am also thinking about what I’ll do if I get turned down. How can I ask for a raise when nobody’s getting one — and what are my alternatives? — THE BROKE MARKETER

Paul Chaney: The TL;DR is you can ask for a raise any time you want, regardless of economic conditions or the fact no one else is getting one. “How” you do that is your question, so let me suggest some ideas. 

  • Bank on your performance reviews. You mentioned getting positive performance reviews. Lead with that. If your performance is not a hindrance, use it to your advantage. Talk about your accomplishments and ways you’ve contributed to the company’s financial welfare. 
  • Time the ask. Speaking of performance reviews, often, the best time to ask for a raise is during a review, so maybe wait until then. 
  • Voice your commitment. Tell your employer (manager, supervisor, etc.) you are invested in the company’s future and want to contribute to its growth. Employers will likely be more interested if they know you plan to stay with the company long-term. 
  • Be respectful and professional. Don’t go into the meeting carrying a grudge. That won’t help your cause one bit. Instead, be courteous, respectful and professional in your demeanor. Dress appropriately, too. That’s the best way to impress the person making this important decision. 

If a raise isn’t possible right now, consider seeking alternatives to improve your financial situation or work-life balance, such as flexible work hours or remote work opportunities, extra vacation days or better benefits. 

In some companies, especially startups, stock options or equity can be a worthwhile alternative, so consider that. You can also look inside the company to see what better-paying jobs you qualify for. 

Let’s address another question: What happens if you get turned down? 

  • Ask for the reason. If a raise isn’t possible now, ask for the reason and if there might be a better time later. 
  • Consider a career move. If you feel undervalued and there’s no clear path to a raise or career advancement, it might be time to look for new opportunities.

Remember, a salary doesn’t determine your value, so don’t tie your self-worth to a raise. Build your skills and reputation within your industry. Investing in yourself will pay off in the long run, whether at your current company or elsewhere.

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.