Sometimes, you’ll encounter clients who aren’t a good fit for you. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ‘bad’ clients, just that the way they do business doesn’t align with your approach. In these cases, putting off the decision to make a clean break can only impact both of you negatively.

When a developer doesn’t want to fire a client, but puts off doing work for them, that’s called ‘orbiting’. It’s not only unprofessional, but it’s a waste of time and energy you could be spending on other clients. Ending the relationship in a positive way, on the other hand, is a win-win situation.

In this article, we’ll talk a bit more about what orbiting is and how it can affect you. Then we’ll offer three tips for making a clean break from clients who aren’t a good fit. Let’s talk business!

What Does Orbiting Your Clients Mean?

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you didn’t enjoy working with a client, you know it can get uncomfortable. You may put off answering emails, deliverables can get delayed, staying on the same page is nearly impossible, and so on.

When you’re in that situation, but you put off the decision not to work with the client anymore, you’re ‘orbiting’ them. That is to say, you’re staying close enough that you may get more work from them, but you’re not investing any real effort into the relationship.

If you’re a freelance developer, this situation becomes even trickier. Freelance work can be very feast-or-famine, so the idea of firing clients is often anathema. Even so, if you can’t give a project or a client your all, then you’ll need to ‘leave their orbit’, so to speak.

By making a clean break, you can regain control over your time and focus on other projects you do enjoy working on. What’s more, you’ll be respecting your client’s time and recognizing that, while they may not be a good fit for you, they might get along great with another developer. Going your separate ways now enables both parties to pursue their needs optimally.

How to Make a Clean Break from Your Client (3 Key Tips)

Breakups tend to be messy in general, and that includes separating from a client. However, when it comes to work-related breakups, it’s essential that you keep things professional. You’ll want to make a clean break, but it’s best not to burn any bridges in the process. Let’s talk about how to do that!

1. Give Enough Notice

There’s a reason most workplaces ask you to give notice at least a few weeks before you quit. If you simply wake up one day and send an email that says: “I’m not feeling this project, I’m out!”, that makes you look unprofessional and forces the client to look for a replacement immediately.

Ideally, you’ll want to give your client notice that you need to move on from a project. How early you should provide that notice depends on the nature of the project and the relationship. However, the two-week rule of thumb is a good start, even for remote work.

Here’s what the first draft of your email might look like:

Hello [Client Name],

Unfortunately, due to scheduling problems, I won’t be able to keep working on your website after April 14th. I’ll wrap up all outstanding tasks during that period, and make sure you have everything you need to continue development.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

When it comes to giving notice, it’s important to provide a clear date, although you can negotiate it with the client depending on what they need. In any case, if you’re at this point then your mind is probably made up, so be firm in your decision.

2. Explain the Scope of the Work You’re Going to Complete

Let’s say you’re developing an app, and you decide you’re not a good fit for the project. Along with simply telling the client that you’re quitting, you’ll need to offer some critical information – what work you’re going to complete before you leave.

When breaking up with a client, it’s important to define the scope of the work that’s left over. That way, you’ll avoid situations where clients keep asking you for more and more, and you can’t go until they’re satisfied.

Let’s rewrite the email from the previous section to include that information:

Hello [Client Name],

Unfortunately, due to scheduling problems, I won’t be able to keep working on your app after April 14th. I wanted to let you know well in advance, so you can decide how to move forward.

Before I move on, I’m going to take of the following tasks:

  • Finish working on the app’s login functionality
  • Improve the app’s performance

I’ll also be sending you all the credentials you need to keep working on the project (or hire someone else to do so). Please let me know if you have any questions!

Unless the project at hand is very simple, it’s best to be as detailed as possible at this stage to avoid misunderstandings. For a shorter project, it may make more sense to wrap it up, and then take advantage of that opportunity to make a clean break with the client.

3. Don’t Over-Explain the ‘Why’ Behind Your Decision

It’s vital to be professional at every point when working with a client, even while you’re breaking up with them. Here’s a (somewhat exaggerated) example of how you shouldn’t do things:

Hello [Client Name],

I won’t be able to keep working on your website after April 14th because my girlfriend broke up with me, my car broke down, my dog left me for my neighbor, and I’m losing my hair.

However, I’ll wrap up all outstanding tasks during that period, and make sure you have everything you need to continue development.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Unless you have a personal relationship with a client, they don’t need to know all the details of why you’re leaving a project. That’s even more important if the truth happens to be: “I don’t like working with you and I think we should collaborate with other people”.

Over-explaining your decision not only makes you sound unprofessional, but it can encourage the client to try and change your mind. Once you send that breakup email, your choice should be set in stone. So keep it short and concise, and don’t leave any room for negotiation.


A lot of developers are intimidated by the idea of firing clients. If you work on your own, letting business go can be particularly scary. However, if you’re certain that you aren’t a good fit with a client, it’s better for both of you to make a clean break and spend your energy in more efficient ways.

Of course, just because you want to part ways doesn’t mean you need to be unprofessional about it. Here’s how you can stop orbiting a client and stay classy about it:

  1. Give them enough notice.
  2. Explain the scope of the work you’re going to complete.
  3. Don’t over-explain the ‘why’ behind your decision.

Do you have any questions about how to end a client-developer relationship the right way? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!

Image credit: Pixabay.

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