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Earlier this week, I decided to cancel a project with a freelancer. I had hired this freelancer to help me create a video animation to accompany my 7 Stages of Career Change Roadmap I created for career changers. The video she submitted for final approval was full of errors, incomplete edits, and illogical visuals. I wasn’t completely surprised after a string of signs that she wasn’t going to be able to complete this work, but I let things drag on anyway.

One of the great aspects of being a small business owner is that you have the opportunity to work with an array of talented freelancers from around the world. Platforms like UpWork, 99Designs, and Fiverr have completely democratized the freelancer marketplace, and a world of talent is literally at your fingertips right now. During my time as a self-employed small business owner, I’ve had a great privilege of working with some incredibly talented freelancers from around the world. However, I’ve also crossed paths with some incredibly unprofessional freelancers.

I’ve spent the past 12 years as a blue-chip brand marketer then small business owner managing projects with hundreds of Creatives, agencies, and freelancers, often giving talks on the topic of client/agency relationships at various marketing conferences. I pride myself in being able to effectively vet and manage creative suppliers.

However, in this case, what I perceived to be a strength—working hard to create positive relationships with the freelancers I hire—ended up being my biggest weaknesses. I often struggle to call it quits with a freelancer even when the work is clearly not going in the right direction and things are beyond repair. I’ve been fortunate enough to have only had to resort to this three times in my career.

Several years ago, I recall having to fire my first direct report. I found the process agonizing. I felt horrible. I even wasn’t sleeping well at night. After I did let her go, I’ll never forget my managing director telling me, “Joseph, you really need to grow a thicker skin, to not let this sort of stuff bother you so much. Because in the end, dragging things out just creates unnecessary agony for everyone involved. Sometimes, you just have to cut the cord when things aren’t working.” I also had a manager once tell me that I needed to be tougher on the agencies I work with, that being too friendly and collaborative can sometimes be my downfall. I obviously didn’t learn my lesson.

I was reminded of this earlier this week. With this particular freelancer, during our first meeting, she showed up over an hour late. I should have seen this as a clear lack of professionalism. Yet I continued working with her anyway.

Then, she missed the deadline, and was completely out of touch during a critical project milestone. I should have seen this as a sign of poor client & project management skills to come. Yet I continued working with her anyway.

Two weeks later, she provided me with a draft video incomplete, and full of errors. It became clear she would not be capable of making the edits I had requested. I should have realized she would be incapable of doing the quality work I required. And I should have cut it off then. Yet I continued working with her anyway.

This weekend, I finally cancelled her contract. The final video she submitted for approval was still full of errors and many unaddressed edits.

I should have ended this contract earlier—before all the unnecessary back-and-forth emails, time consuming rounds of feedback, and headaches on both her part and mine. This project has been an enormous waste of time.

I blame myself for this. For not vetting her as fully as I should have. Then, for not cutting the cord earlier. As a client, it’s my responsibility to end projects when things just aren’t working.

Ending this contract now means I’ll have to start all over again with another freelancer to complete this work because the video she gave me was full of errors. It means the past 6 weeks were for nothing. It means the money I paid her to date we’re all for nothing. And in terms of that animation? Well, I have nothing.

All of this reminds me just how hard it is to walk away sometimes even when things aren’t going well. It’s a topic I coach many people on when they’re thinking about leaving their jobs behind. When things just aren’t working, but you continue to just take things out anyway because you’ve come this far. Sometimes, you just have to stop and cut your losses. Yet, I sometimes struggle to do this myself.

So while this is fresh in my mind, I wanted to share with you 10 warning signs you should watch for when working with your freelancer. Consider calling it quits if your freelancer . . .

  1. Treats your project like an afterthought in the scope of their workload.
  2. Doesn’t have the capability or capacity to provide the quality of work you’re seeking.
  3. Doesn’t proactively stay on top of communications.
  4. Ignores or misses deadlines.
  5. Develops a disrespectful or dismissive attitude.
  6. Acts unprofessionally.
  7. Disrespects your time
  8. Makes your life harder, not easier
  9. Constantly makes excuses for incomplete work
  10. Repeatedly delivers sloppy work

Firing someone or ending a contract early is not fun. Everyone ends up being unhappy, sometimes feelings are hurt, and sometimes, there’s even bad blood. However, if you truly respect your time and your freelancers time, you will bring yourself to cut your losses when things not working. Trust me, it will save you a lot of unnecessary headache, money, hassle, and delays.

I’m already making great progress over the past 48 hours with the new animator I hired. I should have made the switch weeks ago.

Have you had an issue with the freelancer or agency you’ve worked with recently? How do you decide when to walk away? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Want more guidance on working with the right freelancers?

Those are 10 warning signs to watch for with bad freelancers. For even more guidance, you can download my checklist with 24 signs that indicate you’re working with a high quality freelancer.

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About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.

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