How to End a Relationship With an Independent Contractor

“It’s not you; it’s me.”

A great line when breaking up with someone you don’t feel a spark with. A bad line when you’re ending a relationship with an independent contractor. 

Breakups are never easy, but when you’re talking business, you should always be clear, honest, and direct. 

Okay, maybe in relationships too…but we aren’t here to talk about that today. We’re here to talk about how to end relationships with independent contractors with grace and professionalism.

We know it’s a hard decision, and it can feel like a scary-big step to take as a business owner. But the tips in this post will make it feel a little more manageable (you might still want to grab a pint of ice cream and your fav rom-com though). 

Make sure you’ve clearly expressed your needs

Feeling frustrated because a contractor isn’t doing what you want? 

Do you feel like they’re just “missing the mark”?

Go back through your communications and make sure you’ve explicitly told your independent contractor what you need. 

There’s no point in firing someone for doing something you never communicated to them! People won’t know what you want or need until you tell them. By communicating the issue, you can quite literally fix the problem…just like that!

But maybe you feel as though you have expressed yourself and all of your concerns. Did you do it clearly? You may need to backtrack on how you’ve addressed the issue before deciding to break up.

Let’s say you hired an independent contractor to help you design a sales page. You find yourself editing your branding on the sales page because they’re not using the right hex code or the exact right font. You tell them, “The hex codes are off but don’t worry, I’m fixing it.”

That’s not clear communication. That’s not fixing things for the long haul. Before you fire this designer, for example, you’d want to make sure you actually shared the right fonts and hex codes, and that they have access. From there, you can remind them to “please use the proper fonts and hex codes found in XYZ folder.” They know it’s an issue, you’ve told them how to fix it, and now it’s up to them. 

This is clear communication, and it’s vital in determining whether or not your contractor needs to go. 

Other examples that could be miscommunication instead of a bad fit?

  • A contractor asking you lots of questions (that you didn’t provide resources for)
  • Edits back-and-forth on things like copy, design, inbox management, etc.
  • A lack of clarity around deadlines (did you tell them when something was due?)
  • A lack of clarity around deliverables (did you make sure everything you needed was included in the scope of work?)

Not everything is the independent contractor’s fault. Of course, if you’re finding that they’re:

  • Not communicating with you
  • Turning in work that’s subpar (or even plagiarized!)
  • Not delivering on the timeline you’ve set

… it might be time to call it quits. 

Check your contract

If you know it’s time to move on, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure you know your contracted terms. 

Some independent contractors require a 14-day or 30-day notice to cancel a contract. Some don’t require any. If you have a specific “minimum” contracted timeline, like a 3-month contract, you may have to pay for the 3 months even if you’ve only made it through one. 

Depending on your reason for terminating the contract, it may just be worth it to wait it out until the project ends. But keep in mind that with project-based support (like with copywriters), canceling means you’ll most likely have to pay them for the rest of the project, especially if you already put down a deposit.

Retainer-based contractors usually require more heads-up when ending a contract — they’re consistently relying on that income for an indefinite period. Likely, they don’t expect the contract to close so soon and like a little more time to find a replacement.

Of course, if you’re terminating a contract because of neglect, poor delivery, or something went really sideways, you may want to negotiate these terms and ask if the terms can change. You don’t want to get stuck paying $6,000 for a service you’re not getting — and the independent contractor likely doesn’t want to risk litigation. 

Hopefully things don’t go that far south, though. Let’s talk about how to end things without fireworks (or tears). 

You don’t need a grand gesture to end it

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” but you don’t have to make a grand gesture out of it either. By ending a relationship quickly and professionally, you’re actually making things worse and dragging it on longer than needed. A simple email will do in most cases. If you’re close to that independent contractor, you may want to schedule a call to share the news face-to-face. 

And when you let them know it’s time to part ways, at least give them a reason why. You don’t owe them an explanation, but it’s the right thing to do. Being a good human is always a good idea. 

How to end a contract when you’re tight on cash 

If it was for financial reasons, let them know they did a good job. Soften the blow by sandwiching it in with compliments, “You’re a great designer, I just need to prioritize other things financially right now to continue. You’re so talented, and if things change in the future, I would love to consider working with you again.”

How to end a contract based on poor performance

If it was for something like poor performance, then be as straight to the point and professional as possible. For example, let’s say you hired a launch strategist and they just… didn’t really deliver. “Thank you for your help on XYZ project. We were hoping for a better match in terms of strategy and launch guidance, so we’ll be finding another contractor to help us finish this project out. Of course, we appreciate your hard work and wish you the best in the future.”

It’s clear, states the concern (their skillset), and explains that it’s not something up for debate (you’re moving on). While it will definitely sting to know they’re being let go because of their skills, it does give them something to work on.

How to end a contract when the other party is not communicating

Have to let someone go because their communication sucks and you’re not seeing any progress? You can write them an email that clearly states your expectations around communication and turnaround time, and how that’s not being met. 

“Thank you for your help on XYZ project. Unfortunately, communication and timeline have not been up to our contracted standards and we really need to make progress on this project. Thank you for your work, but we’ll be moving on as of DATE. Please let me know when you receive this communication and we can finalize our offboarding.”

Chewing someone out or oversharing might come back around to bite you in the ass, so keep it professional and brief no matter why you’re letting someone go. 

It’s not personal. It’s business.

Again, ending a professional relationship is hard. But at the end of the day, those are the tough decisions you must make as a business owner. It just comes with the gig. Sometimes to make good business decisions, you have to focus on what’s best for the business (in objective terms). That doesn’t mean you need to be an a-hole about letting someone go, but it does mean you’ll have to end a contract or terminate an employee at some point

And while we know that doesn’t make it any easier, we hope it at least gives you the confidence to deliver the news. 

What happens now?

After you’ve let your contractor go, what do you do? Give yourself space to feel however you feel about it, then head back to the drawing board ASAP. 

If you ended things because of money, you’ll likely have to take on their responsibilities yourself. Or you will need to delegate them to someone else on your team. And you can only work with a gap for so long. 

Get back to your planners and spreadsheets, and find how you can fit in their job duties somewhere amongst the chaos. You might also want to consider how tech tools and software can help fill in the gaps. This may mean some projects may have to get put on the back burner, but honestly, that’s part of the tough decisions you make as a business owner. Sometimes just surviving is thriving. 

If you ended things for another reason, you’ll want to hire someone else to fill their shoes. But now that you’ve had a not-so-great experience, how do you keep it from happening again?

List out what you know you need and get more specific based on what you learned you don’t need or don’t want. If you just let go of a launch manager who was non-communicative and always late, make sure you’re looking for people who are highly communicative and have good reviews for being on time. You may also want to add things to your list like “Uses our project management tool,” or “Schedules biweekly check-in calls.” This can help you when interviewing other candidates. 

Also make sure to take stock of what you need to do differently. Maybe you need to include an onboarding packet that has more details about your business or has the assets the contractor will need. Maybe you need to be more available and willing to answer questions. Whatever the reasons your last contractor didn’t work out, make sure you try to rework things so the next contractor can do their best work.

Want to find the right contractor? 

Feeling a little jaded after your most recent experience with contractors? Not sure you know how to find the right person for the job? No need to sweat! We’ve got a blog about finding and vetting the right contractors for your biz, no matter the role.

Hey! Check this out.
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