Friendly Firing: When and How to Fire Clients Gracefully | Freelance Circus | Skillshare

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Friendly Firing: When and How to Fire Clients Gracefully

teacher avatar Freelance Circus, Empowering freelancers across the globe

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Friendly Firing: Intro


    • 2.

      Recognizing Red Flags


    • 3.

      Creating an Exit Plan


    • 4.

      Delivering the Hard News


    • 5.

      Learning From the Experience


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About This Class

In the world of business, maintaining a healthy and productive relationship with clients is paramount. However, there may come a time when firing a client becomes necessary for various reasons, such as misalignment of values, unmet expectations, or unsustainable working dynamics. While this situation is never easy, it is crucial to handle it with professionalism, empathy, and grace.

This course is designed to equip professionals with the essential knowledge and skills to navigate the delicate process of terminating a client relationship in a respectful and compassionate manner. Students will learn effective techniques for identifying warning signs that signal the need for client termination, and how to approach the situation proactively to mitigate potential issues.

Students will learn:

How to Recognize Red Flags:

Recognize the red flags indicating when a client relationship may need to be terminated.
Learn how to objectively assess the impact of the client on your business and overall well-being.

How to create an Exit Plan:

Design an exit plan that minimizes disruption for the client and allows for a smooth transition.
Identify ways to fulfill any remaining obligations or commitments to the client.

How to deliver the hard news

Develop effective communication strategies for delivering difficult news to clients.
Learn how to frame the conversation positively while expressing reasons for termination honestly.

Learning from the Experience:

Reflect on the reasons for termination and assess how to avoid similar situations in the future.
Develop strategies to strengthen client selection and onboarding processes.

Make sure to download the PDF with 5 email templates - plus a BONUS section of email templates for if you ever find yourself fired BY a client.

Meet Your Teacher

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Freelance Circus

Empowering freelancers across the globe


We train, equip and support freelancers to tackle their project and client management, find work, and build on their skill sets. A rising tide raises all ships and we believe strongly in the power of helping independent workers worldwide create dependable incomes to they can support their families and do meaningful, fulfilling work in the process.

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Level: Beginner

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1. Friendly Firing: Intro: Welcome to Friendly Firing. My name is Katie, and I'm Jenna. Today in our lessons, we're going to be teaching you how and when to fire clients gracefully and with confidence. There's a lot of emotions that go into firing clients, including fear and frustration, and just the sense of feeling paralyzed by not knowing if it's the right thing to do. This course is going to walk you through everything that you need to know to manage that with confidence and with grace. And there will be a project that also allows you to work through what the communication strategy for interacting with a client that you need to looks like. We can't wait to see you in. 2. Recognizing Red Flags: Let's talk about recognizing red flags. Often, hindsight is 2020 and it's so easy to look back and be like, oh my gosh, they were crazy. How did I not see that this client was going down hill? But if you can learn to recognize red flags before they happen, then ideally or as they happen, then ideally that you'll be more prepared to fire before it goes sideways. Yeah, very true. So very first one, aggressive tone. What does aggressive tone look like? That can come across so many ways, Whether that be through e mail, through voice messages, just through general correspondence. Tone is hard to read. Yeah, there's a very distinct aggressive tone that you can have when you are trying to e mail somebody. Especially clients. Yeah, there should never be any hint of aggression or even passive aggression, right? Yeah, so like like micro aggressions in writing can look like very subtle action based words. So it could be like right now or it can be accusatory. Why didn't you, what else have we seen? We've seen clients that have been like, oh, I thought that you would, that's very passive aggressive. Or why didn't you get this done by so and so time when there wasn't a hard deadline on it to break in with. Yeah. Yeah. And part of it, you do have to know your client. Some people do just communicate that way. And I think the key here is if there's been a switch, if they behaved one way to begin with and then all of a sudden the way that they're speaking to you is changing. Yeah. We had a client one time where he was very relaxed, very go the flow, very crazy going. Just we were feeling out his business though we were barely four to six weeks into Right. Project. Right. And he was so calm, cool, collected when we would meet and then his text messages or his E mails would be so passive aggressive, right? You just don't know where it comes from. And you're almost on edge waiting for this client to reach out to you about deadline or getting back to you with feedback on something that you completed for him. Mm hmm. Just, you never know what's gonna come. And you're almost on edge worrying about is gonna be upset. Is he going to be happy? You don't know, right? And sometimes with written communication, like you said earlier, it's hard to know is this coming across. So if you ever are wondering is this really aggressive, aggressive, call them, get them on the phone, ask those uncomfortable questions. And if they're still like vibing, not great with you, then then you can say, okay, I think it was aggressive. Aggressive. Yeah, that was not just passive aggressive any We are the past. Yep. So that's a huge red flag that you need to be aware of. The second one is the old bait and switch. So they reel you in one way, you sign the contract, you start work, and then all of a sudden they either immediately change scope, they become aggressive, they start demanding things. What does this look like? Lived out? Lived out. That looks like somebody who you vibe so hard with, maybe on board calls, signing the contract. Everything looks great at first. Mm hm. Then they pull the curtain back and you start doing the work for them a couple weeks, right? Filling out their business, feeling out them. And they're a completely different person than the person that interviewed you. Right? And that's just never, that's never comfortable in the situation to be in. And so especially with clients who maybe you're on boarded by a different person. And then you then meet either the business owner of the CEO, oh the man, the team manager, and they come in, yep, that the true bait and switch, the interviewer was great, right? The CEO is just absolute ****, right? Right. And that's something where for us we've learned we have to ask better questions up front, you know, who will I actually be dealing with? You know, is there anything else that you see becoming a part of this project? Because sometimes they just don't know and they're not meaning to pull the wool over your eyes. But if you've done your homework and you've asked these questions up front, and you've put really clear parameters around, and then they still pull a fast one. Mm hm. That's really tricky and sometimes it's shrouded in this thought of like, oh they like me, they want me to do more. Sure. We had a client that we originally were hired just to project manage their team. And then eventually he was like, I have so many ideas. Mm hm. Can you do this? Can you do that? Can you? And we were like, oh, this is awesome. You know, more work. More work. But we did, we should have stepped back and been like, why does he have all these things? Like, who was managing this before? Why did this go sideways, and why are they no longer managing it? Mm hmm. Why does he now need someone who was not originally hired for that role? To come in and do it? To come in and help? Yeah. For sure this happened to my husband. He got hired to be a creative director years ago. Was so excited, got there, and a few months in or like maybe even just eight weeks in, it started going so sideways and he found out there had been over 30 people hired for him to do that job. And he was like, okay so it's not just me. Yeah. So maybe that's when you asked the question and who had this job before me. And how long were they in this role? Right, exactly. Because that's gonna tell you a lot. A lot. And that'll help you avoid the old bait and switch. The next thing is a really big one, and I think because we are working moms, we're more sensitive to it. And it's more of a red flag for us than it might be for someone else. But it's disrespecting your time boundaries. So what does that potentially look like? Well, I know for you and I as working moms, when we get on board with clients, we're very upfront about we have working hours and we're always going to be available for our clients because we want to keep them happy. But it's a handoff, It's a tradeoff. You in the same way that we will respect your needs and we will do whatever we can to help you. You also need to respect that our lives revolve around our children. Right? So we're up front yet. We're not. We're not. We're available all day and then all of a sudden aren't available at 03:00 Right. We're very open. But if you get a client that is like, oh yeah, that's totally fine. And then all of a sudden it's like, well, you're never available or why can't I get ahold of you? Or is constantly calling you at 07:00 P.M. I've got that happen and you're like, this is this is my family time. Like this should be your family time. And it's not wrong to set boundaries and parameters. You are a freelancer, you are not an employee. Exactly. So legally they cannot require you to work within any type of set framework anyway. And it's especially a red flag if they say that they're okay with it at the very beginning and then change that, especially right on the back. Yeah, that's another little bit. And switch it really is. Yeah, it really is, yeah. So then the last red flag that we want to touch on is this idea of ultimatums, which is kind of a form of aggressive tone. But what is an ultimatum? An ultimatum is essentially giving your employee, but the client giving you an ultimatum is you're fired basically, or can't you can't continue in this role if you can't do this by next time and leveraging your reputation, your payment over your head if you don't do what they say. Yeah, exactly. Which is another thing with being a freelancer. You're not an employee. Sure. They can't hold you to those. And you're going to do everything in your power to get what they need done by the time they want it. But you are not held fast to their privateers by any means. Exactly. And depending on where, like how you have structured your contract, maybe you're working through upwards and maybe you're just working directly or maybe you don't have a contract. We've been there, you know, But depending on how that's set up, you may or may not have legs to stand on. If they do throw an ultimatum your way, so you have to decide how far you can let them take that before you pull the plug and walk away. And ultimately, these red flags are just the tip of the iceberg. Mm hmm. Everyone has their own push points, their own issues. And you need to identify for yourself and for your business what your unique red flags are and then keep them ever before you. So that because sometimes like maybe you really need the money, you know, or maybe you really liked that client or maybe you're just really busy and stuff is just kind of sliding under the radar. And if you don't have these red flags in front of you, they're going to get to a point where you're like, oh my gosh, how did they get so bad? Right. And you could have either retrain that client earlier on or cut them loose and save some heartache. Yeah. You feel like the small things add up and they let them give you small tomatoes here and there or disrupt your time. That's just the tip of the iceberg of what they're going to Right, dude. And be able to feel like they can control you within. Right. Yeah. Because clients are either just uneducated and you have to train them. Right. And they have good intentions but just they've never been held accountable or they're just not a good person. It's true. And you don't know that until you start looking for them. Exactly. And until you start seeing these red flags and then drawing your line in the sand and seeing what they do about it, then. Yeah. Because they're either going to put it to a stop and realize that what they did was not cool. Right. Actually. Exactly. Or they're going to push that boundary and that's when, you know you're out, a man loose to lose. Perfect. Al right. Well, can't wait for the next lesson. We'll see you there. 3. Creating an Exit Plan: Okay, so we've talked about red flags, you've made a list of your own. And now let's talk about what happens when these red flags just keep on flying. And you're like, okay, I have to cut this person loose. There's really three things that you need to take into consideration. So they are pending finances, deliverables, and potential future repercussions before what you don't want to do. Have them push your buttons to a point where you're just like, fine, you're done, right? And you just throw that out there without thinking it through pending finances. Essentially, this is saying, okay, how much money is still owed me for this contract on the table? How close am I to the next deliverable? Because you want to be wise, like we've had it where we had divided things up into really big milestones. And if we would have waited two weeks, waited it out a little bit longer, right, gotten that last payment and then cut it loose, then it's a little bit more financial stability for you. But what do you think are scenarios in which it would be good to walk away, no matter what? Are there any scenarios in which the money is just not worth it? I can think of a few, but I feel like, yeah, I feel like we've never had a client take it this far or maybe you have. I haven't. That I felt like I just needed to cut it that day immediately. Maybe I feel like you have told me about one client had one, that there was you onboarded, you got everything set up, you were rolling, you were getting a feel for the work, and the person you are reporting to e mails you. I believe it was like 06:00 A.M. time. Maybe even earlier. Probably earlier because there are a different time zone. But he e mailed and said, Remind me, what did he say to you Oh, oh, was like none of this is what was expected like like you have people working for me that, that I didn't know about. And I was like, they were the video like we were on a video call together like you knew. And basically he was just looking for it out and he wanted me to refund him. Yeah, everything that we had paid up to the point and didn't want to pay the next milestone. Luckily, we had like scaled our milestones, which was nice. So I think we only ended up being out like 500 bucks by cutting it immediately. But that was like such a jarring, like he was threatening to like give me bad reviews if I didn't refund him. He was just and like literally the day before, it had been like all rainbows and roses. It was weird. It was really weird. And I think that was one scenario where it's just worth it to lose. Right. Lose that extra money because you don't know what else they're capable of, right? If they're threatening to make you refund, give you bad reviews, like report you through up work, stuff like that. Cut them off, they're gone, they're done. It's just not worth it. Yep, exactly. But if it's still workable and you're close to another deliver delivery milestone, I think keep your finances in line as best as you can. Because one of the things, and we'll talk about it in another course, is the unpredictability of freelance finances. Sometimes you don't have the luxury of walking away. And so having a clear idea of at what point it is going to be good for you to walk away. And then working towards that with a clear head is, I think, really important. So then that second thing owed, deliverables. If you know that you're gonna fire a client, you need to think through what they're going to ask of, You know, if you're designing a brochure for them, how far are you on that? Right, Judge? And technically, if they haven't paid you for it, do you owe them anything? Not really, right, Judge. But you have to decide based on the project that it is if you are going to give them anything or not. If you've worked for them for a long time and you have their log ins, you have everything and you need to be prepared. Have that all ready before you even talk to them. So that when they're like, they might get mad and blow up and be like, give me everything and you could be like, great, here is. And now we are done. Immediately, you log out of everything they have everything they need to transfer to the next person. Exactly. You're just, you're out of there. Exactly. So some ways that you could organize this could be what's our P M tool that we use? okay. You could close out that board, gift wrap it, and then give them 30 days before you take them off of the platform. If you use Google Docs, same thing. You can either give them a certain amount of time to pull everything before you delete it, which we've done before. Or you could also download everything as a PDF and just send it right to them and then cut their access immediately. No matter what tool that you use to give them those deliverables though, always make sure that they don't have a backdoor into your Yes tools as well. It's more likely that you have backdoors into theirs and that's on them to deal with. But there have been times where where we've given clients access to whatever because we were like, oh, right, sure. Of course you may have to work with then, you're right. Oh, no. Oh, no. They have access to every log out. Log out. We want to take care of that right before you talk to them as part of your exit strategy. So then future repercussions. This is just always really important to think about because not just financially what they could do, but, and I hate to say it, reputation wise, how far do you think this person is willing to go so that mentally you're prepared to deal with that? Going back to that client, that was like going to Yeah. Leave us bad reviews Yep. Report make them refund. Make us refund them through the hiring platform that was used. That could go on forever. Yeah. Yeah. So before we fired him, I reached out to up work and I said, hey, here's what's going on I had all the receipts, right. All the messages. And they were like, oh, like he won't have any legs to stand on. If he does do something, we'll remove it right away. So I knew we were covered from any future repercussions that might happen. If it's a local client that could potentially bad mouth you to your circle. You might have to do some preemptive damage control. Sure you might. And make sure that whenever you can get stuff in writing before you cut those ties so that it's not just your word against theirs, right? Yeah, cool. Alright on to the next. 4. Delivering the Hard News: All right guys, Welcome back. This is our third, okay? We're going to redo that. What are we calling these modules? Courses. Courses. Videos. Third video, or are they gonna be third, third lesson, Okay. Yeah, sure. Never mind. Okay. Okay. I hate everything. You're doing great, Fine. We'll redo it if we need to. Yeah, yeah, fine. You're like one take wonders over here. And I'm like seven. No, very good. Seven and maybe eight. No, we're good. All right, welcome back guys. This is our third lesson. We've gone through how to recognize the red flags with clients. We have already gone through developing your exit plan and now we're going to talk about how you deliver that really hard news to your client. Ooh, yeah. Want to speak for that a little bit? Sure. So the first thing that you have to decide is, are you going to do it in person, like over a phone call, or are you going to do it via e mail or are you going to possibly even ghost them? Is there ever a time in place for that? So if we have to do it in person, we need to figure out our tone. Are we going to be direct or empathetic? I know that we fired several clients in our days. So what do you think is the best approach to take there? Depends on your client. It depends on the situation. If it's a red flags flying everywhere situation, that's going to be a direct cut off. We're done. Maybe maybe you'd do it over the phone if they've been a good client, or maybe you'd do it over e mail. Just depending on the situation. And that's for every person to feel out, depending on their client direct. Don't leave a door open. Exactly. So sorry, this is the way that it is. Exactly. Or if you need to go the empathetic route, maybe it just wasn't a good fit. They haven't really been throwing red flags at you, but you're a couple weeks in, maybe a couple months in, and you're like, this is just not the right fit. Right. That's not what thought would be, this isn't the word. I thought I'd be doing whatever it is. Ya. So you feel that out for yourself and your client. You decide is this a I E mail them and it's direct, we close the doors, everything's shut off, or is this an empathetic? We hop on a zoom call, we hop on a phone call, we talk about why I feel no longer. This is a good fit for me and my skills, and I give you 30 days and I help you train a new employee. Exactly. You're coming on? Exactly, Exactly. Yeah. And then ghosting. Oh, I've done it. I never have. I it's hopefully you'll never have to. It's a rare occurrence, but it happens. So tell us about yeah, your client had to ghost. So that client that we talked about in the previous video, that all of a sudden was just very threatening and aggressive. I didn't just be non responsive, I've never done that. But I basically said like, what you're doing is blackmail, and this is not acceptable, do not contact me again. So, there was I gave him the Y, and I did. And I said I will not talk to you again about this. Yeah, Judge, you blocked his e mail. I did. You sent it? We never heard back from him. No. I said if you have a problem, take it up with upward support. That's what they're there for. Like this is not worth my emotional, judge, But the only reason I think that there's ever a need to do that is if they are truly aggressive, aggressive word and you are now worried about your reputation. You were worried about getting other clients based on what they're threatening to do to you. Yep. And before we even had that conversation, I had scraped all of the conversations, so I knew I had receipt all those receipts. And that's where, you know, if you're going to spring it on them or you're going to be really delicate, you have to take into consideration the relationship that you've had up till then. You know how, you know, before when you made that exit plan, those future repercussion, repercussions that you thought through, you know, do you see them absolutely going crazy? Do you see them potentially being understanding? And if you've done your homework and really thought through that scenario, then you're going to know the best way to approach that client. Right? And I think face to face is great, but I would always follow it up with an e mail. But again, there is something in the paper trail always. You always want to have a paper trail whether you let them down delicately and empathetically or you're springing it on them or potentially ghosting them. You need to have the receipts exactly in case anything were ever come back to you. Right. We've provided several kind of tried and tested e mails, templates for when you do need to let a client go. That kind of range in tone from very apologetic to like mutually beneficial to like please do not contact me again. Feel free to take those, look at them, revamp them as needed. If none of them meet your needs, feel free to write your own or chat GPT, a great place to go and type in what you want to say and it will turn it more professional. That's very true. It's great. So make sure that, again, as you are figuring out how to break this hard news that you put yourself in their shoes, if they land on the side of they're just a bad person, right? Then, you know, protect yourself and reserve your emotional state. If they're just not a great fit, then, you know, extend a little bit more of yourself emotionally. And I think that always goes a long way to helping them know that like, you know, value you. This just isn't the best fit for either of us and that often goes a really long way as well. It's true, Yeah. Cool. All right. See on the next one se yeah. 5. Learning From the Experience: All right guys, Welcome back. This is our fourth and final video. And we're going to talk about learning from the experience we have gone through, recognizing red flags, creating your exit plan, and delivering the hard news, and preserving your reputation. And handling their potential emotional reactions, right, whichever way that may be. So let's talk about how we're going to learn from the experience. Yeah, sorry to so, so essentially, no matter if a project goes well or goes bad, you should always evaluate it at the very end. So in this case, once you've let that client go, I would recommend doing what's called a post mortem. Essentially you and if you work with someone, you do it together and you walk through, okay, What were those red flags? Right, right. What could we have done differently or better? Because almost always there is something that we could have done better. And sometimes that is, I should never have taken that client to begin with, right? You know, hindsight again is that 2020. And then you figure out how do we keep this from happening again in the future? Like ultimately, if we don't want to repeat the same mistakes, we have to learn from those experiences. So we're going to outline some of our experiences for you so that you can learn from what we did well, what we didn't do well, and try to apply that moving forward. So I think we'll start with the one that we've talked about many times, which was really that nightmare situation. Right? And it goes to him, oh, it was rough. So just to reiterate that we landed the project, he knew right off the bat that there were multiple of us that were working together and it started out pretty well. Do you want to speak to kind of like the vibe and the tone and how those first few weeks felt working for him? Yeah. He was just very relaxed, very he wasn't really sure what he wanted, which is really why he hired us. He had some basic ideas for his business and he brought us in to just build those out Right. From a project management and marketing standpoint. Exactly. And it was fine for a few weeks. We were making really great progress. He was happy as a clam. Let me tell you, this guy so easy to meet with, so friendly, right? So punctual time, time. He had kids. We had kids. It was great, everyone was happy. And then one day it wasn't okay anymore. He was just right. He went off the wall, to be completely honest. So yeah. And then at that point, it was like okay. We had to decide right, how swiftly do we move. And I would say over the period of 3 hours, it was all done. Oh, maybe even less. It was it was very quick. So I got the initial E mail from him to you Yep. To you reaching out to upwork to you. Blocking him? Yeah, it was fast to 3 hours. Yep, Judge. And in his situation, we were working on his project management tool, guinea assets that were like he had created a E mail account for us. So everything was in his drive already. So there were no deliverables. We were hourly and all that was tracked through upwork, so there was no financial stuff we had to worry about. So it was easy for us to just grab those receipts, screen up all of the information, so we had it for later. Reached out to upwork, and then absolutely blasted him. Yep. Logged out all of his stuff. Mm hm. We were just done. Yeah, Judge, and I think that's really, you know, there are very few scenarios that require just such a swift and immediate exit. But if you are absolutely being maligned online, you don't have to take that. At the end of the day, you're offering a service, You're not an employee. Even if you are an employee, you don't have to take that. No. But at the end of the day, it's okay to just walk away. Another great example of that ism, we hadn't even started this contract. We had met with this Gal. She wanted weekly marketing work and we said great. And the person who she had had previously was with her for over two years, which was a green flag, to be honest. Yeah. It was like, wow, that's longevity. They enjoyed it. They just moved on because of their life and Okay. And we really vibed hard with her. So she started the contract approved us for 10 hours of work and I said, great, that's amazing. We have some family things happening this weekend, but I will be able to she had surgery coming up the week after. And I said, okay, well, let's wait to like fully dive in until after but I'll pull some stuff together for you to look at before you go to surgery. And so then she wanted to then like meet right away that following week and I was like, I have kids stuff going on like I can meet here and here And then immediately she was like went into upwork, decreased us to 1 hour a week and was like, You're just not available I really thought you'd be more available. And we were both like felt Rick roll, like what does happen, bait and switch, and like what's going on? Not even 72 hours in. It hadn't even, the contract hadn't even started right now, we're still in the research phase. And so anyway, that was one where we also, we just cut it immediately. And I was like, wow, I can see where this is going and we don't head. Yeah. And we're at a point in our careers where we don't really take everything anymore, which we're very grateful for. We're at a point where it's like if we don't vibe with you, it's not happening because life is too short. But we have had clients in the past where he was very aggressive in how he spoke. And we reached out to the Gal who was the head of the HR and we were like, this the way he's E mailing us is inappropriate and if it continues, we're going to have to step away. And she got right back to us and she was like, you know, you're right, it's not okay. We've removed him from your team and we haven't had any as it's been fantastic. It was handled so well, so well. And because of that, we felt confident to stay. So I think that that's a great example of, you know, sometimes it is fixable. It's just drawing the boundary. Drawing the boundary, yeah. We worked with a huge global brand to bring some new products to market. And that was a very rough touch and go. It required a lot of training of the client and it remained bumpy the whole way through. But because there was a little bit of like forward motion, even in the midst of red flags, we decided to stay it out. And so I think at the end of the day, you have to know what your line in the sand is and say, okay, I've learned from previous experiences. And because I now have this wealth of knowledge from the good and the bad experiences that I've had with clients, I can say, okay, this is worth firing for. Mm hm. And this is worth sticking it out for. And you can move forward in confidence. At the end of the day, you don't owe anyone anything 0. You owe them your best work, if that's what you've promised them, right, at the point at which that's no longer a good working relationship, you can be done. Yeah, Yes, yep. Nothing's worth your emotional peace. Nothing is nothing. Chances are you freelance because of the freedom it gives you? Of the freedom it gives your family. And when we are busy mentally battling other people's issues, we have nothing left for home. No. Yeah. And that's not stafford to us. It's not for the client. And stafford for families. Yeah. Not at all. So go forth. Fire with Grace. Fire with efficiency. And I hope that all of your freelancing efforts are fantastic in the future. Thanks.