September 2020 marks 20 years of me being a technical recruiter. There are a lot of stories and situations that will stay with me forever -- most very positive, some befuddling, and then, in the minority, negative. Believe it or not, the scenario of consultants backing out of a contract they have accepted falls into all three.
As a recruiter I dread the call that starts with "Arek, we need to talk..."; however, it's something that happens. It's part of this business we call contracting. An important factor is how you approach the reneging. By nature, breaking a contract will almost definitely harm your professional relationship to some degree, not only with the recruiter/agency you work with, but also the client. So, if you are going to do it, at least do it right.
The most important point that I would like to make is that as a contractor, your reputation is your main selling point, so make your decision carefully and think about what will happen in 1 or 2 or 10 years from now. Sure a few dollars more will benefit you in the short term, however; will breaking a potentially long-lasting professional relationship worth it? If there are no other options and you will need to break your agreement with the client, my top advice is to tell the truth and talk about it. More specifically:
Be honest -- Getting caught in a lie will only hurt your reputation further.
Make it a phone call or in-person conversation -- This will help you set the tone and explain your reasoning.
Demonstrate that you've tried everything possible not to have to break the contract.
Full disclosure: I will always, always ask if there is anything that I can do, or facilitate with the client, to change your mind. Having said that, the person walking away from the contract will always have me championing their decision. I totally get that certain situations and life in general can get in the way. Even if I disagree wholeheartedly with the reason (#1 is getting an offer that pays few dollars more -- but that's an article in itself), I will make sure that I will have your back with my management and the client.
Naturally, there are a couple definite don'ts that I would like to highlight. These are in poor form, leave a lasting impression of the worst kind and, unfortunately, are way too common:
Don't ghost us. Don't send an email after hours and then not pick up the phone (there's no need to be afraid of the person on the other side).
Don't use a false family emergency as a reason. I am loathe in including this example, but it's the most used line to back out of the contract. In my experience, albeit anecdotal, those individuals update their LinkedIn with a new job the next week (yeah, we check).
In closing, stuff happens and sometimes one has to make difficult decision, but before you do, think about how it will affect you in the long run and always be honest, it's the best way to live.