When Clients Misbehave

by Anne Wayman

Ask Anne About Freelance WritingHello Anne,

I read the post the other day about the advice you gave concerning when to send an invoice to clients. I have a similar question about when to “abandon” a contract. You see, I have come across many a client (I freelance on ODesk often and other sites as well as on my own) who will request a first draft for approval before continuing with the remainder of the contract. However, some of the clients take sometimes weeks to get back to me with instructions on what to revise, if anything, and how to proceed.

I am currently working on a contract for two web pages and the client seems to have disappeared on me. It has only been two days, but until I sent him the first draft, he was consistent on getting back to me, usually within an hour or so. So I guess my question is, how long should I wait to scrap a contract and how to do so gracefully? Most times, depending on the contract, I will receive something up front, but not always. I did not with this one, since it was a sub contract, so to speak.


The client specifically asked to send a first draft of the first page before proceeding with the second one, which is supposed to be due today.  Now I am left to wonder if I should proceed anyway to meet the deadline, should I wait for a response even if that means letting the deadline expire, or should I do nothing at all and scrap the contract?

Anything you can advise would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

TJC

Hi TJC,

I’m going to be a bit harsh here and suggest you quit letting these so called employers take advantage of you. While two days isn’t very long at all, if you haven’t gotten up front pay or at least a signed contract, you’re working on spec and when it comes to web pages and SEO articles all too often your work will be used and you’ll never get paid.

When a client quits communicating, even for a couple of days, for heavens sake put that project on hold and work on something else. I can’t think why you’d hesitate a moment to do so.

A disappearing client may come back or they may be gone forever. Things happen. Clients get busy, have family emergencies and who knows what. When the crisis is over they’ll probably get back in touch with a reasonable explanation. Meanwhile, you’ll have been working on other projects and your cash flow won’t be interrupted. But some clients are just vague and distracted. Those often fade away and you’re better off without them.

If you don’t hear from a client there is no need to bow out gracefully or otherwise… the end has already happened. If, however, a client continually fails to make phone meetings or provide you with what you need to do the job, there’s nothing in the world wrong with ending the relationship yourself. A simple “this isn’t working” is enough – along with an invoice for any unpaid work.


It is, in my opinion, totally unprofessional to let a client mistreat you.  The client has must as much responsibility to be professional as you do. You need to be flexible, but that doesn’t mean letting a customer walk all over you. They aren’t always right, particularly when they fail to hold up their end of the deal.

Stand up for yourself. Your income will increase and you’ll feel better about yourself.

What do you think about this?

[askanne]

[sig]

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori May 20, 2010 at 11:31 am

Couple of thoughts for TJC here. First, if the client hasn’t responded in two days, send a note asking if he received your project. I had a situation recently where I’d sent something to a client and three days later followed up. Good thing – I’d sent it to the wrong person. Spam filters, junk folders, and clients out of the office can keep you guessing, but a quick follow-up email or phone call can put you at ease.

Second, if the client does not or cannot meet his own deadline – meaning getting back to you on approval of that first page – your own deadlines cannot be met. You’re off the hook in terms of deadline if you’ve been instructed to wait. Here’s how I’d handle it – contact the client to see if the first was received, and remind him you’re waiting for his approval per his instruction, and that the deadline he gave you is fast approaching (gone now, I suppose). When they go silent, get chatty. I give two solid attempts, then I move on to something else. If they owe you for that first part, send an invoice.
.-= Lori´s last blog ..Your Writing Script =-.

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Toni Star May 18, 2010 at 9:26 am

Good points, Devon! I especially like and agree with your words, “You are not required to audition with project-specific samples without pay. Either negotiate a special rate or refuse. ”

Toni
.-= Toni Star´s last blog ..Check Out My Latest Book, "The Twisted Life of Julia Knight" =-.

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Devon Ellington May 18, 2010 at 8:41 am

No work is done without a contract and a deposit. Period.

Small projects require 50% up front and 50% upon receipt of the finished product (write in specifics what is “finished). Large projects are 1/3 up front, 1/3 at midpoint, and 1/3rd at the end.

That way, even if a client bails, you’re paid something for the time and work you put in.

You are not required to audition with project-specific samples without pay. Either negotiate a special rate or refuse.

Clients who can’t tell from your samples if you’re a good fit either don’t know what they want or they’re out to scam.

Play hardball. Don’t work without contract and deposit. Dump those who don’t comply,
.-= Devon Ellington´s last blog ..Tuesday, May 18, 2010 =-.

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Roy DSilva May 18, 2010 at 5:33 am

Frankly I would think that if the person does not reply with 48 hours you are left with the baby in hand. I wouldn’t say that I have a star studded freelance career, but I haven’t made too many losses too.

Actually speaking, there are several people who get into the world of the Internet and websites and freelancing – people who are giving it a try, people who have ten different things and want to try this, people who do not have money for their diesel but set up ambitious websites. What happens is that sometimes, even within two days or something, these guys get put off of their websites and stuff and they begin cutting their losses. Their first target is you, work for hire person.

And yes, there is always the tingling question about what a person’s to do if the client comes back after say a week. Well, I have had some experiences and I this has worked for me – I neither say hello to them nor contact them in any manner. It’s finally them who break the ice and talk about other projects, wherein I ‘remind’ them of a particular project whose payment is pending.

Remember, I have several old time clients who buzz me about something to be written, give me the brief, disappear and when the assignment is done, they pay me as prompt as daylight, even if they do not contact me until the next work.
.-= Roy DSilva´s last blog ..Freelance Resource: Tips to Keep in mind before getting into Freelancing =-.

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Roy DSilva May 18, 2010 at 5:32 am

Frankly I would think that if the person does not reply with 48 hours you are left with the baby in hand. I wouldn’t say that I have a star studded freelance career, but I haven’t made too many losses too.

Actually speaking, there are several people who get into the world of the Internet and websites and freelancing – people who are giving it a try, people who have ten different things and want to try this, people who do not have money for their diesel but set up ambitious websites. What happens is that sometimes, even within two days or something, these guys get put off of their websites and stuff and they begin cutting their losses. Their first target is you, work for hire person.

And yes, there is always the tingling question about what a person’s to do if the client comes back after say a week. Well, I have had some experiences and I this has worked for me – I neither say hello to them nor contact them in any manner. It’s finally them who break the ice and talk about other projects, wherein I ‘remind’ them of a particular project whose payment is pending.

Remember, I have several old time clients who buzz me about something to be written, give me the brief, disappear and when the assignment is done, they pay me as prompt as daylight, even if they do not contact me until the next work.

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Carol Upton May 18, 2010 at 12:32 am

I love your article and thank you for tackling this subject, Anne. It’s pretty much all been said here, but something that helps me in situations like this is to remember that I’m an adult and so are they. I follow up with a phone call when a reminder email goes unanswered. If I don’t hear anything then, I move on with work for other clients. BTW, I’ve started asking for 50% up front once we have a firm agreement to work together. That way, I don’t feel quite so ripped off if we have to quit at some point. I have had no complaints about the 50% deposit, so it’s been a good solution for me.

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Carol Tice May 17, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I had an ongoing client stroke me off that they were going to re-up their contract beginning of this year. I’d found them dysfunctional and noncommunicative from the get-go and had raised my price if we were going to go forward. I was told the new rate was approved and we were moving forward, and was even sent their proposed topics list and asked for feedback, which I gave. They had paid promptly on their original multi-month contract so I wasn’t that worried about it.

And then…no contract ever arrived and I could never get the editor on the phone or email. When I finally got her, I was reassured again that we were moving forward…but still no contract, payment, or firm assignment.

I obviously moved on and kept prospecting for other clients and didn’t do any work on their topics, and after 2 weeks of this I sent them a letter saying, “Sorry you don’t seem to be ready to move on this,” and ended it.

I still felt ripped off as I had set aside time on their verbal OK…but felt good about not letting it drag on further and ending the relationship.

I actually just had one of the team members I’d worked with connect with me on LinkedIn…so we’ll see, they may still try to start it up again! By not hanging around begging and whining to get them to commit, I was able to leave on a more positive note.

The moral of the story above, though, is probably…find your own clients and stay off Odesk! All these bottom-feeder places have a lot of flakes trolling them. I’m with Jenn — copywriting for new clients requires an up-front deposit…and your story shows exactly why it’s important. Otherwise, there’s really nothing to keep them from just disappearing with your first draft, using it, and stiffing you.
.-= Carol Tice´s last blog ..Blogging For Business Part II: How It’s Done =-.

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Anne May 17, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Moving on is almost an art isn’t it. And boundaries, as you say, are important.

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Toni Star May 17, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Good advice, Anne. I have come across similar situations and after little to no communication–I end my stay with the person and move on. It seems that there are quite a few unethical people who don’t have a conscience. The best thing to do is what you advised…move on and say something like, “This isn’t working.” A writer has to keep moving….

Toni
.-= Toni Star´s last blog ..Check Out My Latest Book, "The Twisted Life of Julia Knight" =-.

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Anne May 17, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Come to think of it, it happens in ghostwriting books too… sometimes clients can’t follow through… I had one quit – turned out he’d gone to his shrink to work it out and couldn’t. You just never know.

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Lori May 20, 2010 at 11:32 am

You have THE most interesting clients, Anne. :)
.-= Lori´s last blog ..Your Writing Script =-.

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Anne May 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Not mine, not that one.

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Jenn Mattern May 17, 2010 at 10:56 am

2 days is definitely not something to get excited about. I agree with Anne in that you shouldn’t do that kind of work on spec. There’s just no reason for it. But if you were paid, then “abandoning” the project should not be an option in my opinion. You were contracted to deliver something. If you don’t, then you breached that contract. Just as there’s no excuse for a client to abuse you as a service provider, there’s no excuse for a writer to breach their contracts.

If the contract dictates a series of specific deadlines, and they rely on client feedback in between, here’s what I’d do personally:

1. I’d figure out what day I need to schedule that work in to meet the deadline.

2. I’d make the client aware of that schedule.

3. If they haven’t responded by the day before I’m scheduled to do their work, I drop them an email. In that email I remind them that I’m working on their project tomorrow, and that if I don’t hear from them I’ll proceed without that input and remind them that they’re still restricted to the edit policies laid out when they hired me (2 edits, and if they request an overhaul because they changed their mind about the project direction, they pay my editing rates for that). On top of that, I’d remind them that they’re still responsible for the invoices for all work completed as agreed to previously. So if I do the work and they don’t contact me to tell me not to, they’re billed, and they’re going to pay for it whether or not they ultimately choose to use it.

Once you bring money into it, I find it’s easier to get a response. It’s okay to get tough when you have to, but don’t let someone else’s fault lead you to be just as unreliable.

A few days though… I’d say that’s pretty far from something to worry about. Especially in this day and age where it’s easy to work with international clients, you might not realize they have a holiday or they might have gone away for a long weekend (I have clients who travel out of the country on a whim fairly regularly). Yes, it’s irresponsible for them not to let you know if they’ll be unreachable. But unless you absolutely can’t move on with the contracted work, it would be just as irresponsible to abandon it. Everyone screws up once in a while. And one slightly slow contact after usually being available quickly really doesn’t even qualify as that (in my book at least).
.-= Jenn Mattern´s last blog ..Cold Emailing: A Case Study =-.

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Anne May 17, 2010 at 7:13 pm

This makes sense… and I suspect you and I have learned the value of formal contracts for almost everything.

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