Anne Woodman, who blogs at Writing by the Numbers, asked in comments:
I’ve had the client stop in the middle of the project–what do you advise as far as collecting the money you’re owed up to that point? There is no finished result, but the interviews may be done, or part of the writing completed. How do you handle the stop-in-the-middle dilemma.
Carrie Schmeck, who blogs at BizzWriter, answered:
I’ve got one of those stalled projects, too. We are waiting for the web design phase before I can revise copy. I just sent the client a note and asked if we could settle up for what’s been done. I told him I was shaving X hours from the initial project because I haven’t done XYZ yet but that those hours will probably reappear when we begin again. He was happy to pay and we shouldn’t have any surprises when we get going again.
Carrie’s approach of just asking often works. She realized she had no control over the designer and simply asked to be paid for what’s been done so far and it worked.
I think there’s a tendency among particularly new freelance writers to hesitate to say much of anything to the client.
Writing clients are (mostly) on your side
Look, your client hired you to do some writing because they thought you were the best they could find to do the job at the rate they were willing to pay. They need you to be successful which means in a very real way they are on your side. Oh sure, not in the way your best friend is on your side, but clients are not the enemy.
They don’t know how to write, how to do what you do. It’s up to you to communicate any problems you have and that includes letting them know you can’t afford to sit and wait for them to get a project back on track.
It’s surprising how well just talking things over with the client works; you’ll never know unless you try.
Set deposits and payment schedules to cover what you do
Another approach is to get a good deposit up front and set a payment schedule so you’re paid for what you’ve done, even if the project stalls. That way you’re covered even if the project stalls or even stops in the middle.
Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t communicate with the client about the state of the project even though you’ve been paid for what you’ve done. It’s totally okay to ask when more work will be expected or to get an update. It’s the only business-like, professional thing to do.
Sometimes you have to walk away
One of the hard truths about freelance writing is sometimes clients disappear or stop communicating about a project. I’m not sure what happens – I think maybe they run out of money and are embarrassed to tell us. Or maybe something awful happened, or perhaps they just changed their mind.
I’ve had three ghostwriting clients just stop in the middle of their books without telling me anything. Email and phone calls on my part have gone un-returned. I have no idea what happened but after a few attempts of mine to get in touch I’ve had to let the project go and assume it will never been completed, at least by me.
When a project stalls or a client stops responding the writer can be left hanging, unsure of what to do next. Don’t waste a whole lot of time on the problem – you didn’t cause it and you can’t solve it. Move on. Be willing to re-negotiate or finish the work on your own schedule if it comes back.
The possibility of stalled projects is just one more reason that, when you’re running a writing business you simply have to keep marketing. When you keep marketing the chances are you’ll shortly have a brand new, profitable project started if another one stalls out.
How have you handled stalled projects?
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