What to Do When a Client Disappears in the Middle of a Project

by Carrie Smith 4 Minutes

clientNo matter how hard you might try, as a business owner you’ll invariably come across a problem client who seems great in the beginning, and then somewhere in the middle things start to fall apart.

This MIA client will seem nearly ideal in the beginning, but as things go on you’re more and more skeptical about things turning out smoothly.

What do you in this situation? Can it be salvaged without losing a lot of money? It’s important to have good processes in place to avoid getting burned, but in the event you haven’t implemented those yet, there are still steps you can take.

Here’s what to do when a client disappears in the middle of your work, and how to avoid this situation in the future.

1. Don’t Ignore the Red Flags

It might sound like a no-brainer, but the best thing you can do to avoid a problem client is to pay attention to any red flags. These warning signs can save you tons of headache down the road, so it’s important to not ignore them.

The whole point of being the boss and running your own business is to have the freedom to work with amazing clients, who mesh well with your brand, while giving you control of your daily schedule. Don’t give in to the demands of those clients, otherwise you’ll be slipping back into that employee mindset. You’re the boss now!

In order to identity red flags in any client relationship, here are the top three major warning signs:

Slow on payment. In the beginning stages of signing the contract and collecting pre-payment a client should generally be pretty quick about knocking both of these off the list. If they are slow to pay you now, you can be sure they will be slow to pay you once the project is complete. In fact, they may not even send the final payment, so it might be best to pass on this project altogether.

Need a quick turnaround. If a client has a crazy time constraint and needs something done as soon as possible, you should expect extra payment for your fast turnaround. But if they want it cheap and quick, this is a big red flag. If they haggle on both the timeline and price of the product, you should consider moving on. You don’t want to sacrifice the quality of your work for some cheap cash.

Ignore your personal “space”. If your client requires you to respond to emails at all hours of the day, night and on weekends (after you’ve clearly stated your office hours) this is a very bad sign of the things to come. Essentially they don’t respect you as a business owner and creator. They only care about their needs and what they want.

2. Send Reminders and Follow Up

Sometimes clients just get busy and emails fall through the cracks (I’ve been guilty of this myself). So it’s a good idea to send one or two friendly reminder emails, spaced out over a few days, to remind the client that you’re serious about the job and haven’t forgotten them.

If they don’t respond after those first reminders, it’s still important to keep following up. Make your emails short and to-the-point, while asking them to reply with a quick note letting you know if they need to extend the timeline.

Once you’ve exhausted the reminders and updates via Skype, emails, and text messages, your last-ditch effort can be made via snail mail. Send a note to their physical mailing address stating that you’ve tried to contact them using other methods without success.

And if they want to continue working with you then they need to contact you ASAP. Otherwise they forfeit the deposit and the contract will be considered void. Make sure you keep copies of all your correspondence with the client, in case they come out of the woodwork with all sorts of demands.

3. Evaluate Then Move On

After you’ve given adequate time and energy to step #2, it’s time to move on. Don’t give this client any more headspace, it’s time to cut your losses and move on. But don’t just disregard the whole situation as a loss, use it as a lesson for future client relationships.

How could you make the process easier? What could you implement for better communication? Do you need to get their personal phone number up-front? Do you need to update your policies and contracts to state that you require a deposit or 50% payment in advance?

Take what you’ve learned in this situation and leverage it for future projects. And don’t take it personally. Lord knows why they flaked in the middle of the work, so don’t stress about it. Evaluate the issue and then move on. Don’t give it another thought!

4. Protect Your Cash Flow

In order to protect your cash flow, you might need to revamp your agreements and contracts. If you don’t charge a deposit or require some sort of pre-payment, now’s the time to implement that. You also need to establish clearly defined deadlines, expectations for each party, and any specific actions that need to be taken.

I know one business owner who implemented a “Client Obligation” clause that states if the client fails to respond to emails or requests in a timely manner (as detailed in the contract), they must pay a re-installment fee to continue moving forward on the project.

This is a big deterrent for clients who constantly waver on jobs, and helps weed out the clients with too many red flags. The main point here when protecting your cash flow is to clearly state all the details, and be firm with your policies.

How to Handle a Client Disappearing

If you’re dealing with a tough client situation, take time to evaluate the pros and cons. Are there red flags that keep popping up that you ignored? Is the possible stress of the situation worth moving forward, or is it time to move on?

Remember that losing a client or losing out on some income doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Just learn from the experience and move one. Besides, now you have time to look for the next big thing!

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by Carrie Smith
Carrie Smith is a financial artist and founder of The Client Connection, a matchmaking service for clients and freelancers who want to avoid job boards and instead build quality businesses. In 2013 she quit her full-time accounting job and now works as a full-time business consultant and writer. Find her on Twitter (@carefulcents).