What to do when your client is slow to respond

Feb 19, 2014

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A slow client is a big headache for freelancers.

Never mind the wasted time you spend following up. The worst part is that the project extends on forever (which can interfere with other planned projects) and your pay schedule is delayed (hello there, unpaid bills).

Here are 4 tips for dealing with slow clients -- and preventing future project drag.

1. Bring it up early.

As soon as you start to see a pattern of slow feedback, bring it up to the client. You can do this in a non-threatening way by first asking them how they feel the workflow is going, and then following up with your feelings.

Things to remember:

  • The client may be new to working with freelancers, so educate before you get firm.
  • Remind the client that it’s for the good of the project, not just good for you. You’d like to stay on schedule and you can only do your best work when you have plenty of time to do it.
  • If you haven’t included a feedback timetable in your contract (see below), ask them what they think a reasonable timeframe would be. If that’s not good for you, try to suggest something different and reach a compromise.
  • The important thing at this stage is that the client is on board with your process, which will create a smooth client relationship throughout.

2. Put it in writing.

As in all things, the easiest way to prevent a client issue is a good contract in combination with a detailed deadline calendar.

This would normally go in a section on Delivery Terms, along with any file specifications. This should include both your deadlines and the client’s deadlines. When you send the contract for the client to sign, it would be a good idea to highlight this section and also get the client’s verbal approval.

If you’re in the middle of a slow project and you haven’t set up a contract with these terms, first initiate a conversation (see #1), and then write that new guideline in an email to the client, and ask for their written agreement (“Does this seem reasonable to you?”). This supplements your original contract.

3. Give a final warning.

After you’ve talked over the issue (#1) and gotten their approval in writing (#2), it may be time to bring out one of two warnings (or both).

Consider it approved: “If I haven’t heard back from you in X time period, I will consider the material approved. After this point, you will not be able to make changes to the project.”

Your deadline will not be met: “I can’t be held to your delivery dates if you don’t respond in the time we both agreed on. I really don’t want to see your project delayed, but I need the proper time to complete the project well. If you get back to me by the end of the day, I can still meet the deadline, but after that, the new deadline will be X.”

4. Charge ‘em for it.

This normally gets clients moving pretty quick.

Let your client know that if they want you to maintain your deadline, you will have to charge rush rates. Due to late approval, you had to rush to get something out the door by the deadline. Even if you don’t currently have rush rates, come up with something reasonable and get it in writing.

Remember: unless this is in your contract, you will need to have the client agree that they have understood your policy about late feedback leading to rush rates. As you know, what seems like a reasonable additional charge to you can cause clients to freak out, argue with you, and causes bad feelings all around, so it’s always good to be transparent about what you’re charging.

What do you do when a project drags on?