• Advice

What to do when your potential client pulls a disappearing act

Note: this will be the first in a two-part post – in next week’s post, I’ll discuss what to do when an existing client suddenly drops off the radar.

Maybe it was just a series of emails. Maybe you had a phone interview. Heck, maybe you even put on a decent outfit, dragged yourself out of the house, and met the prospective client IN PERSON for an interview (or worse, a series of interviews). Whatever the nature of the exchange, you’ve just landed a new client you’re really, really excited about –

and suddenly - presto-chango! - they disappear.

Almost every freelancer will someday run into that most irritating of sideshow acts: the magical disappearing client. They appear out of thin air, conjure up some tempting scenarios…. and then mysteriously vanish.

In my anecdotal experience, two types of clients tend towards this particular brand of trickery: first, the too-good-to-be-true clients who promise the moon and then vamoose. The second – and more irritating kind – require you to jump through all sorts of hoops before you start… and THEN disappear.

… don’t it just figure?

So there you are, feeling like a fool. Short of calling the FBI or inventing elaborate conspiracy theories, what do you do when a prospective client… disappears?

1. Send two friendly follow-ups

Let’s not jump to conclusions, here. Maybe aliens did kidnap your prospective client, but maybe they’re just overstressed and dropped the ball.

First, send a calm, friendly follow-up email (yes, it helps to have things in writing) expressing your impossible eagerness to get started! Be sure to enquire about logistics, including start-date, deadline, and pay rate (you’d be surprised how many disappearing clients also “vanish” when asked to pay).

If a reasonable amount of time has passed (I tend to say a week), send a second follow-up e-mail. Again, your tone should be confident and friendly. You may be throwing staplers at walls in the privacy of your home office, but remain positive in your correspondence.

If they’re not jerks (don’t work with jerks), a warm and emotionally-intelligent reminder may kick them into motion, without engendering resentment. You may, if you choose, supplement this email with ONE quick phone call, just to “catch up with what’s happening!”

… that is the sum total of the inquiries you are allowed to make at this time: two emails, one brisk phone call.

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2. Move on

Listen, kiddo, you had a great first date. She seemed like she was really into you! But now she’s not calling, and you’re starting to feel desperate. Don’t blow up her voicemail, don’t chase her to the ground; hold your head high, and find worthier fish in the sea.

There are two reasons to shrug your shoulders and move on: The first is that you’ve already wasted enough time and energy trying to alakazam them back into existence; you can’t afford to keep pursuing them.

The second, more illogical reason is – and I swear that this is true – the BEST way to get a disappeared client back is to pick up other work. It’s some unknowable universal balancing act; find another gig, and poof! they’ll reappear!

3. Tread carefully

Once you’re pretty sure they’ve disappeared for good, retrace your communications with this mystery client. If you inadvertently gave them personal financial information (like routing numbers), check your bank statements closely. It’s possible – not probable – that they’ve pulled a disappearing act because they’re ah, con artists. The prospective gig may have just been the flash and spangle they needed to distract you while they picked your pockets.

Now don’t panic - that’s an unlikely scenario! It’s far more likely that they flaked out, their needs changed, the person who wanted to hire you got fired, or their project lost its funding. Indeed, it’s very possible that in a few weeks, or a month, or even a year, your vanished client will reappear. Stranger things have happened; I’ve certainly had old clients reappear after falling off the face of the earth.

But if a client has a history of making wild promises and then disappearing, learn from your past experiences. Tread carefully. Make sure you get terms in writing. Think hard about if you want to work with this disappearing act, after all; it’s no fun to be left wondering whether he’ll be back for the second act.

What else should newbie freelancers beware of out there in the wild, wild world of freelancing? Share your stories and tips in the Freelancing for Beginners Hive!

In my next post in this series, I’ll discuss what to do when a CURRENT client disappears – whether mid-project or pre-payment. Stay tuned!

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.