“Houston, we have a problem” – ghosting, poor communication and missed milestones. Who’s to blame?

Sometimes a client goes quiet or fails to provide the assets you need to complete your work. And sometimes it’s a freelancer who’s accused of poor communication or missed milestones. What next?

You’re halfway through a project and you need input from the client. Except suddenly they’re nowhere to be found.

They’ve stopped replying to your emails, which means you have zero chance of hitting the agreed deadlines. And it’s through no fault of your own.

How can you protect yourself in this situation?

Let’s look at what you should already have in place. And then we’ll look at what you can do if you’re already in a tricky situation and you don’t have a clear agreement with the client.

Picture credit - Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

Picture credit – Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

What to agree before you start work:

  1. Always put a contract in place, so it’s clear what’s expected of both parties.
  2. Invoice for a deposit, and don’t start work until payment has been received. This filters out clients who aren’t committed to the project.
  3. Include a clause stating that deadlines can only be met if the client sends through the information you need to complete the project in a timely fashion e.g. responding within 48 hours.
  4. Include a pause clause. This lets the client know that if they don’t communicate with you within a certain timeframe, e.g. a specific number of days, you will pause their project. Once they get back in touch you can restart the project – for an additional fee – at a time when you’re available.
  5. This makes the client aware that there are consequences if they disappear. Aside from the fee to restart the project, if you’re booked up with other work then there may be a substantial delay in getting their project completed.
  6. Listen to your instincts. If there are any red flags before you start working with the client – like poor communication or unreasonable expectations – then you may want to consider not going ahead with the project.

That covers preventing the problem in the first place. But what if you’re already in a situation where you’ve been ghosted by your client, and you don’t have a contract in place – or your contract doesn’t mention a pause clause?

As always, good communication is key. Send a clear, to-the-point email stating that you need their input to continue working on the project and that if you don’t hear from them by a specified date, you’ll begin work on other projects. You’ll also invoice for the work completed to date.

If you DO have a contract in place, you may be able to invoice for the full project fee at this point, depending on what your contract says.

If you then find yourself struggling to get payment out of the client, you’ll find this blog on payment disputes helpful too.

How insurance can help you

Often a client who ghosts you isn’t expecting a fight – they assume you will go quietly into the freelancing night as long as they keep ignoring you. Which means you’ll be left out of pocket.

But if you have professional indemnity insurance, it can give you the confidence to stand up to the client, even if you don’t end up needing to use your insurance.

If the client tries to blame you for delays, makes a legal threat, or requests compensation for the “uncompleted” work, your legal expenses insurance will help. There’s a legal advice helpline so that you can get expert advice at an early stage. And that often means you can avoid a dispute escalating.

What if the freelancer is at fault?

We’re all human, and sometimes the fault does lie at the lightly dragging feet of the freelancer. So what can you do if it’s your communication that’s been poor, or you’ve missed an important milestone?

Again, it’s a good idea to cover this in your contract terms. You may want to include a clause that states that you can’t be held responsible for delays due to illness, bereavement, acts of God and so on.

But what if it’s a case of a bad week or month, where you’ve let a project go awry? Firstly, get the communication back on track. If you’re behind with a project, work out exactly when you think you can deliver, and let the client know.

If you’ve done your best to bring things back on track and the client is threatening legal action, then it’s time to let your insurer know that there’s a ‘circumstance that may give rise to a claim’. The legal advice helpline will be useful to you here too.

Hopefully it’s clear that when it comes to communication, preventing a problem in the first place is a thousand times better than needing to find a cure.

Plenty of freelancers are creative types who shy away from putting proper systems and contracts in place. But it can save you from a lot of heartache and stress if you take some time to create a contract and make sure every client signs it before you start work on their project.

And whatever happens – whether your client ghosts you, or you fall behind on a project – having the correct insurance in place can give you the confidence to deal with the situation head-on, rather than miss out on getting paid for the work you’ve done.

Further reading:

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What do we want out of an insurance provider?

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