In episode 9 of Unsure? Insure! we look at what to do when a project doesn’t go to plan.
At some point in your freelance career, you’ll experience a project that doesn’t go to plan. It doesn’t matter who or what is to blame and what the specifics are, some projects just don’t run smoothly.
Whatever has happened, you might have an angry client on your case now. Let’s look at the dos and don’ts when a project goes wrong.
This is easier said than done because panicking is a gut reaction when you receive an irate response from a client, but please don’t panic.
As an ex-freelance photographer I've been there myself. When I received an angry email from a client I felt my stomach drop. I was nauseous. I couldn’t focus on anything else. I wanted to deal with the email immediately to make the prloblem go away.
However, it’s important to step away from the computer and remove yourself from the situation. An emotional, knee-jerk response to an unhappy client rarely ends well. Your client doesn’t need a reply straight away.
One of the things we hope to achieve at With Jack is encouraging freelancers to have more confidence and be treated how you deserve to be treated. Even though your client is unhappy with your service or the work you’ve done, you’re not at their beck and call. In most cases you don’t owe them an answer immediately, so it's best to get your head straight before you tackle this.
Don’t offer a refund or admit liability
When things go wrong in a project, your instinct might be to offer the client a refund. This was my reaction when a project went wrong. No matter how hard I tried to please the client and fix things, it didn’t seem to make the situation any better.
It’s important you don’t offer a refund. If things do escalate and you have to use the legal help provided by your insurance, solicitors should come into the situation at an early stage when it’s a blank slate to ensure the best outcome.
Offering a refund could complicate matters from a legal perspective and hinder the negotiation process.
Don’t sweeten the deal by offering to throw things in for free
I’ve seen this happen a lot. When projects start to unravel, a freelancer offers to do extra work for free to try to appease the client.
However, I’ve noticed from the claims we’ve dealt with that this rarely helps and can often even add fuel to the fire. It can give some clients the impression that they can take advantage of you. They might make bigger demands, ask for more work for free or generally be more difficult to deal with.
Oh, and it’s generally bad practice to work for free!
Do Contact your insurer
You have two options here.
If you have the legal expenses product, you can utilise the legal advice helpline you have access to. They can give you pointers on subjects like contract disputes, late payments, or general legal matters.
If things are more serious and the client is threatening you or asking for damages, make a professional indemnity claim. You should contact your insurer as soon as you’re aware of any complaint, criticism or mistake which may give rise to a claim, but the policy will be triggered if there’s a monetary loss such as a claim for damages or a legal threat.
Professional indemnity claims are quite complex because legal experts get involved and negotiations between lawyers and your client take place, but don’t let that intimidate you. The insurer is there to help you.
Do gather information that can support your case
I say this from both an insurance and project management perspective. From an insurance perspective, contracts, project specs, emails, client communication… all of that will help lawyers fight your case, so make sure you're documenting everything.
From a project management perspective, gathering information to support your case will help if your client makes demands that are outside of the scope of work you’ve agreed. You can refer them to the contract that’s signed and agreed by both parties, or a specific email to support your case.
To recap, here are the dos and don'ts when a project goes wrong.
- Don’t panic. Emotional, knee-jerk responses to unhappy clients rarely end well. Take some time out before you formulate your reply.
- Don’t offer a refund or admit liability. If you have to use your insurance, offering a refund could complicate matters from a legal perspective and hinder the negotiation process.
- Don’t sweeten the deal by offering to throw things in for free. This usually leads to the client taking advantage and the project breaks down even further.
- Do contact your insurer. Whether it’s the legal advice helpline you use, letting the insurer know there’s a circumstance or filing a professional indemnity claim.
- Do gather information that can support your case. This can help lawyer’s defend you and it can strengthen your stance if you need to show a client they're being unreasonable.