In this episode of Unsure? Insure! we look at the common factors that contribute to projects breaking down.
We’ve helped lots of freelancers navigate horrible situations. From projects delivered late leading to claims of loss of income, to clients threatening legal action when the work hasn't met their expectations.
There are common factors that contribute to situations where projects or client relationships gradually break down. We highlight these common factors so that you can have a better chance of avoiding bad situations.
Poor project scope
Having a poor project scope is one of the biggest contributors to projects going wrong.
Not having a solid scope damages projects in more ways than one. Firstly, it allows the client to keep shifting the goalposts of the project. The client might add more features midway through the project, leading you to cram work you didn’t plan for into the same budget and timescale.
Doing work you’re not getting paid for is never a good idea and can cause tension between your client and you. Nor is eating into the timeframe of the project, potentially resulting in missed milestones and delays.
Not having a solid project scope—or any scope—also leads to confusion around what work is to be expected. This means the client and you might not be on the same page. This can cause the relationship to break down, which is another common source of claims.
These are just two examples of how poor project scopes might cause problems. It’s not that a client is threatening you with legal action because you didn’t provide them with a satisfactory scope. It's that a poor project scope can cause delays or client expectations to be misaligned with your expectations. These are the factors that can cause problems!
Not having a contract
Usually people think they don’t need a contract if there's an established relationship. For example, if they're doing work for a friend / existing client / a distant family relation. Sometimes new businesses might be inexperienced around managing projects and best practices so give contracts a miss.
However, it's the projects you least expect where the problems tend to arise. That innocent viewpoint of “I’m just building a website for a client I’ve already been working with for 7 years” is a false sense of security.
Not having a contract can make it difficult to take control of a situation that’s gone wrong.
A contract is useful for laying the foundation of what’s to be expected by both parties. If a client is late with a payment or refusing to pay, you can refer to the signed contract to show what payment terms and late fees were agreed to.
There can also be disputes over who owns the intellectual property. With a contract, this can be resolved. You can refer to it and say, “As per our signed contract I own the IP”. It’s there in black and white.
Without a contract all of this becomes messier because you can have both parties disputing what was agreed to. That’s when third-parties—like solicitors—have to get involved.
Whilst claims can and still do happen when there is a contract, having a good contract signed by both parties can help to manage expectations and keep a project under control.
Undercharging or offering to work for free
When problems arise in projects, some freelancers try to appease their client by throwing in freebies or offering discounts.
If there’s any conflict during the project—whether the freelancer is at fault or not—a lot of freelancers want to go out of their way to keep their client happy. This means buttering them up with freebies or discounts.
When does that become a problem?
I know this is a big generalisation, but clients who want to haggle on price or work hard to get you to discount or do extra for free are usually not great clients.
As an ex freelance photographer, the clients that caused the most stress were the ones that focused heavily on price and extracting as much value from me without compensating me accordingly.
Not having confidence in your pricing means some clients will try to take advantage. There are bad apples out there!
Whilst it might seem like one small bit of work, one tiny feature, a few extra hours, the client might capitalise on that. Maybe they expect you to throw in another thing for free, or they constantly ask for revisions.
That one request grows arms and legs. It gives the client the impression they can take advantage of you when you’re discounting your services or offering to work for free.
Be conscious that the prices you charge will determine what kind of clients you attract. Offering discounts or throwing in freebies can sometimes lead to clients taking advantage of you. That can cause a breakdown in relationship, which is what leads to claims.
So, to recap, here are the common factors that cause projects to break down:
- Poor project scopes allow clients to shift the goalposts of the project. You end up trying to cram work you didn’t plan for into the same budget and timescale. This can result in project milestones being missed, which can cause a claim being brought against you
- Poor project scopes can lead to confusion around what work is to be expected. This can cause the freelancer and client to be on two different pages, resulting in the client relationship breaking down
- Not having a contract can make it difficult to take control of a situation that’s gone wrong (for example, what payment terms have been agreed and signed to, who own the intellectual property etc). When this isn’t clear, disagreements between the client and freelancer occur and that’s when third-parties like solicitors get involved
- Clients who try to get you to discount or work for free are generally not good clients
- Some clients will take advantage if you don’t have confidence in your pricing and try to throw in extras for free or discount. This can cause tension between you and your client and lead to a breakdown in relationship