Tips to Handle a Client That Has Gone AWOL

Have you ever landed a client who initiates a project and then goes missing?  Phone calls and emails go unanswered along with vital questions, and meanwhile, deadlines loom.  The fate of the project—and your reputation—hang in the balance.

Hang in there.  There’s a better way.   Here are eight suggestions for keeping a disappearing client from derailing the project.

#1—Make sure you are paid in advance.  Nothing motivates like money already spent to keep a client’s attention on the next steps.  If you can’t arrange to be paid in full, create a document up front detailing project milestones and payments due, and make sure to include specifics on exactly what is due and from whom for each milestone.

#2—Take the initiative.  Set up the phone calls, generate the questions, and remind the client that you’re unable to move forward without their essential input.  If email doesn’t seem to work, arrange a phone call and interview the client to get what you need. Gather as much information up-front as possible.

#3—Play to their needs.  Your client wants the project completed by a certain date, so emphasize how getting back to you quickly will enable you to create the most complete product with time for them to review before the deadline.

#4—Know your client.  If you’ve worked with this person before and time-management was an issue, make sure you specify the impact of rush charges so he or she has a bottom-line reason to keep you on schedule.

#6—Build in a window of availability.  When you’re initially discussing price and other details, let the client know what the window of time is for their project, and be sure they understand that missing deadlines on their end for reviewing drafts, providing input and other essentials may cause their project to experience delays by being bumped behind projects with complete information.  Make sure this is explicit in any deadlines promised.

#7—Ask the client up-front about how best to connect and any upcoming schedule challenges.  Find out what’s on your client’s calendar: travel, conflicting projects, other deadlines, visits by top corporate brass, etc.  Plan your deadlines around those problems, aiming for the “dead spots” when the client may be more available.

#8—Make it easy to respond.  Frame as many questions in a “yes/no” framework as you can, avoiding open-ended questions that take longer to answer.  Ask them to confirm your understanding rather than explain—again, easier to say, “yes” if you’re on track.

While these steps will help manage a time-challenged client, they won’t work in every case.  Some clients are poor time managers, hopelessly overwhelmed, or have difficulty staying focused.  In those cases, be polite and firm, do your best to keep things moving forward, and decide whether the hassle is worth it if a repeat project is offered—or quote a higher price with a built-in “aggravation premium” into the pricing.

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