|Every business needs solid foundations.|
I try to do many things with this blog, but somewhere in the top three objectives is being honest. This post was going to be about the fallout between me and a client. It is still about that, in a roundabout sort of way, but not the name and shame mud-slinging extravaganza I thought about writing (I rarely act on my immediate thoughts, which is a good thing). So if you’re looking for drama, sorry about that.
Most freelancers I know have had an experience of working for a client where at least one of the wheels comes off. The timescale changes overnight; or what you both agreed was proofreading turns out to be a hidden expectation of editing for the same price; or four pages and a bit becomes seven, which blows your costings out of the water; or the client doesn’t quite know exactly what they want and you find yourself doing the free consultancy dance, while swearing under your breath – or not, and all the while you’re working on trust. Coins in the USA state ‘In God We Trust’ but that’s no way to run a business.
In this tale of whoa (that might not translate well for the Brits) I doubt there was any malice aforethought, just a set of miscommunications that could double as dominoes.
To begin with, the client hadn’t scoped the job and asked me to do it. Well, I say ‘to begin with’ but that was after several emails back and forth to agree what services and to make sure we had a joint understanding. (It later transpired that we hadn’t, but neither of us knew that at the time.)
Logically, I needed to scope the job – at the client’s request, remember – in order to price up the entire job. However, that’s a faulty business logic. What I should have done is invoice her separately for the scoping work. As the messages had flowed thick and fast I assumed the same would be true for payment of the scoping. And here’s where the wheels came off and the go-kart of a project (figuratively, you understand, although a ho-kart project would have been awesome), and it scraped along until it ground to a halt.
My client vanished…radio silence…only for a handful of days but out of character when compared with the previous exchanges. And, of course, I’d now delivered something in expectation of payment for that and being assigned the full job.
By day four I taken agin them and fired off a blistering ‘Where the hell are you?’ message, and, more importantly, ‘Where’s my payment?’
A free humbug to anyone who can guess where this is going…
When the client resurfaced they were shocked at my tone because none of the other writers they’d remained in contact with for the same job had responded in that way. In addition, they didn’t think what I’d provided was fit for purpose – now you tell me! – and they’d had some private issues that prevented them getting back to me for four days.
In the largely pointless aftermath of this wholly unnecessary soap opera episode, I made the following observations:
1. My bad. Quite simply, commencing work on anything for a new client without clear agreement on scope and payment is utter folly. I’ve rarely used a contract, unless it’s to pre-book blocks of time (when I obviously won’t be working for anybody else), and I don’t always request a deposit. Mostly, that works pretty well.
2. The clues were there. A lack of clarity after 20 messages back and forth is a good indication that a phone call would be better, or a contract, or even a stuttery chat over Skype. Also, the discovery – at a late stage – that the client was still in touch with other writers about the same job shows we each had a very different take on the working relationship.
3. There are few business bargains. I was drawn to this job by what I perceived to be some quick money. In the end, I spent far too long on messages back and forth, and gave a free hour of consultancy, and ended up with zip.
There was no happy outcome for either of us. I wouldn’t have been happy to commit more time without payment upfront and the client wasn’t happy with what they’d received so far.
Result: stalemate. And when that happens you need to take the pieces off the board.