How to Deal When a Client Drags Their Feet

Dear Jodee,

What do you do when a client wants to hire you but then drags their feet getting you the necessary material, putting you behind on schedule on their project AND others?

Dear Dawn,

When a client wants to hire you but doesn’t finalize the arrangement by giving you a deposit and/or providing you with the materials you need to get started, you don’t really have the gig yet. You’re still just talking.

At the risk of sounding sexist, it’s like the man who tells a woman at the end of a date, “I had a nice time. I’ll call you.” The woman may understand that he meant that he will call, but the fact is that he may not.

Rather than waiting by the phone (figuratively speaking) for the client to get back to you and give you the green light, you can do a couple of things. One is to get on things and if someone else comes along who wants to hire you, go ahead and take the other gig. If Client A gets back to you, then you can discuss a new schedule for completing the project.

The other approach is more direct. You can contact the client to remind him or her that you need the materials in order to get started on the project. To be diplomatic, ask the client if there is anything further needed from you to move forward. If the answer is no, ask when you can expect to receive the material you need. When you get the answer, you will know whether you should give the client more time or move on.

How would you deal with a client who is dragging their feet? Do you have a question you would like answered in a future column? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


6 responses
  1. LIsa Avatar

    Wow, Jodee, I disagree. Many of my best clients will call me saying they have work – and then THEIR clients drag their feet! I’ve done multi-thousand dollar projects (and gotten paid) – but the first call may have come MONTHS before the actual work, and the starting date may change multiple times.

    Part of the issue is that this economy is chancey for everyone. Even major government contracts are getting slowed down, pared down, and otherwise changed at the last minute. IMO, if the client is a real organization and the project is a real project, it would be foolish to walk away because there’s a delay in the start date.

    My advice: go on to other things, but don’t burn your bridges. The likely outcome is that you’ll get a sudden call saying “OMIGOD, our client has finally come up with the cash and they’re ready to start, but the deadline hasn’t changed. Can you help?!” When you say yes, jump in, and get the job done – you have a happy client for life!


  2. Chris Avatar

    Honestly if a client drags their feet, I’ll email to remind and if they don’t respond, I’ll just move on to different projects. When they’re ready, they’ll come back. There’s no need to fire them or whatever. Just take it as it comes. Sure it’s annoying. But a late job is better than no job.

  3. Debra Stang Avatar

    This has been a strange week. Two of my potential clients who disappeared have reappeared and want their word done RIGHT NOW. Of course, I’d moved on and scheduled other projects, so I had to do some frantic rearranging, and frankly I don’t see getting much sleep next week. In an ideal world, I’d tell them to wait their turn, but I’m not confident enough as an editor yet to turn away business!

  4. Zahra Brown Avatar

    This post applies to me. We started talking about this project two weeks ago, but when I bring up copyright and payment, things go quiet. It’s a shame because I am enthusiastic about this, so I hope the client is ready sometime in the near future. In the meantime, I’m looking elsewhere.

  5. Shanon Lee Avatar

    This happens all too often, so you cannot let it discourage you. I always assume the client is busy, I do not take it personally. I had two recent situations like that: one project is pending because the launch of the website has been delayed and the other sent my offer letter to the wrong e-mail address. A simple follow up e-mail should suffice. Explain that you are making your schedule and want to confirm when they would like you to begin. If they can not pin down a start date, move on to another assignment. @Zahara please put your requirements in writing to avoid any confusion. It might motivate your clients to move forward, or weed them out if they won’t agree to your terms. I’m currently penning a piece about formulating your own freelancing agreements. Feel free to connect with me.

  6. Deborah Dunlap Avatar
    Deborah Dunlap

    Often, so many factors are involved before the work gets to the writer that delays are likely to occur. Delays can happen at any point in the information development process. The writer is often the last production point. Delay challenges can occur before the work begins or at any time throughout the project. I have had clients go in an entirely different technical direction after I had given them a first draft and they took months to send me the new information.
    Often balancing multiple clients is the solution. Sometimes working many extra hours is necessary when two clients need something at the same time, but the extra hours balances out the dry spells.

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