The Client Who Can’t Commit

Dear Jodee,

I was hired by a client to do some writing work. We discussed the details of the project and had agreed on its scope, as well as payment. Then the client disappeared. It’s been a few weeks now and although I’ve followed up by e-mail, I haven’t heard anything back. What happened here – is this person being a work tease?


Dear Frustrated,

It sounds like this is a gig that just isn’t going to happen. Something must have changed for this client and rather than explain that to you, he or she just disappeared.

Are they being a work tease? It’s difficult for me to picture why someone would go to the trouble of hiring someone and discussing a project in detail when no work exists. I suppose there are some people who would do it; it’s the same kind of mentality that seems to be in place when you see trolls at work online – stir things up to get a reaction.

No matter what the reason for the disappearance is, it’s beyond your control. All you can do is move on to other opportunities. You probably don’t want to work with someone who behaves that way, anyway.

Have you ever had a client stop communication and disappear? What did you do?




10 responses
  1. Phil Avatar

    I try to re-establish contact and am pretty good at “detective work” when needed. But typically someone who gets lost on purpose could also get lost when it’s time to pay — that’s much worse. So I typically don’t go overboard in chasing down prospects.

  2. James Tennant Avatar

    Earlier this year I had a client who vanished after promising more work. I also had to track him down to ask him for payment for work I had already done. To his credit he did this at the first time of asking, but has since disappeared again. I dont bother chasing clients for work, as I believe if they have work to give, they would come to you. Clearly things aren’t going so well at their end so why chase?

  3. Jade Handy Avatar

    The situation of prospects not following through (an objection, essentially) is extremely common in sales. Which you are. The solution is to keep your pipeline so full that you neither have the time or inclination to chase them down. Let’s call this the Pipeline Principle. It’s based on “the more, more” language pattern. The more full your pipeline of prospects, the more inclined you are to focus on the yes behind every “no”. Now get after it!

  4. Mike P Avatar

    I’ve had this experience before. Someone gets me all excited for a new gig, sends me paperwork, I get ready to write and then… Nothing. I generally assume the player involved wasn’t as “together” as they seemed and bailed when the going got tough (or the project required actually doing real work).

    I’m learning to research *before* I contact someone or apply for a position. I’ve turned down or passed over a few jobs when it seemed like the employer was a bit dodgy.

  5. P.S. Jones Avatar

    I keep them on my list “Never Quite Made It.” Then three months after that falls through, I send an email reminding them who I am and asking how things are going. That sometimes gets me in because I’m still around and some clients are procrastinators. And I add them to my marketing list afterwards so I keep in contact about twice a year. If I ever do get a job from them, I make them pay upfront because I already know they’re either flaky, unorganized or not good at explaining when they’re just not interested anymore.

  6. dava Avatar

    It would be fairly unusual if you have been freelancing for a while but haven’t experienced something like this. Personally, I continue to send friendly emails, and even occasionally leave voice mails, for several months after they disappear. That sort of gentle persistence has paid off a couple of times. Once, I didn’t hear back from a guy for over a year – then he hired me on retainer.

  7. Lynda Avatar

    I tend to contact them again to see if we can set a time line for starting the project since ‘my schedule is filling up’ and I don’t want to extend their deadline since I may not have the same availability in a few weeks.

    I’ve also heard that setting deadlines for agreeing to a contract helps too. Telling a client that your offer is good until ______ allows you to continue to bid on new work after that deadline, keeping your schedule happy and your clients aware they need to ‘snag’ you before others do.

  8. Carol Avatar

    I try to just stay in touch, maybe email in a month or two…sometimes these clients come back alive. Sometimes it’s a year later, or six months. I have one great client I’m working now that had a long ramp to actually signing on. Just stay friendly!

    But don’t count any chickens, don’t reserve any time for them in your schedule…in that way they don’t exist until they send that deposit check.

  9. Jeremy Powers Avatar

    It happens. I have even had clients pay in advance (for a discount), work halfway through, and then disappear when it comes time for revisions.
    I am with Phil on this one. If the client is difficult to reach when you are trying to complete or start the work, imagine how difficult the client will be to reach when you are asking for a check.

    It stinks, but just let it go.

  10. Debra Stang Avatar

    Oh, my gosh, how I empathize with this situation. Actually, I don’t mind so much when clients inquire about a project and then disappear. I figure that’s just part of doing business, so I send a follow-up email or two and then move on.

    What drives me nuts is when a client hires me, agrees on a fee for my services, and then changes the project mid-stream. For instance, 70 pages of copyediting becomes 125 pages of ghostwriting. I send an email explaining why my fee will be higher than we originally discussed, and the client almost always has a fit. Headache!

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