What to do when a client disappears

What to do when a client disappears

OK, I like to keep it real about freelancing on my blog, so today I’m writing about something we all hope never ever happens…but it probably will. What do you do when one of your clients disappears?

You’ve scheduled a certain amount of time in your calendar to a project and expect to have that time paid for, but occasionally a client will go MIA halfway through the process and you’ll find yourself with weeks (or months >_<) of unbillable time.

This has actually happened to me a few times and no matter how well I explain my process or how many “Hey! I’m ready to get your website finished up!” emails I send, sometimes they just never show up. Sometimes they walk away from the entire project and their deposit and I never hear a word from them again.

Mandy and I created a 4-step process via Gchat the other day to deal with missing clients…

1. Stop crying
2. Stock up on Ramen and mashed potatoes
3. Two Buck Chuck
4. Become a circus performer

Not the best plan when you’re in a pinch, so here are a few other options if you aren’t able to juggle 20 kittens while riding a flaming unicycle.

Promote it

Announce that you have space in your schedule RIGHT NOW and the first person to email gets it. Remind people that they are getting a chance at a space they usually have to wait months for (even if your schedule isn’t generally bursting at the seams.)

Create digital products

You’ve just found yourself with a bunch of free time – use it! This is a great opportunity to create an ebook or a digital download that will help shore up your bank account when you don’t have as many clients as you’d like. And if you’ve already created a beautiful blog template that’s no longer going to be used you can just add it to your shop.

Reach out to past clients

Check in to see if they need anything upgraded, let them know about the newest cool thing you learned that would work great on their site, and give them a little incentive for any referrals they send your way.

If you aren’t panicking about money you could always

Enjoy the time off or do some pro bono work to continue to add to your portfolio. I recently found myself with three weeks free, so I took on a site for a trade and just a day after adding it to my schedule a brand new client popped up. Magic!

To keep clients from disappearing in the future

Double check your contract – do you have a clause for disappearing clients? Do they get their deposit back? (You asked for a deposit, right??) How long can they be MIA before they forfeit their spot in your schedule? (My contract says 30 days – sometimes bad things happen and I try to be understanding that client’s have lives too)

You can also let your clients know that their project will be archived or cancelled and they will be charged a re-instatement fee if they stop responding to emails. Or offer to put them on retainer, meaning they would pay a monthly fee in order to restart the project on their own timeline.

Setting clear guidelines and expectations up front will help your client understand the process and alert you to any issues before they have a chance to happen. Like…”I’m going to be on vacation at that time, is that OK?” “Only if you plan to spend your vacation fielding emails from ME!”

And one thing you shouldn’t do…

Don’t freakout and slash your rates and take on shitty clients because you’re nervous. You value your client’s time and it’s important to work with people that value yours.

This is the deal with being self-employed – sometimes you are so busy you barely remember to feed yourself and other times you’ll wonder where all the work has gone as you watch a tumbleweed bounce through your office. This is not the time to get bummed and re-consider your life choices and worry about your career as a designer.

Evaluate your process and make sure there aren’t any holes allowing clients to slip away then put your big kid pants on and get back to work. The more positive and motivated you are during those dry spells the more you will attract quality clients that you really love to work with. It’s entirely possible that one client disappeared to make room for someone better!

Freelancers – how do you deal with disappearing clients?



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  1. says

    I actually did a post on it in my “So You Want to Freelance?” series last year after dealing with a potential client falling off the face of the Earth (turned out my price was too high for him but I didn’t budge).

    It’s always a blessing in disguise when this happens, because you have an opportunity to do so many other things or take on another awesome project, once you think of it in hindsight.

    Clarissa | Five12 Studio

  2. says

    I haven’t had a client disappear on me in a long time, and luckily it was for a very small project when I was just starting out. Working for myself full-time is hard, especially when work is slow or the money isn’t coming in as quickly as I wish it would! Thanks for being an inspiration, not only in design and freelance, but as a performer as well. I found a studio here in Jacksonville that teaches aerial and it’s on my list to try this year :)